The charter for the Lambda chapter of Sigma Kappa was established at the University of California, Berkeley in April of 1910 to a local group called Cnoc Tara. At that time, there were 32 women, bound together by years of intimate association in the local group founded in 1905. Cnoc Tara, Celtic phrase for “beautiful view”, was suggested by Charles Mills Gayley whose former home at 2245 Piedmont Avenue the girls occupied. The first initiation was held on April 23, 1910 and the installation officers were from the Alpha (Colby College) and Delta (Boston University) chapters. Initiation was held at Masonic Temple in Berkeley followed by a banquet at the Town and Gown Club. Their first chapter house was already home to the new Sigma Kappa members and its location changed several times through the years. During the chapter’s first year, the women celebrated the win of the “Big Game” with Stanford.
In 1915, the chapter hosted the national convention of Sigma Kappa.
In 1920, the chapter purchased its first house and it was owned by the Lambda chapter, which incorporated in 1919 as Sigma Kappa of Berkeley, Incorporated. The chapter has had many house mothers through the years; Kate Bulkley was the first house mother for 10 years and Nora Frances Ware, mother of Lambda charter member and past national president Ruth Anne Ware Greig, was house mother for 22 years. Nora Ware graduated from Santa Barbara College, now University of California, Santa Barbara, but became a special initiate of Lambda upon her retirement.
Early in the chapter’s existence, Lambda published and profited through Hello, a paper issued several times a year, containing news of actives and alumnae. The publication was sent to each alumnae who paid the nominal subscription of 50 cents a year.
Set in the heart of the sorority district, the new house was built in 1937 and women moved in on April 13, 1937. Originally it was three stories high, the first floor had a service wing, living room, dining room, library, card room (for playing bridge) and sun room; the second floor had the house director’s suite, a chapter room, a guest room, two private baths, two bath units and ten bedrooms; third floor had five bedrooms, a laundry and a bath unit. Both of the top floors had sleeping porches and from the third floor a stairway lead to sun deck on the back of the house. Each bedroom had long pier glass mirrors, telephones, and linen closets. The authentically English house was built in a U shape, leaving space for the garden. Above the front door, the Sigma Kappa crest is built into front of the house.
Corporation board members that helped make the new house a reality were Ruth Anne Ware Greig, Helen Brown Scott, Lella Evans Peugh, Marlyn Williams Ross, Mary White, Josephine Steel and Ruth Norton Donnelly. Anna Harper was head of the House committee. The financing of the new house was a big undertaking, but nearly every alumna responded to their pleas for $25 from each one.
Twelve years after it was built, a wing with additional bed rooms, a chapter and recreation room were also added, completing the “U” shape of the house and enclosing the small private garden.
The house was one of the first and few that was built specifically to be a sorority house. It was originally built in the shape of a Greek letter Lambda. With its tall ceilings, cottage-like roof, grassy courtyard, and large old-fashioned windows, it has definitely earned its reputation as the "Fairy Tale" house.
Today, the Lambda chapter house has the largest square footage of all the sorority houses at Cal and accommodates 66 women with mostly double rooms (and a few triples and singles) spanning the three wings of the four-story home. The home still boasts an elegant living room (complete with a fireplace and grand piano), "date rooms" (which are now used for study rooms), and library (housing the oldest collection of Blue & Gold yearbooks on campus). The TV room is equipped with OnDemand, TiVo, and more than 200 channels. Additionally, the entire house is equipped with DSL and wireless internet. Recent improvement projects to the house have included a renovated kitchen, new doors and windows, and new furniture for many of the sleeping rooms.
Through the years, the chapter has celebrated various activities. In the earlier years, the chapter birthday was celebrated in March with an annual reunion. The freshmen would throw parties for the upperclassmen, senior banquets were farewell tributes given by the juniors to the graduating class. Peculiar to Lambda is the “oyster party,” especially intended and secretly planned for the announcement of engagements. Its origin dated back to Cnoc Tara when such an announcement was made at a spread. Faculty dinners, candle passings for pinnings and engagements, fashion shows and small teas were also held at the house.
Local philanthropy in Lambda has been varied, including all Red Cross work, sewing for associated charities, making USO scrapbooks during wartime, gathering books and toys for poor children, in addition to personal contributions and donations to the Maine Sea Coast Mission, Inherit the Earth and the Alzheimer’s Association. For more information about our philanthropies, please click here.