Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was founded on the simple belief that sorority elitism and socializing should not overshadow the real mission for progressive organizations - to address societal mores, ills, prejudices, poverty, and health concerns of the day. 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. It was the idea of the Founders that the Sorority would reach college women in all parts of the country who were sorority minded and desired to follow the founding principles of the organization. Founder Viola Tyler was often quoted to say [In the ideal collegiate situation] "There is a Zeta in every girl regardless of race, creed, or color, who has high standards and principles, a good scholarly average and an active interest in all things that she undertakes to accomplish."
Since its inception, the Sorority has chronicled a number of firsts. Zeta Phi Beta was the first Greek-letter organization to charter a chapter in Africa (1948); to form adult and youth auxiliary groups; to centralize its operations in a national headquarters; and to be constitutionally bound to a fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated.
Zeta's national and local programs include endowment of its National Educational Foundation, community outreach services and support of multiple affiliate organizations. Zeta chapters and auxiliary groups have given untotaled hours of voluntary service to educate the public, assist youth, provide scholarships, support organized charities and promote legislation for social and civic change. A nonprofit organization, Zeta Phi Beta is incorporated in Washington, D.C. and in the state of Illinois. The dues and gifts of its members support the Sorority.
Over the years since the sorority's inception, Zeta Phi Beta has chartered hundreds of chapters and initiated thousands of women around the world. Zeta has continued to thrive and flourish while adapting to the ever-changing needs of a new century. Despite the Great Depression, discrimination, segregation and a host of other challenges, Zeta has continued to hold true to its ideals and purpose, for, as stated by one of the Sorority's founding members: "…I believe that no [other] organization could have been founded upon principles that were so near and dear to all of our hearts." (Founder Myrtle Tyler)