The seven founders of Sigma Gamma Rho, a historically Black sorority that was established on Butler University’s campus in 1922, will posthumously receive honorary degrees during the University’s Spring Commencement ceremony on May 6.
Sigma Gamma Rho was founded by seven young educators and is the only historically Black sorority founded at a predominantly white college. Butler University was founded in 1855 by Ovid Butler, an active supporter of the antislavery movement, on the values of diversity, inclusivity, and equality. The University sought to provide the highest quality education to all individuals regardless of race, gender, or circumstance, and admitted women and people of color on an equal basis with white males, a radical stance for the time.
“Sigma Gamma Rho’s founding on the Butler University campus is a source of pride for all of our students, alumni, trustees, faculty and staff,” Butler President James Danko said. “Sigma Gamma Rho’s founders were seven courageous women who overcame the barriers created by racial segregation to form an organization that has not just survived, but thrived, for 100 years. I am honored to use the occasion of Sigma Gamma Rho’s Centennial Celebration as a platform to recognize and applaud its founders, and all those who have followed in their footsteps.”
“Our Founders—all educators—were young women committed to a vision of empowering communities by uplifting women and youth,” Rasheeda Liberty, Grand Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho, said. “These courageous women believed that education was the key to unlocking opportunities. As we embark on our Centennial year with 100,000 members globally, we are honored to witness this historic moment where the progressive work of these powerful visionaries is being recognized by Butler University.”
“As a community, Indianapolis strives to honor those who have shaped our history for the better,” Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said. “From its beginnings at Butler a century ago, Sigma Gamma Rho has been recognized internationally for its steadfast commitment to service and progress, a mission true to the seven dynamic young educators whom we celebrate today. Through this commemoration, we mark the contributions of past leaders while preparing the next generation to create their own legacy.”
With brief bios courtesy of Sigma Gamma Rho, the seven founders who will posthumously receive honorary degrees are:
MARY LOU ALLISON GARDNER LITTLE
Little was raised by her family friend because both of her parents were killed when she was three. She graduated from Shortridge High School in 1915 and received a diploma from the Indianapolis Normal School in 1918 when she began teaching. In 1928, Little moved to Los Angeles with her husband and finished her undergraduate training in UCLA. She taught in the Los Angeles school system until her retirement in 1967.
DOROTHY HANLEY WHITESIDE
Whiteside graduated from Shortridge High School and entered the Indianapolis Normal School in 1922, when in training as a cadet teacher she met the teachers who became her best friends and Founders of the Sorority. She taught school until 1951 when she retired and later helped her husband develop a business. She also started her own millinery business and worked with her church and various organizations. After the death of her husband, she ran their business from 1955-1957 and returned to teaching in 1959, where she remained until her retirement in 1970.
VIVIAN IRENE WHITE MARBURY
Marbury attended Shortridge High School and the Indianapolis Normal School. She received a bachelor’s degree from Butler University and a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City. Her professional career included teaching at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Director of Practice Training of teachers at Butler University, University of Indianapolis, and Indiana State University. She taught in the Indianapolis school system for nine years.
NANNIE MAE GAHN JOHNSON
Johnson was a product of the Indianapolis Public School System and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Butler University. In 1923, she received her first teaching assignment and was later promoted to principal of one of the largest elementary schools in Indianapolis. She was also very involved with many clubs and organizations dedicated to community service and retired in 1966.
HATTIE MAE ANNETTE DULIN REDFORD
Redford graduated from South Bend Central High School cum laude, from Indiana State Teachers College with a bachelor’s degree., and studied at Western Reserve in Cleveland and Indiana University extension. She taught one year in Terre Haute, and 37 years in Indianapolis. She was Grand Epistoleus, Grand Tamiochus, Financial Consultant and received various awards and honors for the Sorority.
BESSIE MAE DOWNEY RHOADES MARTIN
Martin was the youngest of six children and attended grade school in Indianapolis. She graduated from the Manual High School and the City Teachers Normal. Martin taught school for more than 25 years. She married twice and was a devoted wife and hard worker in school and the Sorority.
Cubena McClure graduated from Shortridge High School, the Indianapolis City Normal School and attended Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She won the Gregg Scholarship, which she planned to use to attend Columbia University, but due to illness she could not accept the scholarship. McClure was talented in art and she helped to design the Sorority pin. She died very young on August 24, 1924.
Sigma Gamma Rho International, Inc. will host its Centennial Celebration in Indianapolis July 12-17. Several of the Centennial Celebration events will be open to the public. Over the past 100 years, Sigma Gamma Rho has grown to more than 85,000 members in the U.S., Bahamas, Bermuda, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, Germany, and Korea.
Butler University will host its commencement ceremony Friday, May 6, 2022 at 4:00 PM in Hinkle Fieldhouse. The ceremony will be live streamed at www.butler.edu/live.