In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement

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Overview

This history of the largest block women's organization in the United States is not only the story of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (DST), but also tells of the increasing involvement of black women in the political, social, and economic affairs of America. Founded at a time when liberal arts education was widely seen as either futile, dangerous, or impractical for blacks, especially women, DST is, in Giddings's words, a "compelling reflection of block women's aspirations for ...

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Overview

This history of the largest block women's organization in the United States is not only the story of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (DST), but also tells of the increasing involvement of black women in the political, social, and economic affairs of America. Founded at a time when liberal arts education was widely seen as either futile, dangerous, or impractical for blacks, especially women, DST is, in Giddings's words, a "compelling reflection of block women's aspirations for themselves and for society."

Giddings notes that unlike other organizations with racial goals, Delta Sigma Theta was created to change and benefit individuals rather than society. As a sorority, it was formed to bring women together as sisters, but at the some time to address the divisive, often class-related issues confronting black women in our society. There is, in Giddings's eyes, a tension between these goals that makes Delta Sigma Theta a fascinating microcosm of the struggles of black women and their organizations.

DST members have included Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary Church Terrell, Margaret Murray Washington, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, and, on the cultural side, Leontyne Price, Lena Horne, Ruby Dee, Judith Jamison, and Roberta Flack. In Search of Sisterhood is full of compelling, fascinating anecdotes told by the Deltas themselves, and illustrated with rare early photographs of the Delta women.

In Search of Sisterhood is a rich history of the largest black women's organization in the United States. With alumni such as Lena Horne, Roberta Flack, and Barbara Jordan, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority has been, in Paula Giddings' words, a "compelling reflection of black women's aspirations." Now--finally--here is its remarkable story.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Marking the 75th anniversary of the largest black women's organization in the United States, this history of the college-based movement is an account filled with incidents of the emergence of the Deltas as a force in our national life. Giddings ( When and Where I Enter ), a graduate of Howard University, the birthplace of the movement, acknowledges the ambivalence that membership causes some, but focuses on the strengths of the sorority whose members typically remain active after college years. A sense of racial obligation permeates the sorority, which comprises women who are largely professional and upper-class, and who see their role as agents of change in a variety of social and political issues. Included among recent luminaries are Barbara Jordan, congresswoman from Texas, and, from the arts, Lena Horne, Leontyne Price and Ruby Dee. Photos not seen by PW. (August)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688135096
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/2007
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 168,345
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Paula J. Giddings is the Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor in Afro-American Studies at Smith College and the author of When and Where I Enter and In Search of Sisterhood.

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Read an Excerpt

In Search of Sisterhood
Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement
Chapter One

World Of The Founders



On a sweltering August 2 in 1981, ten thousand members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The women, all wearing white, and many of them carrying parasols to fend off the sun, were commemorating--at this, their thirty-sixth national convention--Delta's first public act as a sorority. On March 13, 1913, just two months after their inception, the Deltas had participated in the historic woman suffrage parade on the eve of President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.

Two members of the Black sorority who participated in the commemoration march remembered the suffrage parade that had taken place sixty-eight years before: Sadie T. M. Alexander, then eighty-three years of age, and Bertha Pitts Campbell, who was ninety-two. In 1913, Alexander was preparing to enter the University of Pennsylvania, from which, in 1921, she would become the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. degree.* While an undergraduate, Alexander was elected the first national president of Delta Sigma Theta, guiding its transition from a loose federation of chapters to national organization.

Only Campbell garnered more attention as she marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on that August day. Despite her years, she refused to ride in the limousine provided for her, and only half humorously urged then national vice-president Hortense Canady to go faster or she would "walk on her heels." Campbell was the only person who had actually participated in the 1913 march. She had marched as one of the twenty-twofounding members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. The experiences that brought her there mirrored those of a fortunate few in her generation.

