Sigma Kappa House, 233 Gray Avenue
Sigma Kappa takes its roots at Iowa State from the organization of women’s clubs in the early twentieth century. A club called Arcade was organized in December 1913, formed by a “congenial group of girls of high ideals, democratic and broad-minded views.” By 1917, the club had gained twenty-nine members and formed into a sorority called Delta Phi. The members of Delta Phi wanted affiliation with a national sorority, so they chose to join the Sigma Kappa sorority. The first pledge service was held Friday, May 6, 1921, and thirty-one girls became pledges. Less than twenty-four hours later, the pledges were installed as members of the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Kappa.
The first house of Sigma Kappa was located at 204 Welch Avenue. In 1929, plans were designed for a new Sigma Kappa house. The house would be modeled after a French chateaux in Normandy. After an extensive fundraising campaign, construction of the house was completed in 1931 at 233 Gray Avenue.
Sigma Kappa Sisters, ca. 1950s
During World War II, Sigma Kappa participated in national sorority projects. At the house, they gave their food ration stamps to the chapter cook to buy food for the sorority. One new pledge during WWII was the daughter of Dr. Harley Wilhelm, one of the two professors who worked in secret on the Manhattan Project at Iowa State, developing the atomic bomb. Despite the seriousness of wartime, members enjoyed dancing to big bands in the Memorial Union bomb shelter.
Sigma Kappa Receives Award, 1959
A major controversy over concerns of civil and minority rights took away Alpha Epsilon’s university recognition during the 1960s. In 1962 officers for all fraternities and sororities at Iowa State were required to sign a statement saying that the chapter was free of discrimination in its membership policies. Officers were given until April 15, 1965 to sign the affidavit. Iowa State’s chapter of Sigma Kappa signed the affidavit before the deadline only to discover that the National Council for Sigma Kappa did not approve of the action. University officials at Iowa State deemed that National Council’s stance insufficient and revoked the chapter’s university recognition.
Lacking university recognition, Iowa State’s chapter of Sigma Kappa operated as an “off campus” group. Recruitment suffered during this period, and membership in 1965 dwindled to twenty active members. After three years in limbo, the National president of Sigma Kappa signed the affidavit, and Sigma Kappa gained back its university recognition.
As a recognized member of Iowa State’s Greek community, Sigma Kappa began to grow once again. In 1969, the membership decided to build an annex onto their house. Financially, construction proved difficult for Sigma Kappa, but the members trimmed their budget in order to pay for the new addition. In 1977 the annex was completed, and Sigma Kappa’s membership began to grow again.
Growth characterized much of Sigma Kappa’s history in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990, the fall pledge class included thirty-five new pledges with a total of ninety-two active members. In 1996, Sigma Kappa celebrated its 75-year anniversary at Iowa State, and in 2006 Sigma Kappa hosted a wide range of activities for its 85th anniversary, including a reading of its history at Iowa State beginning with the Arcade club at 204 Welch Avenue.
Sigma Kappa has placed a great deal of emphasis on philanthropy. Every fall, Sigma Kappa hosts the Sigma Kappa Sundaes event to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. Members participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk, and Sigma Kappa donates to the Maine Sea Coast Mission. The Mission delivers gifts to over three thousand children, families, and nursing home residents during the holiday season. Sigma Kappa also supports gerontology and hosts a Senior Citizen Prom for older adults. Members make cards and decorate cookies for nursing home residents, recognizing that more work needs to be done to meet the needs of today’s elderly population.
Besides philanthropy, the members of Sigma Kappa participate in a variety of social activities. They enjoy hosting their parents for the Mom’s and Dad’s Weekends. They are active in homecoming, writing skits for “Yell Like Hell” and building lawn displays. Members enjoy the annual Christmas Party during which sisters give gifts to each other and enjoy spending time together around a big Christmas tree. They also participate in socials and exchanges with other fraternities and sororities.
Emily Northey, president of Sigma Kappa from 2008 to 2009, sees a bright future for Sigma Kappa at Iowa State. According to Northey, members learn so much from each other and Sigma Kappa provides its members with many leadership opportunities. Sigma Kappa also emphasizes the “family aspect” of its activities, from homecoming to Veishea. Emerging leaders on Iowa State’s campus come from the Greek community, Northey notes, and Sigma Kappa will continue to “provide women lifelong opportunities and support for social, intellectual, and spiritual development by bringing women together to positively impact our communities.”
Sigma Kappa Motto