The year was 1920. It was the start of the decade, shortly after World War One, and a time of great prosperity for the country. Women were called dames, dolls, or the cat's meow. At the beginning of the decade, women still wore long skirts but the "Roaring 20s" brought a new look of short skirts and smartly coiffed shorter hair. Racial tensions were high and quotas set for immigrants coming into America. The Klan was very active during this period. The Harlem Renaissance was acknowledged as the first important movement of black artists and writers in the US. On January 16, 1920, the Volstead Act became effective, heralding the start of Prohibition and on August 18th of the same year, Tennessee delivered the crucial 36th ratification necessary for the final adoption of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. The worst and longest economic recession to ever hit the United States would define the end of the decade-the Great Depression.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. was founded January 16, 1920 on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. The idea was conceived by five collegiate women: Arizona Cleaver, Pearl A. Neal, Myrtle Tyler, Viola Tyler, and Fannie Pettie, also known as our five pearls. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. was founded on the principles of Scholarship, Service, Sisterly Love, and Finer Womanhood. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. is incorporated in Washington, D.C. and also in the state of Illinois.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority would be remiss not to pay homage to the first women who believed in the need for a new and different type of Greek-lettered organization and acted upon that need. To these women, Zeta was more than an organization-it was a movement, a belief system that reflected, at its core, the desire to provide true Service, to embrace Scholarship, to set a standard for Sisterly Love and to define the noble concept of Finer Womanhood. This belief has sustained and encouraged Zetas around the world to hold fast to the ideals initiated and developed by its earliest members.
The Founders of Zeta were strong, principled coeds who possessed a great deal of modesty, strength of character and pride in academic achievement. They are indeed a worthy foundation upon which to base our illustrious Sorority.
Arizona Cleaver Stemons: Arizona Cleaver was the first president of Alpha chapter and the first national president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. She completed her graduate and post-graduate studies in the field of social work and was responsible for chartering numerous undergraduate and graduate chapters throughout the United States.
Pearl Anna Neal: After graduating from Howard University’s Conservatory of Music, Founder Neal continued her studies at the Julliard School of Music. In 1938, she was the first black woman in New York to earn a master’s degree in music from Columbia University. An extremely accomplished musician, Founder Neal taught music in North Carolina public schools and served as a director of seniors majoring in music at Teachers College in Winston Salem, NC.
Myrtle Tyler Faithful: Myrtle Tyler was the second national president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and blood sister to Viola Tyler. A high school mathematics and English teacher, Founder Tyler was an active member of Alpha Zeta chapter in Baltimore, Maryland.
Viola Tyler Goings: Viola Tyler graduated from Howard University with a teaching degree and a major in math. She taught school in Ohio for many years and was always very active in community affairs.
Fannie Pettie Watts: Fannie Pettie graduated from Howard with a Bachelor of Arts degree in education and taught junior and senior high schools in Savannah, Georgia. She was credited with organizing two additional Zeta chapters and had active membership in Delta Alpha Zeta chapter.