The year was 1920. It was the start of the decade, shortly after World War I, and a time of great prosperity for the country. Women were called dames, dolls or the cat’s meow. At the beginning to the decade, women sill 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 Ku Klux Klan was very active during this period. The Harlem Renaissance was acknowledged as the first important movement of black artists and writers in the United States. On January 16, 1920, the Volstead Act became effective, heralding the start of Prohibition, and on August 18 of that 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.
It was within this environment that Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was founded. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was founded on the simple belief that sorority elitism and socializing should not overshadow the real mission for progressive organizations–to address societal mores, ills, prejudices, poverty, and health concerns of the day.
The sorority began as an idea conceived by two men of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., who desired to establish a sister organization, to be based upon similar ideals and principles of their fraternity, and they accomplished that mission on January 16, 1920 on the campus of Howard University, In Washington, DC. Arizona Cleaver, Pearl Neal, Myrtle Tyler, Viola Tyler and Fannie Pettie, lovingly known by Zetas as the “Five Pearls”, dared to depart from the traditional coalitions for black women and sought to establish a new organization based on the precepts of Scholarship, Service, Sisterhood, and Finer Womanhood. It was the ideal of the Founders that the sorority would reach college women in all parts of the country who desired to follow the founding principles of the organization.