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

Segregated Education

Sigma Gamma Rho Officers, 1933

Group of Sigma Gamma Rho officers that served from 1931 to 1933. These women would have taken office after Sigma Gamma Rho became a collegiate sorority and had its articles of incorporation approved in 1929 and officially amended in 1930. The photo was taken at the 8th Boulé, 1933, Chicago, Illinois.

Black people experienced segregation everywhere in early-twentieth-century America, and education was not exempt. While many Midwestern universities accepted and conferred degrees to non-white students by this time, such amenities as housing and dining at campuses across the country barred entrance or use by Black students. “Separate but equal”—a federal doctrine from 1896 (Plessy v. Ferguson) to 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education)—alternatives were provided for Black students instead.

The Aurora

The Aurora is the official publication of Sigma Gamma Rho. It was started by Blanche Stewart in 1927 with its first editor in chief being Gertrude Murchison. “Behind These Doors: A Legacy”—or also titled on the title page as “Our Heritage: Glimpses of Highlights”—was a special supplement published in 1970 commemorating the 40th year of the publication and the 48th anniversary of the Sorority. The supplement documents the history of the Sorority and its members.

Prior to the quota on Black students instituted in 1928, Butler University admitted all students of color on an equal basis to whites. While primary University facilities were not segregated, there was only one small dormitory for women on the Irvington campus—and none on the Fairview campus until 1954—and most students rented rooms in the community or commuted. Especially in the predominantly white area immediately surrounding the Fairview campus, Black students would not have been able to easily find nearby housing.

This segregation found within universities also existed in student organizations, both institutionally affiliated and not. Greek life was a prime example, as many Greek letter collegiate and professional organizations prohibited the participation of Black students. This initiated the founding of Black fraternities and sororities, including many Black Greek letter organizations associated with the National Pan-Hellenic Council—or The Divine Nine—of which Sigma Gamma Rho is a member.