Alpha Kappa Alpha was organized on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., during the 1907-1908 academic year, making it the oldest Greek-letter organization established in America by women of color. Ethel Hedgeman, then a member of the junior class, returned from summer vacation inspired to meet women of like mind to organize a sorority. In Miner Hall, Ethel and her friends formed a group of nine to create this dream. Included were the Burke sisters (Beulah and Lillie), Margaret Flagg Holmes, Marjorie Hill, Lucy Slowe, Marie Woodfolk Taylor, Anna Easter Brown, and Lavinia Norman. In January 1908, the organization became a recognized campus group and the official life of Alpha Kappa Alpha has been continuous since that time.
The planning team of nine worked diligently to select a name and colors, draft a constitution, develop a motto, and identify an official symbol. Beulah Burke, who had studied Greek and classic symbolism, suggested the name Alpha Kappa Alpha and recommended that the colors be salmon pink and apple green. Ethel Hedgeman’s assignment was to design an insignia. Her green enameled ivy leaf with the letters, A, K, and A engraved in gold on the point of each leaf was unanimously adopted. While the idea of the Sorority originated from Ethel, a junior, the newly adopted constitution stipulated that the president should be a senior. With sisterly admiration and based on Ethel’s nomination, Lucy Slowe was elected the first president of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
It was also decided that a group of sophomore women who had shown exceptional interest in the organization should be invited to join in order to ensure continuity. Six members of the original nine were scheduled to graduate in June, so Marie Woodfolk approached sophomores who possessed the desired qualifications of seriousness, studiousness, and responsibility. Late in February 1908, seven sophomores were admitted without initiation. These members were Joanna Berry, Norma Boyd, Ethel Jones, Sarah Meriweather, Alice Murray, Carrie Snowden, and Harriet Terry. These seven and the original nine are all honored as Alpha Kappa Alpha “founders”. They are remembered especially at Founders’ Day each January.
Alpha Kappa Alpha’s development has been influenced not only by growth of its membership, but by conditions in the culture. Consistent throughout the years has been an emphasis on uplifting membership standards of high scholarship, leadership, service, and exemplary character. Today the influence and concerns of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated extend far beyond campus gates and student interests. With membership approaching 200,000, the singular determination to be “supreme in service to all mankind” reverberates throughout the United States, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean. In 2008, the sorority celebrated the 100th Anniversary of its founding. A comprehensive collection of historical documents, materials, memorabilia, and artifacts can be found at the National Alpha Kappa Alpha Archives housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center Manuscript Library, Howard University, Washington, D.C.