Sigma Phi Omega was founded at the University of Southern California in 1949, and is the oldest Asian American sorority at USC and the third oldest in the United States. It was originally established as a social organization for Japanese and Japanese-American women at USC. There was much anti-Asian sentiment left behind by World War II, which had ended in 1945. As one alumna said, "At that time it was understood that Asian women could not become members of a sorority. It has since changed. Thank goodness."
In its early beginnings, the founding mothers of Sigma Phi Omega were invited by Chi Alpha Delta, an Asian-American sorority from UCLA, to become one of their chapters (Chi Alpha Delta had been chartered in 1928 at UCLA, but was rendered inactive between 1942 and 1945 because the majority of its members were unable to attend UCLA due to World War II. After the end of the war, the sorority was reorganized in 1946).
Joyce Ishibashi Tawa
Ida Kado Watanabe
Kazuko Kay Matsumoto
Helen Morita Matunaga
Akiko Sato Miyamoto
Helen Taniguchi Wakamatsu
Grace Wada Iino*
Chiyoe Yata Oki
(* indicates the passing of the individual)
However, our founding mothers decided to start their own organization. The Greek letters were chosen at random and were not used by any other existing fraternities or sororities at that time. Although we did not originate as a sorority, one could speculate that the choosing of Greek letters was a public way of voicing a dissatisfactory opinion about treatment of Asian Americans, specifically Japanese Americans, by the campus and Greek organizations. Membership was primarily those of Japanese descent in the beginning, although it was open in membership.
TO EACH OF OUR FOUNDING MOTHERS, WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR COURAGE AND FORESIGHT, AND FOR CREATING AN ORGANIZATION WHICH STOOD AGAINST THE PREJUDICES OF YOUR TIME. YOU MAY NOT HAVE IMAGINED THAT YOUR IDEA WOULD BLOSSOM INTO THE ORGANIZATION THAT WE HAVE TODAY, YET WE HOPE THAT WE WILL CONTINUE YOUR LEGACY BY CONTINUING TO CREATE A GREATER WOMANHOOD FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO COME.