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Ethel Hegeman Lyle
*Ethel Hedgeman Lyle was born on this date in 1887. She was a Black educator and community administrator.
Ethel Hedgeman was from St. Louis, Missouri. Throughout elementary and secondary she attended public schools in St. Louis. In 1904, Hedgeman graduated from Sumner High School with honors. She gained a scholarship to Howard University. Hedgeman demonstrated her ambition and abilities with the scholarship to Howard at a time when only one in three hundred African Americans and 5% of whites of eligible age attended any college.
In 1904, Hedgeman entered Howard University. However, due to illness in her sophomore year, Hedgeman had to take a break from her studies. Throughout college, she belonged to Howard's choir, YWCA, and the Christian Endeavor and participated in drama plays. She was described as lively and charming, despite her delicate health. Throughout the fall of 1907, Hedgeman was instrumental in founding Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, America's first Greek-letter organization established by Black college women.
Hedgeman was inspired by the accounts of Tremaine Robinson, a faculty member at Howard who shared her sorority experiences at Brown University. Hedgeman was also aided in her efforts by her friend George Lyle, whom she had dated since high school. He was a charter member of the Beta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at Howard in 1907. Hedgeman began recruiting interested classmates to establish a sorority during the summer of 1907. The nine classmates founded Alpha Kappa Alpha on January 15, 1908.
Hedgeman served as vice-president of the sorority since she was a junior and designed the insignia for the sorority. Starting in the 1920s, as national treasurer of Alpha Kappa Alpha for more than 20 years, Lyle (by then married) continued to guide the sorority and its growth. She is often called the "Guiding Light" for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. After graduating in 1909 with a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts, Hedgeman moved to Eufaula, Oklahoma, for her first job as a teacher. She taught music at Sumner Normal School between 1909 and 1910. She was the first African American female college graduate to teach in a normal school in Oklahoma and the first to earn a Teacher's Life Certificate from the Oklahoma State Department of Education. In 1910, Hedgeman moved to Centralia, Illinois, where she taught in public schools.
On June 21, 1911, Ethel Hedgeman married George Lyle, whom she had dated in high school and college. They moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Ethel gave birth to George III, her only child. George Lyle also worked as a teacher, considered by both to be a critical profession for the future of African Americans. In addition to her work as an educator, Lyle was active in public life. She helped found civic institutions such as the West Philadelphia League of Women Voters and the Mother's Club of the city. Lyle was a member of the Republican Women's Committee of Ward 40 and was active in her church. Lyle's leadership skills were called on in 1937 when the Mayor of Philadelphia appointed her to chair the Committee of 100 Women, organized to plan the Anniversary of the Adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
Lyle helped lead the sorority through years of rapid social change, including the Great Migration of more than a million Blacks from the South to the North, the Depression, and the challenges of World War II. In 1926, she chartered and was the first president of Omega Omega, the first alumnae chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha in Philadelphia. (Eighty years old and with 400 members in the 21st century, the Omega Omega chapter continues to provide services to women and children in the city.) She continued her education career in Philadelphia by teaching English at the Thomas Purham School and Chester A. Arthur School. She retired in 1948 after almost forty years of teaching generations of students.
On November 28, 1950, Ethel Hedgeman Lyle died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She received many accolades for her achievements in honor of her role as founder of AKA. She had a forty-year career as an educator and was active in public life. All these activities helped create social capital in the city during rapid growth and population changes. Lyle demonstrated in her committed life how African American sororities supported women "to create spheres of influence, authority, and power within institutions that traditionally have allowed African Americans and women little formal authority and a real power."
In her birthplace of St. Louis, members of the Omicron Theta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha set up a charter school named Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Academy in her honor. It has expanded since 2000 to cover grades K-10 (as of 2005), serving several hundred children.
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