Service has been an integral part of the Sigma Sigma Sigma identity since its beginnings. In 1954 the Robbie Page Memorial Fund became Sigma Sigma Sigma’s official national philanthropy, but Tri Sigmas were dedicated to service long before then. Founding member, Lucy Wright, was a firm believer in “putting into practice the lesson of the Good Samaritan,” and she was involved in the Y.M.C.A. movement. As the organization grew, it attracted women who engaged in service to their communities as individuals, and local chapter efforts grew over time. By the time Florence Vickers, Iota, became the first National Social Service Chairman in the early 20th Century, Tri Sigma had developed a strong service ethic. During her tenure, Vickers oversaw Sigma contributions toward helping nurses recover from tuberculosis at Fitzsimons Hospital in Denver, and organized the first nationwide Tri Sigma philanthropic efforts.
During World War I, Chapters sold Liberty Bonds and war stamps, adopted war orphans, and participated in Red Cross work. After WWI, Bess Davis, Iota, Chairman from 1921-1931 helped establish Tri Sigma’s focus on “Service to Children,” a theme that has lasted into the 21st Century. Davis’ work established an endowment of beds at Cradle Beach Mission for Crippled Children on Lake Erie, near Buffalo, New York. During these years Tri Sigma sponsored around 2,000 underprivileged children for two weeks each year.
The 1931 Convention launched the first unified effort to raise philanthropic funds with delegates voting to ask collegiate and alumnae members to make yearly contributions at Founders’ Day with “birthday pennies.” Today, the tradition continues with all members making a Founders’ Day contribution by giving one dollar for each year of membership. In the 1930s, the funds were disbursed to the John Randolph School Library in Cumberland County, VA, one of three schools where Farmville Teacher’s College students received training on teaching in rural schools. Mable Lee Walton contributed the first 250 books in 1932, and within 10 years, Tri Sigma had given more than 8,000 books to John Randoph.
By the mid-1930s, Tri Sigma service efforts brought the focus back on tuberculosis. Clara Barton Higgon, Lambda, was infected with tuberculosis during her college days, and TB was still a widespread problem in the US until after WWII. In 1936, efforts began on the Clara Barton Higgon Project to promote tuberculin testing and chest X-rays of college students. Part of the effort was also to educate to parents of the importance of immunizations and screenings, and Tri Sigma sponsored the sale of tuberculin Christmas seals and assisted with X-ray mobile units on campuses.
As the TB vaccine became more widely accepted in the US after WWII, Tri Sigma was able to shift focus to other causes. The US saw its worst ever polio outbreak in the early 1950s, and Tri Sigma was not left unscathed. In August 1951, Mary Hastings Halloway Page lost her five-year-old son to polio.
In 1954, Tri Sigma established the Robbie Page Memorial Fund (RPM) in his memory. In the first few years after the RPM fund was established, money was given to a variety of projects associated with the Salk Vaccine Field Trials; a project of the March of Dimes. In 1954, Sigma decided to devote all of its social service efforts to RPM, and began looking for a project of national scope. Lucille Morrison, Chair of the Committee, looked at four potential sites for projects, and selected the North Carolina Memorial Hospital at University of North Carolina (UNC) for the development of a play therapy room. The first tangible gift to this hospital was a sound system that linked the small playroom to the pediatric patients rooms so that stories and music could be piped in to children who weren’t able to leave their rooms.
Today, the RPM supports the North Carolina Children’s Hospital at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, TX.