About Butler

Founder's Day Trivia Answer - Friday


Of the 29 Greek organizations to establish a presence on the Butler campus in the past 150 years, only one - Sigma Gamma Rho - was founded here.

It couldn't have been easy.

The seven African-American women who organized the sorority began their work in 1922, when the Ku Klux Klan was at its zenith in Indiana and Klan head D.C. Stevenson lived within walking distance of the Butler campus in Irvington.

In 1927, the University was one of a number of schools to limit enrollment of "colored" students, a policy that stood for 20 years. And on Dec. 30, 1929 - less than two months after the stock market crashed - Sigma Gamma Rho was granted a charter at Butler.

Yet founders Cubena McClure, Bessie Rhodes Martin, Dorothy H. Whiteside, Vivian White Marbury, Hattie M. Redford, Nannie Mae G. Johnson and Mary Lou Allison Little and their successors persevered. Today, the sorority they established to raise the standards of teachers (and expanded three years later to include "desirable young people, regardless of professional interest") boasts 19,000 members nationwide and more than 500 chapters, included groups in the Bermuda, Caribbean, Germany, the Bahamas and Korea.

"We've been able to maintain the core foundation of who we are and how we present ourselves to the public," said Joann Loveless, international grand basileus (president) of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. "I think that means a lot in terms of our longevity."

Though books have been written about Sigma Gamma Rho, they reveal little about struggles the founders faced. "Behind These Doors - A Legacy: The History of Sigma Gamma Rho" includes a letter from founder Mary Lou Little. She wrote, in part: "Prior to November 1922 I became obsessed with the idea of having a new sorority to raise the standard of teachers in our city and wherever Normal Schools, colleges and universities were located. So I contacted six very ambitious and independent friends of mine. They were enthusiastic to say the least. The seven of us started the ball rolling."

The women, who knew each other from Shortridge High School and Butler, met nightly and on Saturdays, establishing the name, goals, pledge and colors.

"They were obviously a minority," said Butler Professor of Education Roger Boop, whose book "Fulfilling the Charter" includes research on Sigma Gamma Rho, "and I think they wanted a bond of sisterhood that they needed because of their minority status. The bonding factor was that they were all teachers."

Over the years, Sigma Gamma Rho's Alpha chapter has dealt with several dormant periods but always come back strong. When Alexandria Crumble-Walker came to Butler in 2002, Sigma Gamma Rho was dormant. But the graduate chapter, Alpha Sigma, could be found recruiting at all major campus events.

"These were women I could aspire to be like," said Crumble-Walker, who received her doctor of pharmacy and now works for Walgreens in Oak Park, Ill. "It made me comfortable that I saw people I could relate to - not because they were African-American, but because they were at an institution of higher learning, they were excited about being who they were and the goals they had accomplished."

During her years at Butler, Crumble-Walker participated in many Sigma Gamma Rho activities, including workshops to teach Shortridge High School students about pregnancy prevention and financial management, and the sorority's annual Scholarship Ball. She also researched Sigma Gamma Rho and its founders, and decided, "Here's my opportunity to carry on their legacy."

--Marc D. Allan