Sigma Sigma Sigma was founded by a group of eight women on April 20, 1898 in Farmville, Virginia. Margaret Lee Batten, Louise Marie Davis, Martha Trent Featherston, Isabella Merrick, Sallie Jackson Michie, Lelia Scott, Elizabeth Watkins and Lucy Wright set out to establish a sisterhood based on the bond of friendship. Founded at the State Female Normal School (now Longwood University), Tri Sigma became part of the group of sororities known as the “Farmville Four” – four Greek letter sororities established at the State Female Normal School between 1898 and 1901. The Charter of Incorporation was granted by the Commonwealth of Virginia on February 12, 1903, and Tri Sigma adopted its first constitution in April 1903.
1898 - The Beginning
Founders: Margaret Lee Batten, Louise Marie Davis, Martha Trent Featherston, Isabella Merrick, Sallie Jackson Michie, Lelia Scott, Elizabeth Watkins and Lucy Wright.
From our earliest days, we seek out others to accompany us on our journey. There will be many acquaintances as we travel along our path. Among them will be found some with whom we feel a special bond…a rapport to be welcomed and nurtured. There may be one or two, there may be a hundred.
Is it any wonder then, that eight young women, away from home and family, found each other and began their journey in friendship? They stepped out on a path from Farmville, Virginia in 1898, sharing a special bond as friends who regarded each other as sisters. They reached out to others who joined them on the journey. Together, they established a sisterhood called Sigma Sigma Sigma. We find friends within the bonds of Tri Sigma. We regard these friends as sisters. We enter into a state of being Sisters. We are a Sisterhood.
There were many “firsts.” We held our first general convention and elected Rhea Clarke Scott, Alpha, our first Grand President. The first national constitution was written as well as “Stately and Royal,” and the “Early History of Sigma Sigma Sigma.” “The Triangle of Sigma Sigma Sigma” was established and our Triangle badge adopted. J. Miller Leake became the only man permitted to wear our badge.
Bess Bennett Brower Willis, Gamma, was elected in 1908 as our second president. Our chapter roll went from Alpha to Theta as eight new chapters were added during this decade.
We were caught up in a global war and Sigmas joined the corps of American women in war work. Mabel Lee Walton was elected our third national president in 1913. Tri Sigma forged ahead on teacher college campuses and helped to establish the Association of Educational Sororities. An Endowment Fund was introduced and Omega services begun. Eight new chapters were installed from Kappa to Rho.
The Roaring Twenties had begun. Sigmas moved forward establishing many new publications: a song book, officer manuals, pledge manual, The Angle (Convention daily newsletter), The Stray (alumnae newsletter). We celebrated our 25th anniversary. The Circle degree was conferred on 62 alumnae. Central office located in Woodstock, VA. We added 16 new chapters going from Tau through Alpha Lambda.
The Great Depression was in force. These were the lean years but Tri Sigma continued to thrive. The John Randolph School Library was designated our National social service project. Our Triennial Plan was developed, Charm School established, our E.O. moved to Clermont, FL, we had our first “Honor Initiate,” and Sigmas established the Emily Gates Achievement Award. Nine new chapters were added from Alpha Mu to Alpha Upsilon.
During the War years, Tri Sigmas entered the armed services and volunteered for other war efforts. The first bound book of Sigma Rituals was published. The diamond badge of Mabel Lee Walton was passed on to our fourth national president, Mary Hastings Holloway Page, Alpha. Executive Office moved to the home of Marie Santee Dunham in Muskogee, OK then later to Denison, TX. We celebrated 50 years of Sigma Sigma Sigma. Fifteen new chapters were installed from Alpha Phi to Beta Mu.
Tri Sigma became a member of NPC. We adopted as our national philanthropy, the Robbie Page Memorial Fund (RPM) to fight the scourge of polio, in memory of the 5 year-old son of Mary Hastings.. When a successful vaccine was developed, Tri Sigma elected to fund a play therapy room on the pediatric floor of the North Carolina Memorial Hospital. Our first history was published, our “doll collection” was started, and Mabel Lee Walton became President Emerita. We elected Margaret Freeman Dixon, Sigma, as our fifth national president and celebrated our 60th anniversary. Fourteen new chapters were chartered—Beta Nu through Gamma Gamma.
