Delta Women on Stamps
By Bernice Fields, Minneapolis/St. Paul Alumnae Chapter Soror
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was founded on January 13, 1913 by 22 collegiate women at Howard University. These students wanted to use their collective strength to promote academic excellence and to provide assistance to those in need. In March of 1913, the Founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. performed their first public act. They participated in the Women's Suffrage March in Washington, D.C. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. was incorporated in 1930.
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. is the largest African-American Greek-letter organization in the world with a world-wide membership of 300,000 college educated women of color. “The sorority is unique among Black purposive organizations as it was not conceived to transform society, but to transform the individual. The sorority is a sisterhood and an enabler that helps individuals to grow through cooperation, leadership development, culture, and exposure to the leading figures and issues of the times.”
Membership is open to any woman who meets the membership requirements, regardless of religion, race, or nationality. Women may join through undergraduate chapters at a college or university or through an alumnae chapter after earning a college degree. The sorority currently has 940 chapters located in the Bahamas, Bermuda, England, Germany, Jamaica, Japan, Liberia, South Korea, the Virgin Islands, and the United States.
For over one hundred years, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. has been an integral part of the movement to improve the lives of minorities in this country. The United States Postal Service has recognized twelve (12) Deltas for distinction as subjects of commemorative stamps, more than any other Greek organization.
First Row: Winona Cargile Alexander, Madree Penn White, Wertie Blackwell Weaver, Vashti Turley Murphy, Ethel Cuff Black, Frederica Chase Dodd
Second Row: Osceola Macarthy Adams, Pauline Oberdorfer Minor, Edna Brown Coleman, Edith Motte Young, Marguerite Young Alexander, Naomi Sewell Richardson, Eliza P. Shippen
Third Row: Zephyr Chisom Carter, Myra Davis Hemmings, Mamie Reddy Rose, Bertha Pitts Campbell, Florence Letcher Toms, Olive Jones, Jessie McGuire Dent, Jimmie Bugg Middleton,
Ethel Carr Watson
The first Delta to appear as a subject of a United States postage stamp was Mary McLeod Bethune (Scott #2137), on March 5, 1985. Bethune devoted her life to educating girls and women. Bethune was the first president of Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune’s gift was organizing the network of Black women’s clubs that provided the safety net of support and education for Black communities since slavery. In 1935, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women in New York City, bringing together representatives of 28 different organizations to work to improve the lives of Black women and their communities. Ms. Bethune was a frequent speaker at Delta conventions. She helped to shape the sorority‘s social agenda in the 1930s and 1940s, and Delta, in turn, provided vital support for the NCNW in its early years. Ms. Bethune wrote the poem “Delta Girl.” In 1923, she was initiated as an Honorary member.
Patricia Roberts Harris was featured on a commemorative issued January 27, 2000. She attended Howard University in Washington, D. C. on scholarship and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1945. In addition, she graduated first in her class from George Washington University Law School in 1960. Harris went on to become the first African-American woman to serve as a United States ambassador and later the first African-American woman to serve as a Cabinet Secretary. Harris was a powerful influence in American politics and a major figure during the Civil Rights Movement. The sorority has always been an important source of leadership training for Black women, whose opportunities to exercise such skills in formal organizations were few. Harris was hired by President Dorothy Height to be Delta’s first executive director. Harris served from 1953 to 1959 and professionalized the administrative functions of the sorority. Harris was initiated at Alpha Chapter, Howard University.
Ethel L. Payne was an African- American journalist. Known as the “First Lady of the Black Press,” she was a columnist, lecturer, and freelance writer. She combined advocacy with journalism as she reported on the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s and was known for asking questions others dared not ask. She became the first female African- American commentator employed by a national network when CBS hired her in 1972. In addition to her reporting of American domestic politics, she also covered international stories. A commemorative (Scott #3667) was issued to honor her on September 14, 2002. During Payne's twenty-five year career with the Defendr, she covered several key events in the Civil Rights Movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and desegregation at the University of Alabama in 1956, as well as the 1963 March on Washington. Payne was initiated as an Honorary member in 1973.
