In the early 1900s, Howard University co-ed Ethel Hedgeman dreamed of creating a supportive network for like minded women, to come together for mutual uplift and coalesce their talents and strengths for the benefit of others. In 1908, her vision came to fruition as Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first Negro Greek-letter sorority. In 1913, five years after the sorority's founding, lead incorporator, Nellie Quander, ensured Alpha Kappa Alpha's perpetuity through incorporation in the District of Columbia.
Hedgeman, along with eight other coeds at the mecca for Negro education, better known as Howard University, crafted a design that not only created interaction, stimulation, and ethical growth among members; but one that also provided hope for the masses. From the original group of nine at Howard, Alpha Kappa Alpha has grown into a force of over 300,000 collegiate members and alumnae, consisting of 1,007 chapters in 42 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Germany, Liberia, South Korea, Japan, Canada, South Africa and the Middle East.
Because the group believed that Negro college women represented "the highest - more education, more enlightenment, and more of almost everything that the great mass of Negroes never had" - Hedgeman, and her cohorts worked to honor what she called "an everlasting debt to raise them (Negroes) up and to make them better." For more than one hundred years, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sisterhood has fulfilled that obligation by becoming an indomitable force for good in their communities, state, nation, and across the globe.
The Alpha Kappa Alpha program today still reflects the communal steeped in AKA tradition and embodied in AKA's creed, "To be supreme in service to all mankind." Cultural awareness and social advocacy marked Alpha Kappa Alpha's infancy, but in 1914, one year after acquiring corporate status, AKA had also made its mark on education, establishing a scholarship award. The programming was a prelude to the thousands of pioneering and enduring initiatives that eventually defined the Alpha Kappa Alpha brand.
Through the years, Alpha Kappa Alpha has used the Sisterhood as a grand lever to raise the status of African Americans, particularly girls and women. AKA has enriched minds and encouraged life-long learning; provided aid for the poor, the sick, and under-served; initiated social action to advance human and civil rights; worked collaboratively with other groups to maximize outreach on progressive endeavors; and continue its credo of service.
Guided by twenty-nine international presidents, from Nellie M. Quander (1913 - 1919) to Glenda Baskin Glover (2018-2022), with reinforcement from a professional headquarters staff since 1949; AKA's corps of volunteers has instituted groundbreaking social action initiatives and social programs that have transformed communities for the better, continually emitting progress in cities, states, the nation, and the world.
Historical Sorority Program Initiatives
1900s - Promoted Negro culture and encouraged social action through presentation of Negro artists and social justice advocated, including elocutionist Nathaniel Guy, Hull House founder Jane Addams, and U.S. Congressman Martin Madden (1908-1915). Established the first organizational scholarship at Howard University (1914).
1920s - Worked to dispel notions that Negroes were unfit for certain professions, and guided. Negroes in avoiding career mistakes (1923); pushed anti-lynching legislation (1921).
1930s - Became first organization to take out NAACP life membership (1939); Created nation's first Congressional lobby that impacted legislation on issues ranging from decent living conditions and jobs to lynching (1938); and established the nation's first mobile health clinic, providing relief to 15,000 Negroes plagued by famine and disease in the Mississippi Delta (1935).
1940s - Invited other Greek-letter organizations to come together to establish the American Council on Human Rights to empower racial uplift and economic development (1948); Acquired observer status from the United Nations (1946); and challenged the absence of people of color from pictorial images used by the government to portray Americans (1944).
1950s - Promoted investing in Black businesses by depositing initial $38,000 for AKA Investment Fund with the first and only Negro firm on Wall Street (1958). Spurred Sickle Cell Disease research and education with grants to Howard Hospital and publication of The Sickle Cell Story (1958).
1960s - Sponsored inaugural Domestic Travel Tour, a one-week cultural excursion for high school students (1969); launched a "Heritage Series" on African-American achievers (1965); and emerged as the first women's group to win a grant to operate a federal job corps center (19650, preparing youth 16-21 to function in a highly competitive economy.
1970s - Was only sorority to be named an inaugural member of Operation Big Vote (1979); completed pledge of one-half million to the United Negro College Fund (1976); and purchased Dr. Martin Luther King's boyhood home for the MLK Center for Social Change (1972).
1980s - Adopted more than 27 African villages, earning awareness of and participation in the nation's affairs, registering more than 350,000 new voters; and established the Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation (1981), a multi-million dollar entity that annually awards more than $100,000 in scholarships, grants, and fellowships.
1990s - Built 10 schools in South Africa (1998); added the largest number of minorities to the National Bone Marrow Registry (1996); Became first civilization organization to create memorial to World War II unsung hero Dorie Miller (1991).
2000s - Donated $1 million to Howard University to fund scholarships and preserve Black culture (2008); strengthened the reading skills of 16,000 children through a $1.5 million after school demonstration project in low-performing, economically deprived, inner city schools (2002); and improved the quality of life for people of African descent through continuation of aid to African countries.
2010s - Focused on Achievement, Self-Awareness, Communication, Engagement, Networking and Develop Skills, the ASCEND℠ Program was designed to motivate, engage and assist high school students in reaching their maximum potential through academic enrichment and life skills training to support their journey to college or vocational employment; donated and distributed One Million Backpacks℠ filled with school supplies to students over a four-year period; launched AKA 1908 Playground Project℠ to ensure safe play areas for children through the restoration and renewal of 1,908 existing community and school playgrounds; and coordinated a national campaign, Think HBCU℠, to highlight HBCUs (2018); Launched Emerging Young Leaders, a bold move to prepare 10,000 girls in grades 6-8 to excel as young leaders equipped to respond to the challenges of the 21st century (2010).