Portland Alumnae Chapter
In the early 1940’s, Black Greek organizations did not exist in the Portland metropolitan area. However, during the era of World War II, three sorors, Hattie Fannings Gaskin, Geneva Turner Jordan, and Lucille Triplett Morgan, residing in the community, often discussed forming a local chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Subsequently, on March 24, 1945, Sorors Lena Hillsman, Mignon Lilly Cabell, Fannie Stills Chatman, June Roe Runnels, Jo Anna Young Bradford, Ellen Torrence-Law (in absentia), and Florence Mills Morton joined the original three to charter Beta Psi Chapter in Portland, Oregon, becoming the first and only chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in the state of Oregon. The chartering ceremony was officiated by Mabel Lockett Martin, a former Farwest Regional Director.
Back Row: Hattie Fannings Gaskin, Florence Mills Morton, Lena Hillsman, June Runnels Key, Fannie Stills Chatman, Lucille Triplett Morgan. Front Row: Myrtle Dargan, Mabel Lockett Martin, Mignon Lilly Cabell, JoAnna Young Bradford, Geneva Turner Jordan. On the date of the chartering ceremony, Soror Myrtle Dargan (left), from California, sat in for Ellen Torrance, who had been assigned to overseas duty as a member of the American National Red Cross.
It was during the war years that more Deltas moved to Portland in support of the war effort, via the Kaiser shipyards. The chapter’s service activities primarily focused on assistance and support of military service personnel. Regular visitations were made to the veterans at Barnes Hospital in Vancouver, Washington. Bandage rolling was another dedicated project. A third major activity was providing programs and dances for servicemen at the old Negro YWCA (now the ELKS Club), at 6 North Tillamook and Williams Avenue.
Moving beyond the war years, the chapter had grown by six new sorors in town; however, two of the charter members had moved away, including Mignon Cabell, Beta Psi’s first president. This small, but dedicated group of sorors met in members’ homes for many years because finances were not only limited, but public facilities were completely segregated in Portland and the state of Oregon at that time.
The annual scholarship fundraising events began when Beta Psi presented its First Annual Jabberwock at Portland’s Norse Hall on Friday, April 28, 1950. In the following years, Portland Deltas sponsored several Annual Black Heritage Brunches, with soul food dishes prepared by individual sorors. In the late 1970’s, Portland Alumnae Chapter established its Annual Women of Excellence Scholarship Luncheon. At this event, local women are recognized for their achievements and contributions to the community, and high school graduates are presented with scholarships to supplement their college expenses.
An annual invitational dance was instituted in 1951 by Beta Psi sorors as a means of acknowledging persons in the community who had supported the chapter’s various projects. In the 1980s, a November dance held close to the Thanksgiving holiday was established. Named the Peppermint Soiree, this invitational event remains a community support acknowledgement, but now guests are asked to bring a new toy, canned goods, children’s books, or to provide support for some other community cause chosen by the chapter. These items are then donated to charitable organizations for distribution to the needy.
Beta Psi/Portland Alumnae Chapter has hosted five Regional conferences: the first in 1951 at St. Phillips Parish Hall, 1961 at Multnomah Hotel, 1978 and 1997 at the Portland Hilton Hotel, and 2016 at the Oregon Convention Center.
Two past Farwest Regional Directors were members of Beta Psi/Portland Alumnae Chapters: Ellen Torrence Law and Addie Jean Haynes
In the late 1970s, Grand Chapters’ decision to eliminate mixed chapters composed of alumnae and collegiate sorors led to the formation of Portland Alumnae Chapter, but also created a dilemma since Beta Psi had no undergraduate members at the time. Thus, the name Beta Psi was set to be retired. Yet, because of the historical significance of the name Beta Psi to the Pacific Northwest, Portland Alumnae pressed hard to establish an undergraduate chapter and retain the name Beta Psi. In 1993, the Beta Psi Chapter was reestablished on the University of Oregon campus and today the chapter is structured to include sorors on the campuses of Portland State University, Oregon State University, University of Portland, University of Oregon, Warner Pacific and other local campuses.
The history of Beta Psi and Portland Alumnae Chapter is long and illustrious. Through inspiration, imagination and innovation, the chapters have moved forward in continuance and the communication of Delta Sigma Theta’s dynamic mission.