Expansion Patterns

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority is unique in the way the organization decided to expand the reach of the sorority beyond Howard University’s campus and into a national organization. While other organizations focused on initially establishing chapters at predominately white educational institutions, Zeta saw a clear need to develop chapters leveraging the backbone of the African American educational experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Zeta wanted more than to simply develop bonds of companionship amongst college students but sought first to make inroads in the communities that would most benefit from the services the sorority would provide.

As such, Zeta dared to establish its very first chapters not in the relatively urban cities of Chicago, New York City and Detroit, but in the deeply divided cities in the Deep South, including Talladega, AL; Lorman, MS; and Charlotte, NC. Zeta’s first two chapters after Howard University were established at historically Black universities – Morris Brown College, Atlanta, GA, and Morgan State College, Baltimore, MD – which were followed by a San Antonio, Texas-based citywide chapter. In 1923, Theta Chapter was established at Wiley College, Marshall, TX, making it the first chapter of any Black sorority to organize a collegiate chapter in Texas. Even after chartering chapters in more integrated cities, Zeta continued to make a concerted effort to develop chapters at the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities and in other areas of the Southern areas.


Zeta Phi Beta was also at the forefront in other areas of expansion. In 1937, National President Violette Anderson asked the Lambda Zeta Chapter to host the upcoming national convention in Houston, Texas. No other Black Greek-lettered organization had ever held a national convention south of the Mason-Dixon line. The members of the Lambda Zeta Chapter answered the call of Zeta, hosting one of the best meetings in the sorority’s then 17-year history. This success was especially commendable given that the meeting was held in the Black business sector of downtown Houston with meals provided by the YWCA cafeteria, as there were no restaurants available to Blacks in downtown Houston. Members and friends in Black neighborhoods throughout the city housed convention delegates.

Zeta again sought to challenge established norms in the 1940s when work began to develop a chapter in Africa. Many African students attended American universities in the 1930s and 1940s, and several of these students became members of Zeta Phi Beta. One of these women, Dr. Rachel Townsend, commented how she would love to have a chapter in her country of Liberia, Africa. At the encouragement of other sorority members, Dr. Townsend returned to Liberia to find other Zetas who had attended Howard University and were interested in forming a chapter. An application was submitted, and the charter was granted in December 1948 for the establishment of a Zeta graduate chapter in Monrovia, Liberia, Africa. Today, there are also chapters in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Bahamas, Japan, Korea, Barbados, Haiti, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Trinidad/Tobago, and most recently Accra, Ghana.

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