Founded January 16, 1920, Zeta began as an idea conceived by five coeds at Howard University in Washington D.C.: Arizona Cleaver, Myrtle Tyler, Viola Tyler, Fannie Pettie and Pearl Neal. These five women, also known as our Five Pearls, dared to depart from the traditional coalitions for black women and sought to establish a new organization predicated on the precepts of Scholarship, Service, Sisterly Love and Finer Womanhood.
We would be remiss not to pay homage to the first women who believed in the need for a new and different type of Greek-lettered organization and acted upon that need. To Arizona Clever, Fannie Pettie, Viola Tyler, Myrtle Tyler, and Peal Neal, Zeta was more than an organization-it was a movement. It was a belief system that reflected, at its core, the desire to provide true Service, to embrace Scholarship, to set a standard for Sisterly Love and to define the noble concept of Finer Womanhood. This belief has sustained and encouraged Zetas around the world to hold fast to the ideals initiated and developed by its earliest members.
Although there were five Founders of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., there were many women who were initially interested but did not become a part of the founding group. Many feared the high academic standards they would need to meet to become a part of this new organization, others could not afford the initiation fee that appears nominal by today’s standards. However, soon after the light of Zeta shone clearly through our Five Pearls, there were twenty-five women eager to join the Zeta movement. Of these twenty-five, only four – Gladys Warrington, Harriet Dorsey, Pauline Philips and Nellie Singfield – went on to be initiated as a part of the second pledge class. Zeta Phi Beta took top scholastic honors on the Howard University campus when a member of this second pledge class, Pauline Phillips, graduated summa cum laude, thus setting a precedent of academic excellence still expected of Zeta members to this day.