On Friday, November 14, 1919 at the University of California, Berkeley, a junior undergraduate student named Ruth Helen Barnes invited six other students of Spanish to her residence at 2545 Dwight Way to start what would eventually become the largest collegiate foreign language honor society in the U.S.: Sigma Delta Pi, the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society/La Sociedad Nacional Honoraria Hispánica. After that initial meeting and less than six months later on Saturday, May 1, 1920, the Society’s first formal induction ceremony took place at founding member Miriam Burt’s home on 1629 Walnut Street in Berkeley, CA. Today, November is celebrated annually as National Charter Month, and May 1 is commemorated as “Día de Sigma Delta Pi”/Sigma Delta Pi Day.
Sigma Delta Pi’s insignia is the royal seal of Fernando and Isabel, representing Castille, León and Aragón; its colors are red and gold, its flower the red carnation, and its motto the Greek phrase “Spanías Didagéi Proágomen” meaning “Let’s go forth/continue forth under the teaching/guidance of the Spanish language.” Since July 2010, Sigma Delta Pi’s national headquarters is located at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
Per Sigma Delta Pi’s national by-laws, the Society’s purpose/mission is multi-faceted:
1. To honor those who excel in the study of the Spanish language and in the study of the literature and culture of the Spanish-speaking world;
2. To foster an understanding, appreciation and respect for the peoples, cultures and societies of the Spanish-speaking world;
3. To honor those who have promoted and reinforced a better understanding of the contributions of the Spanish-speaking world;
4. To serve its membership in support of the Society’s goals and ideals.
Over the past century, and through the contributions of such notable Hispanists as S. Griswold Morley, Elijah C. Hills, Rudolph Schevill, Leavitt O. Wright, William Berrien, John D. Fitz-Gerald, Tomás Navarro Tomás, José Martel, Archer M. Huntington, John T. Reid, Stuart M. Gross, James O. Swain, F. Dewey Amner, Carl A. Tyre, T. Earle Hamilton, Dolores Brown, Richard E. Chandler, Ignacio R.M. Galbis, John H. LaPrade, Mark P. Del Mastro, Germán D. Carrillo and Lucy F. Lee, the Society has expanded its activities and now has over 635 chapters in 49 states. The following reflect the scope of the colleges and universities that now form the Sigma Delta Pi family: University of Notre Dame, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Virginia Military Institute, Johns Hopkins University, University of Hawaii, Oral Roberts University, University of Texas at Austin, Hood College, Brigham Young University, Truman State University, College of William and Mary, Howard University, Friends University, Georgia Southern University, California State University San Marcos, Auburn University, the United States Air Force Academy, the University of Wyoming and Yale University.
To serve its many chapters optimally, the Society has a national president (click here for list of current and past presidents), an executive secretary-treasurer/director, and five regional vice-presidents. All but the executive secretary-treasurer/director are nominated and elected by the active chapter members. The Society is governed by an executive council consisting of the seven aforementioned officials, the immediate past president, the presidents emeriti and an executive committee member-at-large. A board of student advisers comprised of undergraduate and graduate student members serves the executive committee for consultation on select issues of national importance. The faculty adviser, as appointed by the host college/university, provides critical guidance and leadership for the chapter and its members.
Current and Past Honorary Presidents
In April 2020 and to commemorate the Society’s first 100 years, the College of Charleston’s Mark P. Del Mastro published an updated history of the organization: Sigma Delta Pi: Rediscovering a Century, 1919-2019 with Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs. Although the book is available directly through Amazon, special signed copies may be purchased from Sigma Delta Pi’s national headquarters (click here to order). While preparing this tome, Del Mastro also published multiple notes that highlight select aspects of Sigma Delta Pi’s collaboration during its history:
“Reflections on a Common Past: MIFLA and Sigma Delta Pi,”
MIFLC Review 9 (Fall 2018-2019): 1-5.
“Sigma Delta Pi y la ANLE: Historias y protagonistas,”
Glosas 9.7 (September 2019): 63-66.
“Sigma Delta Pi and the AATSP: A Shared Century of Leadership and Collaboration,”
Hispania 102.1 (March 2019): 5-7.
“Sigma Delta Pi, La Sociedad Nacional Honoraria Hispánica: El Centenario 1919-2019,”
The 2nd World Conference on University Researchers (WCUR).
The Vellum Page & Downhill Publishing, 2019, 15-18.
The University of Maine published a brief article about Del Mastro’s research for his history book:
“The Missing Volumes,”
Raymond E. Fogler Library Magazine, 2019, 17-18.
Also to commemorate Sigma Delta Pi’s centennial, Del Mastro organized a “Sigma Delta Pi History Panel” that was accepted and scheduled for presentation at the AATSP’s 102nd Annual Conference in Puerto Rico in July 2020. Because of the conference’s postponement due to COVID-19, in early June 2020 participants recorded their respective presentations (click here to view the virtual panel).