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The Centennial Anniversary of Sigma Gamma Rho: A Historical Look at the Sorority and Butler University

Founding the Sorority

Sigma Gamma Rho Founders at 1972 Boulé

Five of the seven Sigma Gamma Rho Founders at the 1972 Boulé. Pictured from left to right are Dorothy Hanley (Whiteside), Mary Lou Allison (Little), Hattie Mae Dulin (Redford), Nannie Mae Gahn (Johnson), and Vivian Irene White (Marbury).

Mary Lou Allison invited six Black women educators to a meeting on November 12, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. These women were Nannie Mae Gahn, Vivian White, Bessie May Downey, Cubena McClure, Hattie Mae Dulin, and Dorothy Hanley. Most were graduates of two-year teaching schools or would soon graduate, and five would go on to earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees from Butler University or other institutions.

Sigma Gamma Rho Alpha Chapter Booth at 1982 Boulé

The Alpha Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho, located at Butler University, has not always been active through the years. Alpha Sigma is the Indianapolis chapter for Sorority alumnae, and it provides support to the Alpha Chapter on campus. The Alpha Sigma Chapter was founded in 1955. This photo shows a booth for the Alpha Sigma Alumnae Chapter at Sigma Gamma Rho’s 1982 Boulé.

The group had been meeting in their homes on weeknights and on Saturdays since the early 1920s when Allison brought them together to discuss her vision of a social organization that would promote professional growth for teachers and serve the greater community, especially students. United by a belief in the power of education to effect racial uplift, the women founded Sigma Gamma Rho.

Robert Lee Brokenburr, noted Indianapolis Black attorney, legislator, and civil rights leader, worked with the group as a legal adviser. In December 1922 he filed the Sigma Gamma Rho incorporation papers for the Sorority as the Grand Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho. Its object was to urge members to further their education and to encourage them to inspire others to do so as well. Membership was restricted to “persons who are school teachers in recognized schools.”