Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. History


Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority is the oldest Greek-letter organization established by African American college trained women. It was organized on the campus of Howard University in Washington D.C. during the academic year of 1907-1908.1

Ethel Hedgeman, a member of the junior class, returned from summer vacation in the fall of 1907, with the inspiration and desire to organize a sorority. Exuberant and ardent to share her idea to form a sorority she began to discuss her thoughts with fellow classmates and associates. Intrigued with the idea of forming a sorority, eight of her associates joined with Ethel Hedgeman and began to work on the group’s formation.

In January 1908, these young women successfully petitioned the officers of Howard University for permission to function as a recognized campus group. One month later, the initial nine invited seven sophomores to join them. The sorority recognizes this group of sixteen women as the Founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Thus, the idea of one, molded by nine, and nurtured by sixteen, spawned Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

From 1908 to 1913, Alpha Kappa Alpha existed exclusively on the campus of Howard University and was comprised solely of women matriculating at the university. Membership increased slowly with subsequent initiations, of small numbers in 1909, 1910, 1911 and 1912.

In the fall of 1912, certain chapter members decided to change the name, motto, colors and symbol of the sorority. Nellie Quander who had just graduated in June and was the immediate past president of Alpha Chapter would have no part of it. To preserve the name and what was distinctive to Alpha Kappa Alpha, Nellie Quander took action to incorporate the organization.

On January 29, 1913, Alpha Kappa Alpha was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia. In accordance with the rules of the incorporation, the first Directorate with Nellie Quander as the International President was established. Her plan for development was to “expand to every nook and corner of our land.”

International President Quander contacted Founder Beulah Elizabeth Burke to help her in this task. Burke agreed to help and became the sorority’s First National Organizer. In 1913, she chartered Beta Chapter in Chicago, IL giving it the distinction of being the second chapter of the sorority and the first chapter to be chartered after the sorority’s incorporation; and the third Gamma Chapter in 1914 at the University of Illinois in Champlain-Urbana, the first chapter to be established on a predominately white college campus.

Today Alpha Kappa Alpha has grown to more than 288,000 members located in 988 Undergraduate and Graduate chapters throughout the US and internationally. And has remained steadfast to its purpose: To cultivate and encourage high scholastic and ethical standards, to promote unity and friendship among college women, to study and help alleviate problems concerning girls and women in order to improve their social stature, to maintain a progressive interest in college life, and to be of service to all mankind.

For more than a century, the sorority through its member volunteers and collaborations has established and carried out social action initiatives, cultural, educational, health and environmental programs directed at youth, strengthening the black family, economic empowerment, providing educational opportunities and advancing human and civil rights in local, national and International communities.

Through the Years Program Highlights

  • Vocational Guidance Program
  • Mississippi Health Project
  • Non-Partisan Council on Public Affairs Lobby
  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Nutrition Clinic
  • Organized the American Council on Human Rights
  • Granted United Nations Observer Status
  • Supported Sickle Cell Disease research and education with grants to Howard Hospital
  • Published The Sickle Cell Story
  • First women’s organization to operate a federal residential Job Corps Center for women
  • Established the Domestic Travel Tour (a one-week cultural excursion for high school students)
  • Published a “Heritage Series” on contemporary Black women
  • Purchased Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace and boyhood home
  • Completed one-half million dollar pledge to the United Negro College Fund
  • Launched the National Reading Seminars
  • Only sorority to be named an inaugural member of Operation Big Vote
  • African Village Development Program (250 villages adopted)
  • Established the Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation (EAF)
  • Sponsored a Moving Up from Poverty and Economic Development Conference in D.C.
  • Built 10 schools in South Africa and sent 40,000 shoeboxes filled with school supplies
  • Added the largest number of minorities to the National Bone Marrow Registry
  • Installed at Pearl Harbor the first memorial to World War II unsung hero Dorie Miller
  • Launched PIMS (Partners In Mathematics and Science) Academies
  • Ivy Academy – Awarded a $1.5 million dollar federal demonstration grant to strengthened the reading skills of 16,000 children in low-performing, economically deprived, inner city schools
  • Partnered with Dr. Ian Smith and State Farm in the Million Pound Challenge
  • Donated $1 million dollars to Howard University for scholarship and archival of Black culture
  • Keys to Home Ownership – Partnership with Chase Bank and realtors
  • Honored the Little Rock Nine – desegregation of Central High, Little Rock, Ar.
  • Emerging Young Leaders Program
  • Youth Enrichment Program – ASCEND
  • UNA-USA Global Classroom Project

Excerpted in part from “The History of Central Region – Pledged to Remember,” by Loann Julia Honesty King

1 Parker, Marjorie H. Past is Prologue: The History of Alpha Kappa Alpha 1908 – 1999. Chicago: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., 1999.

2 Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated® Constitution and Bylaws