Syracuse University Magazine

Alpha 1890s.jpg

Members of the Alpha chapter of Gamma Phi Beta at SU, circa 1890s.

Photo courtesy of Gamma Phi Beta International Sorority


The Syracuse Triad

The sororities Alpha Phi, Gamma Phi Beta, and Alpha Gamma Delta were founded at SU more than a century ago

By Charnice Milton 

As the only all-female residence hall on campus since 2005, the Butterfield House on Comstock Avenue stands as an anomaly. However, it was once the home of Alpha Gamma Delta, a Greek organization for women founded at Syracuse University in 1904. The house was designed by Emily Butterfield, a founding member who became a prominent architect, and is scheduled to return as the sorority’s residence this fall.

Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Alpha Gamma Delta wasn’t the only sorority founded on the Hill. Alpha Phi and Gamma Phi Beta were also established here. Nationally, these three sororities are known as the “Syracuse Triad.” Although Alpha Gamma Delta shut down at SU a decade ago, its participation in last fall’s Bid Day marked the return of the Syracuse Triad on campus. “We are proud of the long tradition of our fraternity and sorority community and are delighted that Alpha Gamma Delta has rejoined it,” says Eddie D. Banks, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. “After all, this is where it all began.”

Alpha Phi and Gamma Phi Beta have the distinction of being the first Greek organizations for women on campus. Although SU was founded as a coeducational institution, “women felt an atmosphere of opposition and criticism,” according to a letter written by Alpha Phi co-founder Martha Foote Crow. “We had no chance to blossom forth in a free atmosphere of encouragement and approval.” On September 18, 1872, 14 women gathered at 41 Irving Street for what became known as the first Alpha Phi chapter meeting. Out of this group, 10 became founding members.

Alpha Phi wouldn’t have survived if it weren’t for Greek professor Wellesley P. Coddington. He convinced the group to incorporate under New York State law, applying under the name “the Michaelanean Society” (as Greek-letter organizations weren’t included in such laws at the time). He also drafted the motto, co-wrote the constitution, and encouraged Alpha Phi to establish what is now known as the first women’s fraternity chapter house, located where the Newhouse 1 building stands today.

On November 11, 1874, four students founded Gamma Phi Beta. One of the founders, Frances Haven, was the daughter of then-Chancellor E. O. Haven, a proponent of women’s education. Although initially invited to join Alpha Phi, Haven declined, opting to create a new organization with three other unaffiliated women. Among the group was Helen Dodge, who attended the first Alpha Phi meeting, but rejected membership because she felt she didn’t fit in. Gamma Phi Beta is best known for coining the term “sorority,” whose Medieval Latin roots translate to “sisterhood.”  

By 1904, there were seven sororities on campus, but that didn’t stop Coddington from forming another one. On May 30, 11 women attended the first Alpha Gamma Delta chapter meeting in his home. Since its beginning, Alpha Gamma Delta faced steep competition from other women’s sororities and was even invited to join another national organization. However, following Coddington’s advice, Alpha Gamma Delta declined and launched new chapters at Wisconsin (1905), Minnesota, DePauw (both 1908), and Northwestern (1913).

Today, all three sororities have chapters throughout the United States and Canada. They maintain a special bond because of their Syracuse roots, and some campuses hold Triad events, according to Eileen Day O’Brien ’71, who pledged Gamma Phi Beta in 1968. O’Brien’s daughter pledged Alpha Gamma Delta at Indiana University, and the Syracuse Triad has become a tradition in their family. “I encouraged her to reach out to the Gamma Phis and the Alpha Phis and see if they could do something together,” O’Brien says. “She thought it was a good idea.”

When O’Brien pledged in winter 1968, social change was under way with the women’s and civil rights movements gaining momentum and Greek involvement decreased as a result. “Sororities could have become an anachronistic part of college history—social dinosaurs, so to speak,” O’Brien says. “But they changed too.” Since their founding, each Triad member has tackled different issues through philanthropic work. Despite such efforts—and its reputation as the founding chapter—SU’s Alpha Gamma Delta chapter closed its doors in 2001 because of dwindling membership. “[We’ve gotten a lot] of words of encouragement,” chapter president Emily Furnal ’01 told The Daily Orange. “Everyone is really in disbelief as we all are.”

Nine years after leaving SU, Alpha Gamma Delta recolonized the campus last October, selecting more than 100 women to join. “The caliber of women we met at Syracuse was astounding,” Alpha Gamma Delta International president Jackie Brannon Stutts said in a press statement. “These new members express one of the highest commitments to establishing a chapter that truly stands out among Greek life at Syracuse.” 

As for future Syracuse Triad events on campus, Gamma Phi Beta president Stacy McAllister ’12 hints about the possibility. “Since Alpha Gamma Delta just returned, relationships between the presidents are still developing,” she says. “However, I do see them becoming stronger in the future.” The three presidents have been discussing plans for an event in the fall. “I just hope the next Triad event happens before I graduate,” McAllister laughs.


In 1882, the sisters of Alpha Phi held their first convention in Syracuse. Seven delegates attended: six from Syracuse and one from Northwestern.

Photo courtesy of Alpha Phi International Fraternity