Soon after Bertha Campbell was born, on June 30, 1889, her family moved from their home in Winfield, Kansas, to Montrose, Colorado, a mining town about 180 miles southwest of Denver. It must have been a painful decision for her parents, Ida and Hubbard Sydney Pitts, to leave their wheat-filled land in Kansas. The state possessed the hopes of her Mississippi-born father as it did for thousands of southern Blacks who migrated there after the Civil War. Wheat farming was benumbing work, with a growing season that sometimes lasted two hundred days a year, but the Pittses were successful farmers--until the windswept droughts made it difficult to make ends meet. When Ida became pregnant with their third child, Bertha, they were compelled to go elsewhere. The family decided on Montrose because Ida's mother, Eliza Butler, was there, and Hubbard (or H.S. as he was called) could find a job as a cook in the gold, granite, and coal mines that had attracted a population of about a thousand. It was a young town, founded in 1882, and was an emerging service center for miners and railroad workers. In November of 1889, the couple and their three children, Charles, Minnie, and Bertha, arrived there, and it would be the birthplace of two more siblings, Huey and Timmy.

Eliza Butler, Ida's mother, would have the most profound impact on Bertha, who would eventually live with this short, slim woman who was among the first generation of Blacks who knew both slavery and freedom. Campbell still recalls her saying that "education is the gateway to everything,"1 and Campbell took those words seriously. In 1903, she became the only Black student to enroll in Montrose High School, and five years later delivered the valedictory address to the class of 1908. In that year, she graduated summa cum laude, and was offered a full four-year scholarship to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, some 160 miles from Montrose. And Campbell would have attended that thirty-four-year-old institution if it hadn't been for a woman who was a trustee of the nearby Congregationalist church, which was attended by the Pitts family. The trustee had just been to the nation's capital and had seen Howard University. "Oh, Bertha," the woman told her, "it's the nicest school in Washington."2 She was also partial to the college because it was named after General 0. 0. Howard, a Congregationalist and Civil War hero who had been president of the university from 1869 to 1873. The general also had headed the Freedmen's Bureau, a government agency that aided newly emancipated Blacks. According to Campbell, the trustee also believed that it would be beneficial for her to be part of a Black community, an experience she had not had, since her family were the only Blacks in Montrose, and Colorado College would not be much better. Campbell protested that her family would be unable to afford Howard in lieu of the scholarship she had already received, but was told that perhaps the Church could offer her one. Campbell did get the financial support and in 1909 she found herself preparing to attend Howard.

For the twenty-year-old Coloradoan, the Howard adventure began with a three-day train trip--including one luxurious meal in the train's dining car and a long stop in Chicago before reaching Washington, D.C. When she arrived on the campus, she must have been pleased at what she saw. Howard University, chartered in 1867, "for the education of youth in the liberal arts and social sciences," stood on twenty acres of "the highest elevation in Northwest Washington, and the most attractive part of the city," noted the Howard University Record, the official organ of the university.3 The campus looked over a small lake-sized reservoir, and the grounds of the National Soldiers Home that furnished a park. There were abundant shade trees and modern brick buildings that were "heated by steam and lighted by electricity," boasted the Record. One might also have been relieved to know that the campus and its surroundings had an enviable record of "healthfulness." No disease "has ever become epidemic in the institution," the publication proudly noted, "and there has never been on the grounds a death from typhoid."4

In Search of Sisterhood
Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement
. Copyright © by Paula Giddings. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Preface 5
Acknowledgments 11
Introduction: The Importance of the Black Sorority: Some Considerations 15
Ch. 1 World of the Founders 27
Ch. 2 The Founding 46
Ch. 3 Extending the Vision: Nationalizing an Idea 61
Ch. 4 Grounds for a Movement 80
Ch. 5 New Era, New Challenge 101
Ch. 6 Strengthening Within - Looking Without 124
Ch. 7 "One Blood, One Tradition" 139
Ch. 8 From Coalition to Autonomy 179
Ch. 9 Coming of Age 194
Ch. 10 The Modern Sisterhood 215
Ch. 11 Delta in the Movement Years 239
Ch. 12 Challenge and Change 259
Ch. 13 Toward a New Identity 270
Ch. 14 Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.: The Contemporary Years 293
Notes 306
Appendix 319
Index 327
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 26 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2004

