Founded January 16, 1920, Zeta began as an idea conceived by five coeds at Howard University in Washington D.C.: Arizona Cleaver, Pearl Anna Neal, Myrtle Tyler, Viola Tyler and Fannie Pettie. 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 Cleaver, Pearl Anna Neal, Myrtle Tyler, Viola Tyler and Fannie Pettie, 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.
Arizona L. (Cleaver) Stemons, 1898-1980: Arizona Cleaver was the first president of the Alpha chapter and the first national president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. She completed her graduate and post-graduate studies in the field of social work and was responsible for chartering numerous undergraduate and graduate chapters throughout the United States.
Pearl A. Neal, 1900-1978: After graduating from Howard University’s Conservatory of Music, Founder Neal continued her studies at the Julliard School of Music. In 1938, she was the first black woman in New York to earn a master’s degree in music from Columbia University. An extremely accomplished musician, Founder Neal taught music in North Carolina public schools and served as a director of seniors majoring in music at Teachers College in Winston Salem, NC.
Myrtle (Tyler) Faithful, 1901-1993: Myrtle Tyler was the second national president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and blood sister to Viola Tyler. As a high school Mathematics and English teacher, Founder Tyler was an active member of the Alpha Zeta chapter in Baltimore, Maryland.
Viola (Tyler) Goings, 1899-1983: Viola Tyler graduated from Howard University with a teaching degree and a major in math. She taught school in Ohio for many years and was always very active in community affairs.
In January of 2019, Founder Goings’ daughter, Wynona Kidd was inducted into the sorority, making her the oldest living descendant of the organization’s five founding members.
Fannie (Pettie) Watts, 1899-1995: Fannie Pettie graduated from Howard with a Bachelor of Arts degree in education and taught junior and senior high schools in Savannah, Georgia. She was credited with organizing two additional Zeta chapters and had active membership in Delta Alpha Zeta chapter.
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.