Gamma Theta Omega History
On January 15, 1908, at Howard University in Washington, D.C., a group of courageous, scholarly, and talented female student founded Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporate – the first Greek-letter organization for African-American women. They purposed the organization to foster sisterhood, promote scholarly achievement and serve others. Integral to the Sorority’s perpetuity is its unique combination of members who join either in collegiate or in graduate chapters – all of whom are dedicated to its ideals of service. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated has continued its growth over the years, taking root around the world.
On December 7, 1940, Gamma Theta Omega became the second graduate chapter to be chartered in the State of Florida. Maude E. Brown, the Regional Director at that time, signed the chapter into existence. The newly formed chapter consisted of seven African American women from Tampa, Clearwater, and Bradenton – Edith Bennett Adams, Blanche Hamilton Curtis, Vivian Lester Henry, Dorothy L. Maxwell, Estelle Miles, Elouise Bailey Walker and Margaret L. Blake. Vivian Henry served as the first Chapter President. Gamma Theta Omega Chapter initiated three new members, Miriam Anderson, Vivian Griffin, and Willie B. Esturas on November 22, 1941.
From its inception in 1940, the Gamma Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated became very active in serving the community. Under the leadership of Margaret Blake Roach, the Chapter was the first to start the Sickle Cell Anemia project locally. Other traditional community support which continued through the years includes: the Tampa Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Council of Negro Women and the United Negro College Fund.
Keeping in step with the founding members’ ideals of scholarship and service, Gamma Theta Omega Chapter began to provide scholarships to African American college women. The Chapter instituted the Fashionetta fundraising program in the 1950s, an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated trademarked program, strengthening the Chapter’s ability to provide the much needed scholastic financial support to the youth in the community. Funds were sent to young women attending historical black colleges such as Florida Agricultural & Mechanical College, Tuskegee Institute, Bethune Cookman College, and Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute.
During the early 1960's, Gamma Theta Omega Chapter shifted its emphasis from providing scholarships to mainly college women and began awarding scholarships to outstanding high school students. In 1967, the Miss Teenage Tampa Scholarship Pageant (MTAT) replaced the local Fashionetta Program. The MTAT Scholarship Pageant supported the Chapter’s increased focus on promoting high scholastic standards and provided a platform for college bound young ladies to present their talents. Lucille N. Franklin served as the inaugural chairman and Gwendolyn White was the first winner. The MTAT Scholarship Pageant has since become a community showcase event.
The decade of the 1970's witnessed a dramatic increase in community service projects. Assistance, once exclusively for migrant families in the Ruskin and Wimauma, was extended to the Thonotosassa area. The Chapter’s Christmas Senior Dinner and toy give-away projects became routine. The Chapter expanded its commitment to youth by supporting Saturday's Children Inc., a program dedicated to exposing children to the fine arts, under the leadership of several members such as Mogul Dupree and Sybil Barnes. In 1977, in partnership with WTVT Television Station, the Tampa Housing Authority and Chevron Oil, Gamma Theta Omega Chapter hosted its first Health Fair, serving the public housing residents of Central Park Village, West Tampa and College Hill Homes. Gamma Theta Omega Chapter also sponsored a Progress Village Little League Softball Team in 1978. Gamma Theta Omega Chapter has achieved a number of milestones. In 1978, the Chapter reached a membership of 100 strong and, in the same year, served as the host to the South Atlantic Regional Silver Anniversary Conference of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.
In the early 1980's, Nancy Rolfe, Carrie Johnson and Richie Bell Martin were among the first Gamma Theta Omega Chapter members honored for 50 years of service in the sorority. In that same decade, Gamma Theta Omega Chapter took front stage in developing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs for African American youth in the community; when the Chapter was awarded a Program to Increase Minority Engineering Graduates grant (PIMEG) designed to expose youth to the value of participating in and creating projects in the STEM disciplines. In March 1980, the chapter was first African American sorority in the Tampa Bay area to purchase its own house; the mortgage was burned eight years later. The Ivy AKAdemy facility was added to the property in 2002. Anthena Brown and Betty Wiggins were recognized as champions for the preservation of the AKA House.
Gamma Theta Omega Chapter celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1990 with Mary Shy Scott, the 23rd International President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, as the guest speaker. The Chapter became the first Greek letter organization to become a member of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and established a partnership with the Hillsborough Education Foundation to provide scholarships to the community youth during that time.
Gamma Theta Omega Chapter was one of only seven chapters across the country to host the “Alpha Kappa Alpha Centennial Traveling Exhibit”. Displays – including a huge interactive timeline - tracing the story of the sorority, starting with its beginnings at Howard University in 1908.
Recognizing the need to ensure perpetuity, in the Tampa community, Gamma Theta Omega Chapter embarked upon chartering undergraduate chapters at the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa. Zeta Upsilon Chapter, at the University of South Florida, was chartered in December 1971. Thirty-two years later, Sigma Nu Chapter was chartered at the University of Tampa in December 2003. The undergraduate chapters continue and thrive under the guidance and counseling of Graduate Advisors and Mentors from within the Gamma Theta Omega Chapter.
The Chapter members endowed two $20,000 Scholarships and was recognized at the Platinum Level for its contributions to the Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Foundation, Incorporated. These funds ensure that scholarships are provided to the youth of the Hillsborough County community. Over a four-year period (2011–2015), the Chapter has raised over $200,000 for scholarships. The 2015 Miss Teenage Tampa event alone generated $35,000 in scholarship funds.
Over the years, Gamma Theta Omega Chapter has had 30 chapter presidents. That the leadership qualities are strong among the members of Gamma Theta Omega Chapter are evident as several members have risen to the sorority’s international leadership level. In 1998, Sonja Garcia became the 14th South Atlantic Regional Director. In 2002, Attorney Stewart was elected as the International Secretary. Then, in 2006, Attorney Stewart she was elected as the International Vice President and in 2010, Attorney Carolyn House Stewart became the 28th International President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. In that same year, Marsha Lewis Brown was elected as the 17th Regional Director of the South Atlantic Region. All of these women have also previously served as Gamma Theta Omega Chapter presidents.
Gamma Theta Omega Chapter epitomizes the motto of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated – Service to All Mankind. The Chapter’s 81 year history testifies to the work and the assured continuance of the sorority’s motto.