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Tri Delta history
National history of Delta Delta Delta
Founding Members of Delta Delta Delta
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Tri Delta the journey of a lifetime
  National History of Delta Delta Delta Something distinctive, something dynamic, something worthy of the best that is in us, not only now, but always Sarah Ida Shaw, Tri Deltas Founder

With those words, Sarah Ida Shaw and her friend Eleanor Dorcas Pond set out to found a woman’s fraternity at Boston University in 1888.

1988 rendering Life was very different in 1888. The civil war had been over for a scant 20 years. The telephone was new and a luxury. Lighting was by oil lamp or gas, except in a few public buildings which used electricity. The Woman’s suffrage movement was in full swing, but it would not be until 1920, thirty years in the future, that women would be granted the right to vote. After the Civil War, women had started to attend college in the Midwest. The changing status of women had not developed as rapidly in conservative New England as in the pioneer states of the Middle West, where first denominational colleges and then state universities had opened their doors to women.

After the Civil War, the lack of men teachers and the recognition that women were to play an important part in reconstruction led an increasing number of women to enter the few colleges open to them. Since they were by no means welcomed, it was natural that they should seek out congenial friends and form small groups. Sarah Ida Shaw’s family had moved from St. Louis to Boston and after attending The Girls’ Latin School (a college prep school in Boston), she enrolled in Boston University’s College of Liberal Arts, then located at 12 Somerset Street on Beacon Hill. By the time Sarah Shaw entered college in 1885, six ladies societies had established enough chapters to be considered national organizations. There were only three of these groups at Boston University: Kappa Kappa Gamma, Alpha Phi, and Gamma Phi Beta. All had extended offers for membership to Sarah. She had been so horrified by her male cousin’s tales of initiations at Harvard that she had decided she would have nothing to do with secret societies and rejected all three offers.

The Founding
Sarah Shaw In her senior year, Sarah’s class schedule was demanding and she was staying on campus well into the late afternoon. On one of those afternoons, she found a girl in tears because the three societies had chosen their new members and this girl had not been selected. Sarah thought it was silly, but her eyes were opened. Living at home, with church and social affiliations, she had not realized that girls boarding in the city, miles away from family and friends, would feel homesick and long for companionship. Now she looked about her and saw scores of girls who were not members and were quite unhappy. She decided that if a fraternity could meet a great need, she would start one—but it must be different from the type she had seen.

She talked it over with her friend, Eleanor Pond, also a senior, and the two girls became moving spirits in the organization of Delta Delta Delta. Eleanor was studying to be a physician and understood the support to be gained from association with forward thinking women. Weeks of study and planning followed. Sarah was a perfectionist. Every letter, every symbol, every color had to have special significance. Eleanor Pond All had to be woven together into a perfect plan. Years later she told of her surprise in learning that some organizations existed for many years without a meaning for their Greek letters. Sarah did not have to seek the help of professors or members of men’s fraternities, as did some of the founders of other women’s groups. She drew on her own knowledge of Greek, her interest in mysticism, and her knowledge of astronomy as she worked out the scores of plans. Step by step she consulted with Eleanor, relying on her taste and good judgment. It was at this time that they wrote the rituals and constitution, and designed the emblems. It was Eleanor who selected the actual design of the badge. It is one Greek letter set upon a crescent moon and stars that reflects back from a mirror just as you would see it when looking directly upon it. Never before had a sorority been founded so completely and with such depth of meaning from the very beginning ...

The actual day of founding is beautifully described in Sarah’s words:

"At last, all was finished on Tuesday...November 27, 1888, but there was one more meeting of the two friends on the following afternoon before they separated for the Thanksgiving recess, at the top of the college building in what was then the Philological Library. It was there that the two girls embraced each other and said ‘Tri Delta is founded’...It is not strange that the hearts of these sponsors were full of emotion as together they went out of the college building, for each felt there were added reasons why her Thanksgiving should be a very happy one. When they came to the parting of the ways at the historic Boston Common, Miss Pond said, ‘We can make the girls we initiate promise secrecy, but what shall hold us two?’ So there in the shadow of the old Park Street Church, with a bright new moon and three brilliant stars nearby...the two faithful friends clasped hands and said, ‘In the presence of these myriads of witnesses, I swear eternal loyalty and fealty to Delta Delta Delta.’"

Florence Stewart and Isabel Breed When Sarah and Eleanor returned from Thanksgiving vacation, they plunged into the task of building Alpha Chapter. The first new members were two other seniors, Florence Stewart and Isabel Breed. These four seniors are referred to as our founders.

In the days that followed, three juniors, five sophomores and six freshmen were added to the group. By the time college recessed for the Christmas holidays, eighteen girls had accepted invitations. Soon after they returned in January, the pins arrived. The upperclass members were initiated in college lecture rooms, and there was a great curiosity on the part of fellow students as they appeared wearing their bright new Stars and Crescents. On January 15, 1889, the first regular meeting of Alpha Chapter was held and the other members initiated.

Alpha chapter of Delta Delta Delta

Rapid expansion of the group soon followed. On May 10, 1889, only four months later, a group was initiated at Simpson College in Iowa. They asked to be given the designation Delta. The Beta Chapter was to be at Iowa State, but due to anti-fraternity sentiments on that campus, they were not initiated. The Beta designation was reserved for them. In the meantime, in July of 1889, a group was initiated in Knox College. The next designation would have been Gamma, but they asked to take the designation Eta. The Gamma Chapter was initiated at Adrian College in Michigan on February 22, 1890. St. Lawrence University was next, and by this time, it was known that it would be some time before a chapter would be organized at Iowa State and the Beta designation was given to St. Lawrence in 1891. (Tri Delta eventually opened a chapter at Iowa State in 1912.) In rapid succession followed the Universities of Cincinnati, Vermont, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, Baker University, Wesleyan University, Northwestern University, Ohio State and Syracuse University (Omicron).

Tri Delta’s expansion was faster than any of the other woman’s groups of the time due to the constant efforts of our founders to bring to each campus the opportunity for women to join a group that was distinct from the others currently available.

Tri Delta now has 133 international chapters and has initiated over 250,000 members since its’ founding in 1888.

Convention Event
A very significant event happened in April 1891. At the invitation of Kappa Kappa Gamma, delegates from seven national women’s fraternities met for a two-day convention in Boston. Three delegates each were present from Alpha Phi, Delta Delta Delta, Delta Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Pi Beta Phi. Among the matters discussed was a ban on "lifting" of members and double membership, the abolition of the practice of pledging prep school students, and the establishment of local committees to regulate rushing at each college. At a similar meeting called by Alpha Phi in 1902, would be born the National Panhellenic Conference and the agreements which bind all members.

Our Magazine, The Trident
Also at this meeting, Tri Delta had the first interchapter conference and determined to publish our magazine, The Trident. The first issue was published on Thanksgiving Eve 1891 and consisted of 36 pages.

Alpha Alliance of Tri Delta Alumnae
On August 29, 1892 the Alpha Alliance of Tri Delta Alumnae members was founded. It was to be rapidly followed by Alumnae organizations in each of the other chapters. The Omicron Alliance was founded in 1902 and is proud to have one of Tri Delta’s founders, Eleanor Dorcas Pond, as one of its’ charter members. At the time, Dr. Pond was a practicing physician living in Schenectady.

Tri Delta’s alumnae chapters now number in excess of 300 spread across the globe. Members from every collegiate chapter are encouraged to join an alumnae chapter in whatever city they reside.

For more on Delta Delta Delta visit our National website at TriDelta.org .

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