Photos by Evan Krape June 28, 2022
First Black sorority at UD donates memorabilia to University Archives
A Delta Sigma Theta newsletter from 1976. A pledge dress and step show outfit from 1975. A 1984 Blue Hen Messenger article about Newark’s Black community.
These are just a few of the items that were donated to the University of Delaware Archives by alumnae of the Mu Pi chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority — and will help to tell the story and preserve the legacy of the first African American sorority at UD.
The donation by the Mu Pi chapter, which is a chapter of the larger DST sorority founded at Howard University in 1913, provides an opportunity for the sorority to have a permanent home for its artifacts and allows it to leave a legacy stewarded by UD. Denise R. Hayman, one of the sisters who established the sorority at UD in 1975, spearheaded the donation. The women who established the sorority are referred to as charter line members; of the original 11, three have since passed away.
“We started thinking about how we, as a charter line, could preserve the history of Delta Sigma Theta at UD,” Hayman said. “The history of African Americans is often not recorded. We can talk about it, but if we actually pull together some material archives — papers and documents and artifacts — that we are willing to give the University, then whether we're here or not, the history of the organization remains.”
After more than two years of planning the donation and organizing and collecting items, six Mu Pi members, five of whom are charter line members, oversaw the gift of the artifacts to the University Archives on Monday, June 20. The women hope the items will serve as a concrete way to preserve their history.
“Most people don’t know about our legacy, so it’s important to preserve our legacy so that others will understand the important role that African American women played on campus,” said Marlene Hurtt, a charter line member. “In general, we're not taught a lot of the contributions of African Americans, and in this age, we need to preserve it because a lot of times people are trying to not preserve it or encourage others to learn.”
The donated items — which include newsletters, t-shirts, door knockers, paddles and more — will be available for research purposes and could be used for displays. The donation is a first of its kind for the University Archives.
“Historians often talk about invisible histories and things like that of people who aren't as well documented as other people, within archival collections and with historical research,” said Ian Janssen, director of University Archives and Records Management. “This really gets at documenting what hasn't been documented well in the past — the lives of Black students on campus, the culture of Black students on campus. These are things that really we've only started to trace the outlines of, and we can add depth and complexity that didn't exist before.”
The donation will also be used as the foundation for a series of oral histories that the Department of History plans to conduct with the Mu Pi chapter members about their memories of life at UD, in addition to their life histories, said Alison Parker, chair of the department and co-chair of the UD Anti-racism Initiative. The oral histories will be transcribed, and excerpts will be provided on a digital platform.
“Having the material objects to help us make sense of the past is really valuable,” Parker said.
The experience of minority students hasn’t always been reflected in the University’s history, said Lisa Gensel, coordinator of archives at UD. Part of that is because the University has lacked the materials that can help tell those stories.
“Here we have the sisters of the first Black sorority on campus, and these are items and memorabilia and records that were part of their experience that shaped them and remind them of their times at UD, and then inform us about the story of their experience,” Gensel said.
Edith Moyer, a charter line member, said it’s important that the greater UD community learns about and understands the sorority’s past.
“It’s history, and I think all history should be preserved,” she said. “Documentation of your history is the best authentic gift you can give to help make the world a better place.”