Phi Sigma Sigma is a proud, strong member of the Greek community because our Founders were leaders of their time, who developed a mission to perpetuate the advancement of womanhood.
They believed that women of different faiths could come together and work toward common goals. They established the ideals that endure today and are upheld by Phi Sigma Sigma collegians and alumnae bound by the strength of sisterhood. Our Founders charted the course for milestones that have enabled Phi Sigma Sigma to prosper. Membership in Phi Sigma Sigma remains a lifelong, meaningful experience for women with like values.
The early 1900s were turbulent times in the United States. Racial vindictiveness emerged as a result of earlier waves of emigration, and divisions developed along religious, ethnic, and economic lines. The city of New York was seen as a cauldron for social change.
In 1913, our Founders approached the Dean of Women at Hunter College in New York City with a vision. They wanted to start a sorority that would promote open membership to all women of character regardless of background; a sorority committed to sisterhood, excellence in scholarship, and selfless giving.
On November 26, 1913, Phi Sigma Sigma was born. It was the first nonsectarian sorority; the only one that was open to diverse membership from inception and the only one with a ritual that was not based in any one religion. Under the leadership of Fay Chertkoff (our first chapter archon), Alpha Chapter was installed at Hunter College.
Phi Sigma Sigma was incorporated in 1914 in New York City. The original name of the Fraternity was Phi Sigma Omega, until, when trying to have it incorporated, the Founders learned that the name was already being used by another Greek letter society. Our Founders selected our symbols after careful consideration. The American Beauty Rose was chosen because it was the premier flower in the U.S. following its introduction at a Washington DC nursery in 1885. At $2 a stem, it was no common rose! Shirley Cohen suggested the sphinx as a symbol because of its mythological significance to women, and because it represents mystery and secrecy.
The Founders' first objective was to establish the twin ideals - “The brotherhood of man and the alleviation of the world’s pain.” Each woman extended herself to her greatest capacity to live up to the standards the group chose. They attained high scholastic standing, developed intense bonds, and each served in philanthropic activities, donating to a variety of charities consistent with Phi Sigma Sigma's twin ideals and nonsectarian trait.
Three new members were accepted into Phi Sigma Sigma during the first year: Bertha Markowitz Goldstein, Bell Heyman Hoffman, and Leontine Friedman. For five years, Alpha Chapter continued locally. When a friend of Rose Sher who attended Tufts College contacted her with interest in the sorority, expansion became a reality. In 1918, the Founders installed Beta Chapter at Tufts College in Boston, and Gamma Chapter at New York University.
1918 was also the year of our first National Convention held in New York City. Fay Chertkoff was elected Phi Sigma Sigma’s first grand archon. Representatives from Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Chapters met, approved the original Phi Sigma Sigma Constitution, and elected the first Supreme Council. This included Fay Chertkoff as grand archon, Ethel Gordon Kraus as grand vice archon, Shirley Cohen Laufer Goldstein as national tribune, and Estelle Melnick Cole as national bursar. This Supreme Council served from 1918-1920.
Following the election of the first Supreme Council, the national headquarters of Phi Sigma Sigma resided at the home of the national tribune, a member of Supreme Council. The headquarters moved with the placement of each new tribune.
Phi Sigma Sigma became a true national sorority when Zeta Chapter was installed in 1921 at the University of California at Los Angeles. Phi Sigma Sigma was also UCLA’s first national sorority.
Eta Chapter at the University of Michigan, was established in 1922, and Theta Chapter at the University of Illinois, founded in 1923, introduced our ideals to mid-west campuses.
The Sphinx, our national magazine, made its appearance in 1926, serving to bring Phi Sigma Sigma’s widely dispersed chapters closer together.
Reflecting the expansion of the twenties and the widespread geographical distribution of our chapters, a regional administration system was developed, grouping chapters into geographical divisions managed by Division Presidents who reported to the national Director of Undergraduates.
The first National Song, called “The Hymn,” was written by Pearl S. Lippman (Alpha, ’21) and her husband, Arthur.
In 1930, Phi Sigma Sigma became an international sorority with the founding of Upsilon Chapter at the University of Manitoba, Manitoba, Canada.
Phi Sigma Sigma’s first double letter guard, signifying the beginning of the Greek alphabet, was granted to Beta Alpha Chapter at the University of Maryland in 1936.
In 1943, the name of the national headquarters was changed to Central Office and the first Executive Secretary was hired. Esther Malter became Phi Sigma Sigma’s first paid staff member.
Expansion in the forties concluded with the installation of three southern chapters in 1947 — Beta Theta at the University of Miami, Beta Iota at Southern Methodist University, and Beta Kappa at Florida Southern University.
