In observation of International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8, and the 110th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage March, I write about a proud sisterhood of women at the forefront of women’s rights.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. is one of nine Black fraternities and sororities under the banner of the National Pan Hellenic Council. The sorority was founded on Jan. 13, 1913, by 22 collegiate women at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Driven to make a change in the perceptions of African Americans and women alike, these young ladies became the foundation of an esteemed sisterhood of talented women.
The students had a vision and wanted to use their collective strength to promote academic excellence and to provide assistance to persons in need. On March 3, 1913, the founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. performed their first public act. They participated in the Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, D.C., where its national headquarters is located. As a result of the women’s suffrage movement, women were guaranteed the right to vote.
As a nonprofit, private organization, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority – commonly referred to as DST — is based on the principles of sisterhood, scholarship and service. The high ideals and principles of its founders are an integral part of the lives of Delta women. The organization’s core focus is its Five Point Programmatic Thrust: Economic Development; Educational Development; International Awareness and Involvement; Physical and Mental Health; and Political Awareness and Involvement.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. thrives on providing services and programs that will improve and benefit life for all. Since its founding, just two months prior to 5,000 women marching through D.C. to demand the right to vote, more than 250,000 women have joined the sisterhood of predominantly Black, college-educated women.
The sorority currently has 1,000 collegiate and alumnae chapters located in the United States, Japan (Tokyo and Okinawa), Germany, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, West Africa and South Africa. There are four chapters in the U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix Alumnae (chartered on Jan. 25, 1975) of which I am a member, St. Thomas Alumnae (charted on May 28, 1988), Sigma Psi (charted on Dec. 6, 1997 at the University of the Virgin Islands campus, St. Thomas) and Sigma Omega (chartered on Dec. 7, 1997, at UVI’s St. Croix campus).
Since 1976, the St. Croix Alumnae Chapter has awarded the Rita Weber Scholarship to graduating female high school students. In 2018, the chapter awarded its first Thelma Moorhead EMBODI (Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Developing Independence) scholarship to a male high school student. The support of the scholarship fund comes from chapter members, friends, businesses, the community and local fundraising activities. Rita Weber and Thelma Moorehead were two of the chapter’s 16 esteemed charter members.
Annually, the chapter also hosts its major public service initiative, “Feed the Less Fortunate,” where the members serve free cooked meals to individuals in the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted. This service has been ongoing since January 2000, and has been renamed in honor of Mae Louise Williams, a charter member who was well-known as a talented cook. The event is normally held on the weekend of Martin Luther King Day in January. The chapter has also adopted, and provides service to the Joseph James Senior Center. Among the other programs and initiatives are the Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy and Delta GEMS Institute that mentor young women.
There are several notable Deltas — past and present — from all walks of life, who have and continue to fight for women’s rights as part of sorority membership, they include actresses Angela Bassett, Keshia Knight Pullman, Cheryl Lee Ralph, Ruby Dee Davis and Kim Coles; singers Aretha Franklin and Natalie Cole; educator Mary McLeod Bethune; politicians and media personalities Joy Reid of MSNBC; Abby Phillip of CNN; April Ryan, White House Correspondent for the Grio; Shirley Chisholm, first woman to run for president; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman; former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan; former U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; and former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; civil rights icons Dorothy Height and Betty Shabazz.
In the Virgin Islands, prominent Deltas have and continue to do their part in service to our community, to include First Lady Yolanda Bryan; V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, and former senators Mary Ann Pickard, Janette Millin Young and Allison DeGazon.
Locally, the Sorority collaborates with members of the National Pan Hellenic organizations, who share similar goals and objectives of service to our community.
— Petra Victor, St. Croix