Wilma Rudolph was an American sprinter from Clarksville, Tennessee, who became a world-record holding Olympic champion and international sports icon in track and field following her successes in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Rudolph was acclaimed the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games. She became an international star and role model for aspiring female track and field athletes. A commemorative (Scott #3422, #3436) was issued in her honor July 14, 2004. Wilma Rudolph was initiated at Alpha Chi at Tennessee State University. With the goal of honoring twelve early Civil Rights Pioneers, the Postal Service issued commemoratives (Scott #4384 (a-l) on February 21, 2009. Four Deltas were among the honorees.
Mary Church Terrell (Scott #4384a) was one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree. She be- came known as an activist for civil rights and suffrage. She was a founding member of the NAACP in 1909. She taught and was principal at the Washington D. C.’s M Street School, the first public high school for Blacks in the United States. In 1896, she was the first African-American woman in the United States to be appointed to a school board of a major city, serving the District of Columbia until 1906. Terrell led several important associations, including the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).
After initiation as one of the first three Honorary members of Alpha Chapter, Terrell continued her association with Delta Sig- ma Theta Sorority, Inc. throughout her life. She wrote the Delta Oath, a code of conduct for Black women.
Daisy Gatson Bates (Scott #4384c) was an African- American civil rights activist, publisher, journalist, and lecturer who played a leading role in the Little Rock integration crisis of 1957.
As the former president of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, Bates was involved deeply in the fight against separate and unequal treatment for Blacks. Even though in 1954 the Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education made all segregated schools illegal, Arkansas still refused to make any effort to integrate its schools. Bates and her husband tried to fight the situation in their newspaper. The State Press became a fervent supporter of the NAACP’s campaign to desegregate schools. Daisy Bates was initiated as an Honorary member in 1963.
Instrumental in the fight for African-American voting rights, Fannie Lou Hamer (Scott #4384e) was born on October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi. In 1962, she met civil rights activists who encouraged Blacks to register to vote, and soon she became active in getting her neighbors registered. Hamer also worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which fought racial segregation and injustice in the South. In 1964, she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She electrified the 1964 Democratic Convention with her plea for recognition of a diversified delegation after the exclusion of Blacks by the regular Mississippi Democratic Party.
Ms. Hamer was initiated as an Honorary member.
Barbara Jordan was a lawyer, politician, and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern African-American woman elected to the U. S. House of Representatives. She was best known for her eloquent opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings during the impeachment process of Richard Nixon. Jordan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A commemorative (Scott #4565) was issued in her honor January 27, 2011.
Ms. Jordan was initiated at Delta Gamma Chapter, Texas Southern University.
Shirley Chisholm became the first elected African-American women to have a seat in Congress. As an American politician, educator, and author, she joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969, and in 1972, made a bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. She was the first majority party African-American candidate for President of the United States, winning 152 delegates. During her tenure in Congress, she was influential in improving opportunities for inner -city residents, as well as a vocal opponent of the draft. Ms. Chisholm was honored on a commemorative (Scott #4856) on January 31, 2014. Ms. Chisholm was initiated as an Honorary member.
Recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, Dorothy Height began her civil rights career as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department. From there, she joined the National Council of Negro Women where she fought for equal rights of both African Americans and women, and ultimately led the NCNW for forty years as president. She served as the 10th national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. from 1947- 1956. During her tenure, she oversaw the purchase of the sorority’s first national headquarters building and also developed leadership training programs for members. She was honored on a commemorative (Scott #5171) on February 1, 2017. Dr. Height was initiated in 1939 at Rho Chapter at Columbia University.
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010) was an African American jazz and pop music singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. Horne's career spanned over 70 years appearing in film, television, and theater. Horne joined the chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of 16 and became a nightclub performer before moving to Hollywood, where she had small parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the 1943 films Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. Because of the Red Scare and her political activism, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood. Returning to her roots as a nightclub performer, Horne took part in the March on Washington in August 1963 and continued to work as a performer, both in nightclubs and on television while releasing well-received record albums. She announced her retirement in March 1980, but the next year starred in a one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which ran for more than three hundred performances on Broadway. She then toured the country in the show, earning numerous awards and accolades. Horne continued recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s, disappearing from the public eye in 2000. Horne died of congestive heart failure on May 9, 2010, at the age of 92.
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