At the 25th Convention in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, in June 1950 a new design for the Phi Sigma Sigma badge was adopted. The badge had remained unchanged since our founding.
In 1951, Phi Sigma Sigma became a member of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Clarisse Harrison Markowitz (Pi ’26, Syracuse University) served as the first NPC Delegate.
The Phi Sigma Sigma Cardiology Laboratory was established at Yeshiva University Medical School in New York City in 1957. Phi Sigma Sigma presented a $20,000 grant to establish the laboratory.
Our first traveling secretary (now called a field consultant), Meriam Lipkind, began to visit chapters in 1958.
Phi Sigma Sigma celebrated its Golden Anniversary at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City in 1963.
In 1966, Leadership Training School (LTS) was introduced by past Grand Archon Jeanine Jacobs Goldberg (Nu ’60, University of Pennsylvania). LTS was held on a national basis in years when there was not a national convention to meet the training and informational needs of the collegiate chapters, alumnae chapters and volunteers.
With the separation of Hunter College’s two campuses in June 1968, our founding chapter also divided. Alpha Alpha was installed at the new Herbert Lehman College in the Bronx, while Alpha Chapter remained on Hunter College’s Park Avenue campus.
In 1969, in an effort to provide greater focus on the philanthropic activities of Phi Sigma Sigma, the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation was created.
At the 1971 Convention, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) was adopted as the Fraternity’s official philanthropic cause.
The 1980s were a time of prosperity for Phi Sigma Sigma. In 1981 alone, Phi Sigma Sigma added eight new chapters.
The chairmanship of NPC is held in rotation according to each member’s entrance into NPC. Phi Sigma Sigma has had the honor of holding the chairmanship once. Louise Kier Ziretta (Zeta ’72, University of California, Los Angeles) was the NPC Chairman from 1989-91. Phi Sigma Sigma’s service to the NPC executive committee began with Veachey Rudolph Bloom (Xi ’47, Temple University) as treasurer, 1985-1986, then Louise Kriegsman Kier Zirretta as treasurer, 1986-1987 and secretary, 1987-1989, prior to rotating to NPC’s highest leadership position.
In 1988, Phi Sigma Sigma celebrated 75 years of sisterhood at our conclave in Philadelphia. Mayor Wilson Goode proclaimed a Phi Sigma Sigma Day.
In September 1989, Central Office moved from Miami to Boca Raton, Fla.
Phi Sigma Sigma installed 56 chapters in the 1990s.
In 1991 past Grand Archon Louise Kriegsman Kier Zirretta (Zeta ’72, University of California Los Angeles) accepted the chairmanship of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC).
In 1993 the Phi Sigma Sigma National Housing Corporation (NHC) was formed to provide, equip, maintain and manage the living and/or meeting quarters for collegiate chapters of the Fraternity. The NHC provides a quality housing experience to all members on campuses where housing is provided.
In 2000, Phi Sigma Sigma was commended by USA Weekend and the Points of Light Foundation for our outstanding Make a Difference Day participation. Phi Sigma Sigma introduced Chapter Excellence in 2001, a streamlined, goal-oriented, chapter-based method of tracking achievements to help sisters and chapters reach their potential through commitment to self, chapter, Fraternity, campus and community.
The National Make a Difference Day Award was presented to Phi Sigma Sigma in 1999, in recognition of our commitment to volunteer service and community involvement.
In 2004, Central Office was renamed Headquarters. Phi Sigma Sigma purchased its first office property and Headquarters moved to Elkridge, Md.
2007 was a historic time for Phi Sigma Sigma. Based on the results of a two-year study of our organizational effectiveness, voting delegates at Convention approved a major change to our organizational structure. Rather than having a nine member Supreme Council that directs the day-to-day operations of the Fraternity, Phi Sigma Sigma moved to a seven-member board that is focused on strategic planning and providing outstanding service to members.
Phi Sigma Sigma was also honored in 2007 to have one of our alumnae appointed to the National Panhellenic Conference executive committee. Gina Kerley (Delta Gamma’82, San Francisco State University) served as the Alumnae Panhellenics Committee chairman from 2007-2011. In 2011, Phi Sigma Sigma became the first group to have an alumna elected to the executive committee. Josette George (Beta Psi ’82, University of Florida) was elected to serve as the Budget and Finance Chairman for the 2011-2013 biennium.
Phi Sigma Sigma has shaped the priorities of its sisters throughout the decades. Our sisterhood and love for Phi Sigma Sigma bind us together and encourage us to always work toward our twin ideals. Today, Phi Sigma Sigma maintains 108 healthy, active collegiate chapters in the United State and Canada and has more the 70,000 members worldwide.