Sigma Kappa (ΣΚ) is a sorority founded in 1874 at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Sigma Kappa was founded by five women: Mary Caffrey Low Carver, Elizabeth Gorham Hoag, Ida Mabel Fuller Pierce, Frances Elliott Mann Hall and Louise Helen Coburn. Since its founding in 1874, the sorority has initiated more than 148,000 members worldwide and has 107 collegiate chapters and 126 alumnae chapters.
The sorority's official philanthropies are gerontology (with a focus on Alzheimer's disease research), Inherit the Earth, and the Maine Sea Coast Mission Research grants are made each year to universities and other institutions actively engaged in the fight against Alzheimer's Disease.
Colby College in Waterville, Maine, was the first college in New England to admit women on an equal basis with men. In 1871, Mary Caffrey Low Carver became the first female student at Colby. For two years, she was the only woman at the school. But in 1873, four more young women from Maine, Elizabeth Gorham Hoag, Ida Mabel Fuller Pierce, Frances Elliott Mann Hall and Louise Helen Coburn were admitted to Colby. Being the only women in the college, the five of them found themselves together frequently. In 1873-74, the five young women decided to form a literary and social society. They were instructed by the college administration that they would need to present a constitution and bylaws with a petition requesting permission to form Sigma Kappa Sorority. They began work during that year and on November 9, 1874, the five received a letter from the faculty approving their petition. They sought for and received permission to form a sorority with the intent for the organization to become national.
Since that time, Sigma Kappa annually celebrates November 9 as its Founders' Day.
Mary Caffrey Low was the first woman to appear on the rolls of Sigma Kappa and the first to preside over an initiation. The first Sigma Kappa emblem was designed by Elizabeth Gorham Hoag, who died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis. A large portion of the initiation ceremony was written by Louise Helen Coburn. Much of the original initiation music was written by Hoag's cousin, Emily Peace Meader, who was inducted shortly before Hoag's death in 1875. Frances Mann Hall was the first Sigma Kappa to get married, to a fellow Colby student.
In the first constitution, chapter membership was limited to 25. The original group was known as Alpha chapter and as the sorority grew, Beta chapter and Gamma chapter were also established at Colby College. Early records indicate that the groups met together; but in 1893, the Sigma Kappa members decided that intramural expansion was not desirable. They voted to fill Alpha chapter to the limit of 25 and to initiate no more into Beta and Gamma chapters. Eventually, the second and third chapters would vanish from Colby campus. Finally, Sigma Kappas realized if the organization was going to continue to grow, it had to expand beyond the walls of Colby College.
The Delta Chapter of Boston University is now the oldest existing chapter. In 1984, Colby College banned fraternities and sororities, ensuring that Sigma Kappa's Alpha, Beta, and Gamma chapters will probably never be resurrected.
Since the inception of the Foundation's Alzheimer's Disease and Research Grant Program in 1988, the Sigma Kappa Foundation has granted over $1 million in research and psychosocial grants to investigators and practitioners who are on the front lines in the fight against this debilitating disease.
In 2000 the Foundation entered into an agreement with the national Alzheimer's Association whereby the Association selects scientific research proposals for sponsorship by the Foundation, ensuring that gifts are utilized most effectively. In 2003, the Sigma Kappa Foundation pledged $240,000 for a four-year period. In addition to gifts from members and friends, the research grant is primarily funded through the annual lollipop campaign. Thanks to the efforts of Sigma Kappa's collegiate chapters, the Foundation is doing its part to create a world without Alzheimer's disease.
Awarding research grants is only one aspect of the Foundation's commitment to eliminate Alzheimer's disease. Educating Sigma Kappa members and creating awareness is also a priority. All chapters have access to educational materials and programs about Alzheimer's disease and the impact Sigma Kappas have had in the continuing struggle to find a cure.