In Farmville Virginia, at the State Female Normal School, nine remarkable women formed a friendship that knew no boundaries. These girls, only 14-16 years of age, wanted to form a bond that would continue beyond college. The formation of two female Greek organizations at their school inspired the nine friends, Maude Jones (Horner), Alice Bland Coleman, Ethel Coleman (Van Name), Ruby Leigh (Orgain), Frances Yancey Smith, Della Lewis (Hundley), Helen M. Crafford, Alice Grey Welsh, and Mary Jones (Batte), to form an official organization of their own. For over a year, the girls met informally by candlelight in the bathroom to assure secrecy for their discussions and organizations until they were ready to declare themselves an official organization.
However, upon their declaration, they still did not have a name. “???” was used as a temporary name. This name came about when a member of another group met with the Founders. Raising her eyebrows and forming her fingers in the shape of a question mark, she asked, "Who are you?" In unison, the group replied "Yes, Who? Who? Who?” which is where the three question marks came from. While still using the name of the three question marks, the nine founders took three pledges, Odelle Warren (Bonham), Ellen Baxter Armstrong, and Grace Elcan (Garnett).
Maude’s brother, Plummer Jones, and Frances’s brother, Giles Mebane Smith, were both members of Greek men’s organizations and were familiar with Greek lore and agreed to help develop the status of the group. Giles (Phi Theta Psi and Phi Beta Kappa) gave Zeta Tau Alpha its name, motto, and suggested the badge. Plummer (Kappa Alpha and Phi Beta Kappa ) wrote the first official Constitution & Bylaws of Zeta Tau Alpha, the Pledge Ceremony, and the Ritual. Upon great consideration, the nine founders chose the name, motto, badge, constitution, and decided on the patron goddess, Themis.
Zeta Tau Alpha is known as a fraternity, not as a sorority. The Founders intended Zeta Tau Alpha be designated a "fraternity" to distinguish the organization from the sisterhoods organized in connection with men's fraternities, called "sororities". Zeta Tau Alpha has no "brother" fraternity. Maude Jones Horner wrote, “It is the object of this fraternity to cultivate a higher ideal of womanhood and to encourage all those womanly traits existent in our kind, to give a firmer foundation to those friendships founded on college companionship, to promote sympathy in both sorrows and pleasures, to furnish aid and sisterly advice in our school life."
Tau Alpha, Lambda Chapter