In the spring of 1919, Charles Robert Samuel Taylor, member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, was taking a stroll across Howard University campus with Arizona Cleaver (his campus date). With fear and trembling, he shared the idea of Arizona Cleaver becoming the first sister of Phi Beta Sigma, and to begin with herself in establishing a sisterhood of finer and stronger women. Arizona presented this idea to Pearl Neal, Myrtle Tyler, Viola Tyler, and Fannie Pettie.
The five coeds envisioned a sorority which would directly affect positive change, chart a course of action for the 1920s and beyond, raise consciousness of their people, encourage the highest standards of scholastic achievement, and foster a greater sense of unity among its members. These women believed that sorority elitism and socializing overshadowed the real mission for progressive organizations and failed to address fully the societal mores, ills, prejudices, and poverty affecting humanity in general and the black community in particular.
With a great vision in mind, Arizona Cleaver sought permission from the Howard University administration to establish a new campus sorority. That permission was granted, and on January 16, 1920, the first official meeting was held. The five coeds chose the name Zeta Phi Beta. Phi Beta was taken from Phi Beta Sigma to seal and signify the relationship between the two organizations. The newly established Zeta Phi Beta Sorority was given a formal introduction at Whitelaw Hotel by Phi Beta Sigma members Charles Robert Samuel Taylor and A. Langston Taylor. The two Sigma brothers had been a source of advice and encouragement during the establishment of the sorority and throughout its early days. And in December 1920, Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta held its first joint Conclave-Boule in Washington, D.C. At that time, Soror Arizona Cleaver was elected the first Grand Basileus.
Since its inception, Zeta has continued its steady climb into the national spotlight with programs designed to demonstrate concern for the human condition both nationally and internationally. The organization has been innovative in that it has chronicled a number of firsts. It was the first National Pan-Hellenic Council organization to centralize its operations in a national headquarters, first to charter a chapter in Africa, first to form auxiliary groups, and first to be constitutionally bound to a fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. The sorority takes pride in its continued participation in transforming communities through volunteer services from members and its auxiliaries. Zeta Phi Beta has chartered hundreds of chapters worldwide and has a membership of 100,000+.