By Alexis Taylor,
AFRO News Editor

Lydia Mussenden and Ruth Jones King Pratt have been winning for more than 100 years- and that’s not a combined total.

Mussenden, 102, and Pratt, 100, are full of life when they recall the tales of Black life in Old Baltimore. 

From fancy parties to community organizing; from the Civil Rights movement to motherhood, the pair has done it all and lived to tell about it. For a solid ten decades, both women have been separately weaving their legacies, but the parallels are endless.

Mussenden and Pratt obtained bachelor’s degrees in a time when more than half of Black women were barely graduating high school. Both women also earned master’s degrees and Pratt went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Lydia Mussenden, former President of the Baltimore Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, spoke with the AFRO and said there is still more work to do in the way of achieving true equality for both Black Americans and women worldwide. (Courtesy Photo)

Both women also pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and are now a part of the Baltimore Alumnae Chapter, which was chartered on March 19, 1922, in part by Vashti Turley Murphy, wife of former AFRO publisher Carl J. Murphy. Vashti helped organize the sorority in 1913 on the campus of Howard University with 21 other women.

As the Baltimore Alumnae Chapter reaches its first centennial anniversary, the AFRO reached out to some of the chapter’s oldest living former presidents to get their take on Black excellence and Black womanhood.

“You had to fight for your right to be a Delta. You had to prove yourself to be worthy or they’d put you out!” said Pratt. “Everything was done well and to the best of our abilities. You had chapter ideas and chapter concepts, that way you weren’t out there by yourself making big mistakes.”

“Our work was in the community, in the church and in the school.”

For a solid 100 years the women of the Baltimore Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. have been women on the move in Charm City. 

The chapter is now led by Arlene A. Wongus, who believes the elder members of the sorority are the deep-seated roots that keep the entire organization grounded.

“They are our history, they are our foundation; growing up, we were always told to respect our elders and we listened to their wisdom,” said Wongus. “Not that we always agreed, but we listened to their wisdom because there was always some nugget to take away.”

Some things have changed, but not to the extent that you can forget who you are, what you are and what’s expected of you,” said Pratt, when asked how the sorority has evolved over time. (Courtesy Photo)

Mussenden became a member of the sorority after pledging the Alpha Chapter at Howard University in 1936. She later led the Baltimore Alumnae Chapter from 1950 to 1952. After all these years she can still recall what made the group stand out to her on campus.

“I liked the girls who were Deltas. They were lively, knowledgeable and they influenced me a lot,” said Mussenden, recalling what made her pledge the sorority decades ago. “I wanted to become like they were, I wanted to become a Delta.”

“I wanted to be knowledgeable and be aware of what was going on.”

The women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. are famous for the way they marched in the nation’s capital during the Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913. Not only did the women participate, they told their White female counterparts they were going to show up and they wouldn’t be marching in a colored section. 

One hundred and nine years later, the boldness continues.

Members of the sorority are known for their work in the classroom as well as at City Hall and in the nation’s capital. 

Pratt joined the Baltimore Alumni Chapter in 1948, according to previously published AFRO reporting, and was elected to serve as president from 1974 to 1976. 

“If a girl wants to be a Delta she’s got to live up to the standards of Delta,” said Pratt, dressed head to toe in her sorority colors of crimson and cream. “You have to be aware of your responsibility to family, to church and to everything that’s in your reach. That’s important. You can’t just let things go by, you have to maintain them.”

Lydia Mussenden, 102, moved to Baltimore around 1940, just four years after pledging Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1936 at Howard University. She led the Baltimore Alumnae Chapter from 1950 to 1952. (Courtesy Photo)

Pratt said that within her organization “Some things have changed, but not to the extent that you can forget who you are, what you are and what’s expected of you.”

“I went to a Delta meeting not too long ago. It was a small environment, but it was one in which the Delta women were still there and in charge,” she said.

Pratt said that innovation is key to making sure the sorority continues to thrive. Today, the bonds of sisterhood are alive and well.

“We still help each other, support each other and buy each other books,” she said, adding that the women of her sorority are women who know how to keep going- even through hard times. 

“I see them going into the community and being a positive influence,” Pratt said. “We are still helping the community be the best place in which to live. We’re still out there making change and helping everyone become better.”

“You can’t beat that.”

Overlooking the city from a penthouse condo, tastefully decorated with remnants of international travel, Mussenden said there is still more work to do in the way of achieving true equality for both Black Americans and women around the world.

Dr. Ruth Pratt, 100, joined the Baltimore Alumni Chapter in 1948 and was elected to serve as president from 1974 to 1976. (Courtesy Photo)

“We need to be more widely accepted as a Black race and in order to do that we have to better ourselves,” she said. “Education makes everything better for you. You’re able to achieve more and be more knowledgeable and aware.”

Though she has certainly seen the progress of Women’s Suffrage in America, Mussenden said that more women still “need more education and better jobs.” 

When asked where she sees the chapter going in the next century, Mussenden’s answer is simple: 

“Further.”

Over the course of a century, the chapter has swelled to roughly 500 active members. 

As part of their centennial celebration, the Baltimore Alumnae Chapter has hosted donation drives for shelters and nursing home residents. Birthing kits have been created for shipment to Africa and the chapter is in the process of registering 100 African Americans to be bone marrow donors.

The chapter will host its Charter Day celebration from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm on March 19th, 2022. Georgia’s Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, will deliver the keynote address.

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer