As all sisters know, the values of Sigma Kappa are personal growth, friendship, service and loyalty; bound by a promise. I went to the archives to learn more about our history of service since the founding of Sigma Kappa.
According to The History of Sigma Kappa Sorority, 1874-1924, “Sigma Kappa was founded as a literary society… It was developed carefully and painstakingly to implant and nurture highest aspirations in the mind and heart of every member.” In addition to recounting the intellectual history of Alpha Chapter, the author notes, “In philanthropy, Alpha has no definite local interest, but she has always found ‘some work to do for the growing good of the world.'”
In addition, founder Mary Low Carver, Alpha Chapter, made it clear in her address on the occasion of Sigma Kappa’s 25th anniversary, that service was an important part of Sigma Kappa’s ideals:
“…our society has other aims than the social and intellectual. We have not sought to create a mere aristocracy of mind. In no selfish spirit of dilettantism would we wrap ourselves away from life and all that life demands. Sigma asks that her membership shall be of those who possessing whatever favors of mind and heart shall hold them a trust to use for highest ends. She has no sympathy for the mind that seeks only the pleasure of the passing hour, unmindful of whitening harvest fields that wait on every hand. Some work to do for the ‘growing good of the world,’ some place however humble to fill, even, if need be, some cross of sacrifice to bear, these she expects her devotees to regard as the supremest end of living. She would draw together and hold in her encircling bond those only who have an earnestness of purpose, a sincerity of desire, a will to seek for opportunities of doing good. Fitly might she engrave upon her fair escutcheon that motto borne so long by a line of English princes, the proud yet humble motto, ‘I serve,’ for service is her watchword and helpfulness her aim. Wherever her children are working in any way for the bettering of human conditions, there she lays her hands in blessing and bestows her smile of commendation… She knows that in these strange, new days countless opportunities for doing good lie close to the hand of educated womanhood and she
asks only that willingness of heart may match all skill of hand and brain. ” (Sigma Kappa Triangle, Vol. 1 No. 2, September 1907)
Our semi-centennial history echoes this sentiment, recounting that in the 1906-1907 academic year, chapter requirements were set forth, including encouragement of “altruistic work in the chapters.” (p. 186)
Chapter IX of the volume provides further information about national expectations for local philanthropy: “The fundamental principles of Sigma Kappa include the thought of doing ‘unto one of the least of these.’ Individual and group service was rendered for years, but it remained for the 37th convention to give such work official recognition by voting “that during the next year each active and alumnae chapter pledge itself to do at least one philanthropic act.” (p. 292)
In 1913, less than a decade after Sigma Kappa joined the Inter-Sorority Conference, our chapters were also encouraged to undertake philanthropic work “to foster, and increase Pan-Hellenic spirit.”
Only five years later, “…It was all but natural that the final outcome of concentrated effort along such lines should produce sentiment and legislation for a national philanthropy. This culminated in the adoption in 1918 of the Maine Sea Coast Mission as the principal interest for altruism in the chapters.” (p 186)
Shortly after World War II, Sigma Kappa announced a post-war philanthropy: “four scholarships to girls at the American Farm School in Salonica, Greece… a place where our help is needed, where our money will be wisely and judiciously spent, where much suffering took place in the last war…”
But what about our other beloved national philanthropies, you ask? It wasn’t until the 55th Convention in Pasadena, Calif., that the topic of geriatrics was broached. The August 1952 issue of The Sigma Kappa Triangle states: “Alumnae Round Tables were under the direction of National Vice President Edna Brown Dreyfus. Subjects under alumnae consideration included study of Geriatrics as a possible national philanthropy…” Two years later, in Miami, “Gerontology, work with and for ‘senior citizens,’ was adopted as a new national philanthropic project.”
Over the decades, our gerontology work has expanded.
- After the 1984 Convention, The Sigma Kappa Triangle announced that National Council had “selected the adoption of Alzheimer’s Disease as a new phase of our gerontology philanthropy.” (Who remembers selling lollipops?)
- Memory Walks (now called Walk to End Alzheimer’s) began in 1989, and Sigma Kappa chapters around the country were there as volunteers and fundraisers!
- In its fall 1992 National Convention coverage, The Sigma Kappa Triangle reported that “Combining existing gerontology programming in cooperation with senior citizens centers with an emphasis on environmental concerns, ‘Inherit the Earth’ provide an outlet for hands-on community service for Sigma Kappa collegians and alumnae.”
- Today, Sigma Kappa is a National Team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s!
After more than a century, Sigma Kappa has grown and changed in many ways. But we are still true to the original values of our founders. As Harriet L. Finch, Epsilon Chapter, wrote in a 1909 issue of The Sigma Kappa Triangle, “Every Sigma is a violet… let us each be the ‘Sigma Violet,’ always exercising our possibilities and opportunities, always accomplishing some good deed, and of real true service to others.”