Upon One Strength, Another is Built
In 1989 I joined the church sorority, Lambda Delta Sigma. Dressed in white at the Initiation Ceremony—a ritual that incorporated some temple-like symbolism–I pledged to uphold the ideals of Spirituality, Sisterhood, Scholarship, Service, and the Supporting Role of Woman and entered into the society of “elect ladies.” I recited the motto: “Upon one strength another is built.”
At the time I attended a state university and I was hungry for the camaraderie of like-minded LDS young women. My Mom had always spoken fondly of her experience in Lambda Delta Sigma at the University of Utah and I wanted the same for myself. While there wasn’t a chapter of Lamba Delt at my own school, a nearby community college had a chapter—I soon pledged and joined in the fun.
I could say much about the relationships that grew from participating in the sorority—I first danced with my husband at a Lambda Delt-sponsored Halloween dance (he was dressed as a pirate!) and I met Dora, my lifelong sister-friend. But in this article I will focus more on the history of the sorority, given that it is so little remembered now that it and the LDS fraternity Sigma Gamma Chi were absorbed into the umbrella organization of LDSSA (except at the University of Utah, which apparently still has chapters of the LDS sorority and fraternity).
Lambda Delta Sigma was originally a fraternity—founded under the auspices of U of U Institute Director Lowell Bennion on October 11, 1936. In January of 1937 a girls’ chapter was formed. By 1941 there were chapters on 15 other college campuses. In 1966 following a study by Seventy Paul H. Dunn, the LDSSA was formed to “correlate the activities of LDS students” and Lambda Delta Sigma was dissolved. However, it would soon return.
Elaine Cannon, Winnifred Jardine, Frank Bradshaw and Alfred Nielsen were called by the general authorities to make plans for a new LDS sorority. It was then that the women’s group became Lambda Delta Sigma and Sigma Gamma Chi was formed as a parallel fraternity (note: Sigma Gamma Chi stands for “Service to God and Country”). Elaine Cannon was called as the new national adviser. She wrote the pledge ceremony, initiation ceremony, and chose other symbols for the new group.
In November of 1967 the new organization was approved at the first National Convention of the Latter-day Student Association. Elected to office were Orlene J. Poulsen as president, Cecelia Foxley as vice-president, and Marva Coombs as historian. Other presidents included Nedra Warner in 1969, Barbara Winder in 1971, Arlyne Briggs in 1980, Patricia Romney in 1986. In 1977 the sorority was transferred to the leadership of the Relief Society General Presidency and the national Lambda Delta Sigma president served as a member of the General RS Board. By 1982, all Lambda Delta Sigma officers gained General Board positions.
What is unclear to me, and warrants further research, is exactly when Lambda Delta Sigma was dissolved. At some point in the mid-nineties, both the church fraternity and sorority were disbanded and members were encouraged to participate in LDSSA.
My experiences in Lambda Delta Sigma were priceless to me. I am sad that college women of this and upcoming generations don’t have the opportunity for membership in a church-sponsored sorority.
I will close this article with the pledge that each candidate for membership read as she was initiated into the sorority:
“As a member of Lambda Delta Sigma, my gift of life holds great promise. In my living, with all the strength and faith I possess, I will unite the purposes of my eternal spirit and the powers of my physical being and in this unity I shall cause my mind to learn truth, my heart to feel love, my spirit to yearn heavenward, my body to perform to its measure, my will to do. Then shall I know the fulfillment of the promise that has been given to me that I may have joy unspeakable here and eternal happiness hereafter.”
Historical background taken from Lambda Delta Sigma Pledge Study Guide, 1987.
Initiation ceremony taken from a xerox copy of the ceremony, circa 1990, in possession of the author.
Photo #1: Lambda Delta Sigma crest
Photo #2: Just after my initiation ceremony into the Chi Eta Phi Chapter at Orange Coast College, Fall 1989. (yes, the permed look was pretty awful, but what can I say…)
Photo #3: Drawing of sorority pin in the 1990s (an earlier pin had a cross and a starburst design)–the 5 jewels in the sigma character representing the 5 ideals of the sorority.
Photo #4: Some sisters from the Chi Omicron Chi Chapter, UC Irvine, 1995 (can you see me & Dora?).