In the late 19th century, a woman’s place in society was very different from what it is today. Women were not permitted to vote, and few women were found in the workplace. In the frontier states of the mid-west, women began to attend the formerly all-male universities, but they were not welcomed by their male classmates. Because of this cool reception, it was natural for women students to join together in small groups for friendship and support. At first, these groups were limited to their individual campuses, but as they developed they imitated the existing men’s fraternities, and the various groups spread from one school to another.
In 1885, Sarah Ida Shaw entered Boston University. At this time, there happened to be three of these “ladies’ societies” represented at the school (Kappa Kappa Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta, and Alpha Phi). Sarah saw a need for a group which would be different from the others. She said to her friend, Eleanor Dorcas Pond, “Let us found a society that shall be kind alike to all and think more of a girl’s inner self and character than of her personal appearance.”
So the two young women began the work of creating a new national fraternity. Not only did they found a fraternity, but at the same time, they wrote the rituals and constitution, and designed the emblems. The choosing of the name was a joint decision.
Eleanor suggested a triple letter, while Sarah chose the Delta and worked on the Greek mottos and passwords. Inspiration for these came from a variety of sources: Egyptian lore, Hindu mysticism, Greek and astronomy, reflecting the wide and various interests of Sarah Ida Shaw. Never before had a sorority been founded so completely and with such depth of meaning from the very beginning.
During January of 1889, following three years of hard work and persistence, a total of 18 girls were initiated. – “The first initiation service was quite elaborate….After the initiation, we had a sumptuous banquet…followed by toasts and the shouting of our call.”
The appearance of a new sorority startled the other “society people,” who probably expected a weakling organization. But the Tri Deltas were determined to stay ahead of their rivals, and on March 7 initiated three more of their own, bringing their total to 21.
At 12 Somerset Street on Beacon Hill, Delta Delta Delta was not only created but was developed and expanded by the wise, successful and strong leadership of its two founders, as well as the early members of the Alpha Chapter. Sarah Ida Shaw and Eleanor Dorcas Pond included their two senior classmates, Isabel Morgan Breed and Florence Isabelle Stewart, as “founders.” Therefore, the Fraternity has always recognized the four seniors as founders of Delta Delta Delta.