In the 1870s, few colleges and universities admitted women, believing that women’s minds were incapable of mastering subjects like mathematics and classical languages. In spite of this, Dr. Erastus Otis Haven, Syracuse University chancellor, felt that women should receive the benefits of a higher education, and therefore enrolled his daughter, Frances, at Syracuse. A bold and intelligent young woman, Frances was quickly invited to join the recently founded Alpha Phi Fraternity; however, she wished to forge a new path for herself, as well as her three friends. Frances E. Haven, Helen M. Dodge, E. Adeline Curtis, and Mary A. Bingham, with the guidance of Dr. Haven and other members of the faculty, began giving shape to their plans for a sorority that would “inspire the highest type of womanhood,” and on November 11, 1874, founded the sisterhood of Gamma Phi Beta.
In the years that have passed since its founding, Gamma Phi Beta has evolved from a small, but hopeful, organization of four friends, into an international sorority boasting 119 active chapters, over 10,200 undergraduate members, and more than 180,000 lifetime initiates. Amongst these impressive numbers are many Sisters who, inspired by the hard work and tenacity of the founders, have lead truly exemplary lives, such as Cloris Leachman (actress, Academy Award winner), Kristin Chenoweth (actress, Tony Award & Emmy Award winner), Dr. Laurel Salton Clark (NASA Astronaut on the space shuttle Columbia), and Heather McDonald (writer, actress, comedian, best known for Chelsea Lately). With Sisters like these, it is no surprise that many women want to wear the Gamma Phi Beta Brown and Mode.
The ladies of Gamma Phi Beta understand not only the importance of supporting their members, but also the importance of supporting all girls, helping them grow into confident women. Beginning in the 1920s, Gamma Phi Betas identified a desire to provide underprivileged girls a retreat from their circumstances and a chance to build character for facing life’s challenges, this desire developed into their official goal of Building Strong Girls. Through philanthropic partnerships with Camp Fire, Girls on the Run, and Girl Guides of Canada (Guides du Canada), Gamma Phi Betas are able to support through fundraising and education, three excellent national organizations that provide girls with the tools to be confident, physically fit, self-aware, and self-reliant. By Building Strong Girls now, the Gamma Phi Betas are building strong women for the future.
During an era when women were discouraged from attending college, four bold and courageous friends came together to form a new women's society: Gamma Phi Beta. They bonded together to face adversity and encourage one another's intellectual growth, and now, more than 135 years later, we celebrate the vision and dedication of those women for whom the word "sorority" was first coined - and all who have come since. Over the years, the Sisters of Gamma Phi Beta have remained true to their vision to “build confident women of character who celebrate sisterhood and make a difference in the world around us,” and for their efforts the world is a far better place.