The first Alpha Sigma Alpha Convention of 1905
The celebration of historical anniversaries usually prompts both interest in the past and reflection about the future. It is no surprise then that our 50th National Convention and Leadership Conference here in Phoenix invites us to think about how and why the act of convening chapter delegates of Alpha Sigma Alpha began.
Brining together members
The idea that bringing together members of the Sorority is beneficial both to individual women and to the organization as a whole is nearly as old as the Sorority itself. The first Alpha Sigma Alpha convention, held in Richmond, Virginia in final days of November 1905, was the result of nearly two years of planning and preparation. In the Sorority’s short four-year existence, pressing needs had emerged, and two of them were cited as the purpose for organizing that inaugural convention. The first involved the establishment of a governing council for the Sorority, and the second dealt with creating a mechanism for preserving the heritage of Alpha Sigma Alpha. The convention of 1905 successfully addressed both of these issues, with the subsequent election of the first National Council and the establishment of Alpha Sigma Alpha Magazine, the first Sorority publication.
More than business
While the important business of national leadership and heritage served as the key reasons for calling the convention of 1905, the event was much more than a formal meeting to address the Sorority’s organizational issues. The convention’s social agenda was a busy one. On the afternoon of November 29th, delegates were given the option of taking a carriage ride around the city of Richmond or attending a football game between VMI (Virginia Military Institute) and VPI (Virginia Polytechnic Institute, now better known as Virginia Tech); on that long ago November afternoon, VPI trounced rival VMI, 34-0. Then it was off to the Richmond Theatre to see famous singer Al H. Wilson star in the romantic comedy, “The German Gypsy.” Convention delegates returned from the theatre performance at 11:30 pm to find the Richmond Hotel’s banquet hall festooned in gray and crimson and decorated with American Beauty roses and white carnations. A late night of toasts and speeches followed. Jessie Scott (Arnold), a charter member of Gamma Chapter at the College for Women in Columbia, SC and future editor in chief of the Phoenix, stepped in to offer gratitude to the convention hosts on behalf of all attendees: “I know that every chapter here represented will have its enthusiasm kindled anew and its love strengthened by the sweet thoughtfulness of the Mother Chapter (Alpha, at then-Longwood College).”
Meaning something in the world of women
The first issue of the newly-created Alpha Sigma Alpha Magazine, published in May 1906, provided a recap of the many achievements of the first convention of 1905. The article’s unknown author summed up the meeting’s purpose, stating, “we felt the need of coming together of members of all chapters” to “plan for the advancement of Alpha Sigma Alpha.” The article noted with satisfaction that the bonds of sisterhood meant that “there were no strangers among those delegates assembled in Richmond.” As a final assessment, the piece concluded, “Much good was done there and many needy measures taken, and above all, we began to realize that we were an organization which must mean something not only in the school world, but in the world of women.” Those first convention delegates who met in Richmond nearly 120 years ago realized the value of our Sorority both on and beyond campus, and for more than a century, members of Alpha Sigma Alpha have lived their legacy by making a difference both as collegians and as alumnae.
As we “Rise” in Phoenix in 2018, let’s honor those first convention delegates for establishing the foundation of our own coming together as women of poise and purpose!