The 1960’s were a time of unrest on college campuses. The fraternity system was challenged but Sigma Sigma Sigma held true to its founding principles. Nelda Francis Crawford, Alpha, became our sixth national president. We created the College Chapter Housing Fund, lifetime dues, a Collegiate Advisory Board (CAB) was established and the Steadfast Alumna Award was introduced. We bought Walton House and made it our permanent headquarters in Woodstock, VA. New chapters numbered 25—Gamma Epsilon to Delta Epsilon.
Members of Sigma Sigma Sigma affirmed the founding purposes and Declaration of Principles. Helen Marie Eggert Snyder, Alpha Xi, elected our 7th national president. We celebrated our 75th anniversary. RPM expanded to include play therapy at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. The Alumnae Advisory Committee was established, Key Alumnae started, and “Make a Child Smile” balloon ascension introduced to benefit RPM. We installed 14 new chapters—Delta Zeta through Delta Tau.
Computers became a permanent fixture at E.O. Mary K. Barbee was named the first Sigma to serve as Chairman of NPC. Mimi Brandt Hiner, Beta Xi, was elected our 8th national president. A career network, Tradewinds, was established and our Sigma Sigma Sigma Foundation was instituted. Ann Buchler Williams, Gamma Eta, became our 9th national president. Dunham Leadership Conference replaced Regional Meets. 21 college chapters were chartered, adding Delta Upsilon to Epsilon Rho to the collegiate chapter roll.
1998 saw Sigmas celebrating 100 years of sisterhood. Sigmas once again came home to Virginia for our 38th Convention. Diana Hornick Sarber, Beta Mu, became our 10th national president. We installed the first sorority chapter in the state of Alaska and the first D/deaf and hard-of-hearing chapter in Rochester, NY. The Educational Foundation and RPM are reorganized as the Sigma Sigma Sigma Foundation. Sigma ventured on to the worldwide web with the launch of www.sigmasigmasigma.org. Our new chapters during this decade numbered 41, taking us from Epsilon Sigma to Eta Mu.
Mary K. Barbee, Iota, became the 11th National President, the “Ever Forward” logo appears for the first time, and the first international chapter (Eta Mu) was chartered in Germany. In 2004 Laura Ward Sweet, Alpha Sigma, became our 12th National President. The Chapter Accreditation and Essential Sigma programs are implemented, and Officer Academy begins providing leadership training to new collegiate chapter officers. State Days regain popularity as an opportunity for collegiate and alumnae members to meet and form new bonds. Tri Sigma joined the world of Facebook and also tweeted for the first time. 12 installations added chapters from Eta Nu to Theta Alpha to our roll.
2010 brought many opportunities for Tri Sigma to look forward and continue a path of innovation. Tri Sigma’s Executive Council adopted a governance model to better meet the needs of this dynamic sisterhood. Kaye Schendel was installed as Tri Sigma’s 13th National President at the 2010 Convention in Minneapolis, MN. The Labryrinth Leadership program was created, and service opportunities in West Virginia and Jamaica offered members the chance to fully immerse themselves in aiding local communities. After 50 years as our official headquarters, the Mabel Lee Walton House Memorial Headquarters began the transition to a memorial museum for displaying Sigma’s history, with the opening of a new headquarters building next door to Walton House. Tri Sigmas came from all over the country in May 2015 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Heart Home and see all the changes made to the two buildings. Efforts to stand up a fully functioning archives began in earnest as well. Under the direction of a national archivist, a committee of volunteers began preparing a vast amount of documents for digitization, which will soon allow members unprecedented access to Tri Sigma’s history. In addition, the committee also undertook the restoration and preservation of jewelry and other artifacts, including our beloved Doll Collection. The 2016 Convention in Schaumburg, IL saw the installation of Natalie Averette, Gamma Beta, as our 14th National President, and the beginning of a new philanthropic partnership between the Tri Sigma Foundation and the March of Dimes. So far this decade, our chapter roll has grown by seven – from Theta Beta to Theta Theta.