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DKG brings female educators together for greater good

Serina Marshall • Apr 25, 2019 at 4:30 PM

The decade is the 1920s. Women teachers are restricted from certain aspects of the job their male counterparts are not. They are paid less and unable to do the same things men can do. The school board has them under their thumb and the glass ceiling is in place. Due to these facts, 12 female teachers organized a secret subversive club to change education for the better.

Delta Kappa Gamma (DKG) brought key women educators together in a type of sorority setting and they were able to fly under the radar of the school board. Though it started with 12 women, it quickly spread to other states across the country and can now be found in 17 countries.

DKG began in Texas in 1929 and Tennessee in the 1930s. However, the Iota Chapter of Kingsport started in 1939 and was one of the first in Tennessee. The Iota Kingsport Chapter is made up of a small group of teachers, both retired and still educating, and currently welcomes young women who are in college to earn their teaching degrees.

Rather than being a sorority, DKG is actually a service organization offering fellowship, self-improvement, and new ideas to improve the legislation of education; and the women themselves within the organization became lobbyists.

According to Joy Branham, who is not only the president of Delta Kappa Gamma Iota Kingsport, but the legislative chair of the Kingsport Retired Teachers Association, she came to be a part of DKG after her students made incredible quilts from blocks autographed by their favorite authors.

“I was asked to come to Delta Kappa Gamma to talk about the quilts and was from there asked to join. It became so much fun! It is just lovely to sit and talk with those who have the same outlook as you. We always have speakers and musical programs. Always something going on,” Branham said. Because of the quilt project Branham did at her school as a librarian, a group of fifth-grade girls formed their own quilt club and found a love for the hobby.

In addition to a yearly convention at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee itself hosts legislative conferences in Nashville every year and teachers are given the opportunity to ask any questions they may have while meeting with legislators.

“We lobby and tell our views to legislators,” explains Branham. “We want to make working conditions better not only for the educators, but the kids. Just how schools are affected in general.” Branham goes on to talk about one of the most pressing big issues: the move to divert public school funds to private schools. “There is legislation currently being voted on to provide vouchers that are handed over like a credit card to “go find a school” and, unfortunately, kids won’t get the education they need, and public schools will suffer from reduced funds,” Branham says. That is where the lobbying and discussions with legislators comes into play.

But it isn’t all lobbying.

Six times a year, the DKG Iota Chapter has a speaker or activity. This year, they have toured the Deery Inn in Blountville, had a picnic at Bays Mountain where naturalist Krystal Haney spoke, listened to mystery author Steven James, enjoyed Celtic harpist Sandra Parker, marveled at Joy Smith’s incredible handmade baskets, and had the honor of the new Kingsport Director of Schools Dr. Jeff Moorhouse coming to talk on plans and systems in place. They are always learning and experiencing.

Members of DKG Iota Kingsport are also out there doing community service and volunteering.

“We donate to Girls Inc., women’s shelters, and provide teaching items for new teachers to welcome them to Kingsport,” Branham says. “There was also a $1,000 donation to Kenya to support kids in the Joy of Life School for abandoned and abused orphans.”

In addition to these services, a handmade quilt made by 20 members of the organization was raffled off and brought in $875 to fund a college scholarship for a local high school student who is now doing her student teaching in Kingsport.

Delta Kappa Gamma Kingsport Iota Chapter and what it stands for brings help and support, not only for the schools, but for kids and the members alike.

“Making a difference in little ways adds up to the big things,” Branham explains. “And just because you aren’t necessarily still teaching doesn’t mean you aren’t still a teacher.”