    A Must Read for Any Black Woman Sorority Bound or Not

    I've read this book twice, once as an undergrad and again as a graduate student and I must say I had a greater appreciation and understanding the second time around. The book is so rich in history not only of the sorority itself but of the struggles and determination of African American women who often found themselves as a double minority, having to face not only issues of their race but also their sex. It is a must read for anyone interested in sorority life as well. It takes you beyond the colors and the calls, the step shows and the parties and provides a look into the deeper purpose and meaning behind the word 'sisterhood'.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2003

    A Historical Must Have

    In Search of Sisterhood is the definitive authorized historical reference for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. If you are interested in joining this organization this is a book that should be on your book shelf. Okay--this is not an easy read. It is the history of the organization on paper, and I mean it is very detailed. You will learn about the founders, different events and other information related to the growth of the 90 year old organization. The book also has goodies such as the founders name, national presidents through 1988, conventions through 1988, the Delta oath and hymn.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2003

    Crimson and Cream

    It was wonderful it took you through so much of the history and addressed so many topics like 'color' issues of the sorority even way back then. I have always wanted to join a sorority and after reading this I know which one I want to be apart of excellent book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2003

    Amazing Book for all interested in Sororities or Black History

    I have read this book a number of times because it gives me a sense of inspiration of African-American history in general. To see the amazing things that Black women have done and continue to do throughout America is wonderful. This is one of my favorite books!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2003

    I love this book

    I like reading this book, when I read this book I got really excited. before I read this book I Did want to join delta sigma theta. But after reading this book more I still want to join delta sigma theta. I really love this book, because I've learned so much about delta and the history of delta. When you read this book it bring you alot of excitement and I know I could hardly stay seated. I just want to congratulate paula giddings on making the best book possibly know about delta sigma theta and other sororities and fraternities.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2002

    A Great Book to read for anyone who has plans on pledging.

    i have not completely read this entire book quite yet but so far it has been very enjoyable and inspirational. i have become extremely interested in pledging Delta Sigma Theta for a while now, but after reading this book and becoming more knowledgable of what these women have gone through to make a means in their community and a positive name for their sorority, i have decided to plegde this spring. i give many thank's to the publisher for making everyone aware of the struggles and tribulations that these women were forced to endure while in the process of making themselves into a fully incorporated organization, not just a social group.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2001

    A Terrific Book

    This was a really good book. It was well written and well put together. It gave quite a bit of history of Alpha Kappa Alpha and the history of Delta Sigma Theta. It also had the history of our country which show the evolution of the sorority. I learned a lot of things that I didn't already know about the sorority and was glad that I was privilaged enough to read it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2001

    A Must Read for Delta Interests

    Although my interest lies in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., I have read this book. It provides almost everything you could know about the history of Delta Sigma Theta and there is quite a bit of information about AKA too. It is also a great book to read about the history and contributions of black women at the turn of the century.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2000

    Destined to Look In

    I recommed this book, for two particular reasons, to those of you who are considering pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha or Delta Sigma Theta. Reason One: It gives a good insight of both AKA's And Delta's. Reason Two: It gives a better understanding of the concept of pledging.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2000

    I loved this book

    I really enjoyed the book. I am currently a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., but when I read the book I was not. I think anyone who is interested in the sorority or any sorority should read this book. It chronicled the history of Delta and it gives someone on the outside an idea of what Delta Sigma Theta is about and some of the programs the sorority does for the community.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 19, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    This is an excellent book on the history of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority,Inc. for members of this beloved public service organization as well as those who are interested in becoming a member. It's a learning tool. You learn so much about what's involved in sisterhood. There is also valuable information on the forerunners and individuals who had a significant role in forming this sisterhood. This publication increased my knowledge about the organization and enhanced my appreciation for the struggle others made.

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    Posted April 19, 2011

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