The first chapter in a rich tradition of sisterhood began in 1897 at Barnard College in New York City. Barnard was unique in that it was the first college in New York, and one of the first in the nation, where women could receive as rigorous an education as was available to men. These challenging standards attracted many strong and courageous women, four of whom were Stella George Stern, Jessie Wallace Hughan, Helen St. Clair, and Elizabeth Heywood Wyman. These four women longed for a friendship that would last beyond college and include all worthy women, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or socio-economic background. Meeting first in a small gallery of the old Columbia College library, the four friends pledged themselves to this purpose, and on January 2, 1897, at the home of Helen St. Clair, they formally organized as the new women’s fraternity, Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII).
Though its beginnings may have been small, Alpha Omicron Pi has grown exponentially since its founding four members. Today it includes 108 active chapters, over 6,300 undergraduate members, and more than 140,000 lifetime initiates that call AOII home. The steadfast work ethic of the four founders has been passed down through generations of members, and because of this, many have gone on to lead lives of greatness, such as Heather Whitestone (Miss America 1995), Debbie Matenopoulos (TV personality), Theresa Lubbers (Indiana State Senator 1992-2009, current Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education), and Courtney Kupets (Olympic & World Champion Gymnast). With Sisters like these, no wonder so many women want to wear AOII Cardinal Red.
Alpha Omicron Pi was founded on a promise to serve not only one another but the greater community as well. This commitment reflects a philosophy of friendship, concern, and usefulness in the world. The promise to serve can be seen in the relationships within a chapter as they work together to help a sister in need or as they contribute to the AOII Foundation to enable scholarships and aid to other members. In addition, AOIIs exhibit their commitment to be service as they participate in a project that raises funds for AOII’s philanthropy, Arthritis research and the American Juvenile Arthritis Organization. Outside of these philanthropies, AOIIs are also encouraged to donate their time and resources to projects in their local communities, such as Habitat for Humanity, breast cancer awareness, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
The women of Alpha Omicron Pi are committed to the ideals of serving one’s community, continued life-long learning, and leading fearlessly as an example to all. The original founding four held themselves to the very highest standards in an era that expected little of women, and that respect for hard work and determination has been passed down through the countless generations of AOII Sisters, making them assets to their campuses and their communities.