Delta Mourns the Loss of 11th National President, Dorothy Penman Harrison
WASHINGTON—Members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. across the globe are deeply saddened by the loss of Soror Dorothy Penman Harrison, the organization’s 11th National President. Soror Harrison died early this morning in Chicago. She recently celebrated her 103rd birthday.
Soror Harrison, an educator and former first lady of Langston University, was born December 8, 1907 in Portsmouth, Ohio to Annabelle Layne and Victor Logan Penman. She graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1924 and went on to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. where she studied history. In 1926, after the passing of both of her parents, Soror Harrison returned to Ohio and worked as a teacher.
Soror Harrison was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in 1932 through the Epsilon Chapter at The Ohio State University. She served as the Sorority’s national treasurer from 1952-1956 and as National President from 1956-1958. During her tenure as National President, Soror Harrison was a quiet and detail oriented leader, focused on administrative procedures and organizational development. One of the highlights of her administration was the burning of the mortgage on Delta Sigma Theta’s first national headquarters building in 1957. During this time the nation was faced with issues such as the role of women in the national labor force, mental health, integration and the expansion of civil rights. Under her leadership, Delta Sigma Theta hosted events such as a conference for counselors of schools in interracial situations, the Ninth Grade Clinics and mental health workshops.
“Soror Harrison was a quiet yet effective leader who deeply impacted the programs of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority during the critical years of the Civil Rights Movement” said Soror Cynthia Butler-McIntyre, National President of Delta Sigma Theta. “She was a role model, mentor, sister and friend who will be greatly missed.”
Soror Harrison was committed to seeking equal educational opportunities and human rights for all people, regardless of race. In 1957, the first Delta Christmas Party was held as a fundraiser for students in Little Rock, Arkansas, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” who were a group of students involved in the integration of Little Rock Central High School. During this time, Soror Harrison also supported the efforts of Daisy Bates, civil rights leader and honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta. Soror Bates published the local African-American newspaper, The State Press, which suffered financially because advertisers refused to continue running advertisements because of her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Soror Harrison called on Delta Chapters throughout the country to place advertisements in the newspaper. It was also under Soror Harrison’s leadership that the Sorority’s national office published its first DELTA Newsletter.
During her time in office as National President of Delta Sigma Theta, Soror Harrison also held a position as a national officer for The Links, Inc. in 1957. In 1960, Soror Harrison relocated to Chicago with her husband. She immersed herself into public service initiatives in the community, having served as a board member of the Chicago Metropolitan YWCA and as a national board member of the Central Review Team and the Urban League Women’s Board. She also served on the board of directors of the City Associates of the Chicago Art Institute. Dr. Harrison is a lifetime member of the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women. In 2003, she was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Langston University.
Soror Harrison was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. Gerald Lamar Harrison; and her sons, Gerald Lamar Harrison Jr. and Richard Harrison.
“Words cannot express what Soror Harrison has meant to the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta,” said Soror Butler- McIntyre. “She leaves behind a legacy of excellence that will inspire us all to uphold the Delta ideals of sisterhood, scholarship and service.”