Our Ten Fearless Leaders

As Founders' Day nears, let us give thanks to the ten women who started our amazing organization

Phi Sigma Sigma will celebrate our 100th anniversary in 2013. To celebrate our Centennial, we have decided to feature 100 women by November 26, 2013 (something called our “100 by 100”). “We felt it was only right to start with the first ten women who created the sisterhood we have today. They are the ones that have created the structure that young women across the country get to enjoy today,” said Executive Director Michelle Ardern.

Ten young women wanted to join the same sorority at the Normal College of the City of New York (it was renamed Hunter College in 1914), but could not because they did not share the same religion. Undaunted, they formed their own sorority so they could create their ideal sisterhood. On November 26, 1913, our Founders very quietly started a sisterhood that has chartered over 100 collegiate chapters. Imagine the vision of starting a non-sectarian sorority in 1913, with a ritual not based on scripture.

The year 1913 was an exciting time for our Founders to attend Hunter College. The concept of women in higher education was just beginning to take root. Our Founders were pioneers in every sense of the word – both in deciding to attend college and in making the truly momentous decision to form Phi Sigma Sigma. Here is more information about some of the Founders of our organization.

Lillian Gordon Alpern – born in New York City, the youngest child in a family of six; she followed in her only sister’s footsteps and attended Hunter College. While a junior, Lillian met Charles Alpern and left school to marry. She was the first Founder to pass away in 1945.

Josephine Ellison Breakstone – worked as a schoolteacher and was married. Josephine lived in New York City until the time of her death.


Fay Chertkoff – worked as a teacher throughout her full and interesting life. She is responsible for writing most of the Fraternity’s rituals. Fay served as a Fraternity officer for many years.

Estelle Melnick Cole – worked as a hospital volunteer in New York while taking courses in languages and the arts. Estelle served as an interpreter for her husband while they traveled extensively around the world. They later moved to Harrison, N.Y., where she resided until her death.

Jeanette Lipka Furst – graduated from public high school at age 11 and entered college at age 15 to become the youngest member of Phi Sigma Sigma. She graduated from Hunter College in three years at age 18. Jeanette taught fifth grade and later earned her doctorate in audio-visual education and communications.

Ethel Gordon Kraus – married and had two children, one is a member of Phi Sigma Sigma. She had five grandchildren and remained a member of the Godmother’s League and the Hattie Bondy Scholarship Fund. Her hobbies included bridge, theater and gardening. Ethel passed away in 1984 in New York City.

Shirley Cohen Laufer served as first National Tribune from 1918-1920. At that time she was known by her married name as Shirley Cohen Goldstein.

Claire Wunder McArdle little is known about Claire following her time at Hunter College. The Winter 1967 issue of The Sphinx said, "She was, and possibly still is, a fashion designer living in New York."

Rose Sher Seidman – married and had two sons and seven grandchildren. Rose taught school from 1915 to 1917 before returning to teach at a private school in 1940, where she stayed for ten years. She sponsored extracurricular activities including social dance and puppetry. Rose originally desired to be a dancer/actress when that profession was not highly regarded. Later in life she studied new modern math and attended a workshop for the use of audio-visual materials. She traveled throughout Europe, Iceland, the Caribbean and the United States. In November 1987, Rose passed away in Bridgeport, Conn.

Gwen Zaliels Snyder – graduated from Hunter College and taught school before marrying. She later had one daughter and became a textile designer, branching into interior design.

If you are interested in genealogy contact our communications manager at communications@phisigmasigma.org.