At the time of the founding there were only 666 women attending Syracuse; ten of them eventually formed of Alpha Phi to found an organization "on the principles of the promotion of growth in character; unity of feeling, sisterly affection, and social communion among the members." Although the actual founding date is September 18, 1872, Alpha Phi has been celebrating their Founder's Day on October 10 since 1902, since many colleges and universities were not open for classes in mid-September at that time. Alpha Phi considers itself a women's fraternity because its founding date predates the invention of the word "sorority".
Four founders of Alpha Phi, reunited at a national convention in 1922: Clara Bradley Burdette, Jane Sara Higham, Louise Shepard Hancock, and Clara Sittser Williams.
Like many other women's fraternities, Alpha Phi recognizes multiple types of symbols, with the Ivy Leaf as their primary symbol. The fraternity's official colors are bordeaux and silver. The colors were originally blue and gold; however, these colors were similar to those of the Sigma Chi fraternity so they were changed. The flowers are the Lily of the Valley and the Forget-me-not, and the fraternity lists its ideals as "Sisterhood, Generosity, Service, Innovation, and Character."
Alpha Phi's public motto is "union hand in hand". According to Alexandra Robbins, it also has a "secret" motto, "A.O.E."
Like other Greek life organizations, Alpha Phi has created a badge for its organization that they felt was meaningful, and as the fraternity states, "Alpha Phi was the first women's organization to use Greek letters as an emblem. Originally there was no standard badge. Until 1906 when the current badge was adopted, each member [of Alpha Phi] went to the jeweler of her choice to have her pin designed." Currently, all members receive a badge when they are initiated.
Honor Badge - These pins are worn by international officers, and presidents of college chapters while they are serving their reign as president.
New member Badge - "In 1898 the Fraternity adopted a special badge to honor her newest members. The badge they selected is in the shape of an ivy leaf, set in silver pewter. An ever-growing vine, the ivy symbolizes the growth of the Alpha Phi sisterhood."
Fifty-Year Pin - "The first fifty-year pins, silver circles with red stones, were presented at the 42nd Convention in 1958 to several alumnae who had given significant service to the fraternity for 50 years or more. These pins are replicas of the pins presented to the six living founders at the Fraternity's Fiftieth Anniversary Convention in 1922."
Alpha Phi fraternity participates in philanthropy via a separate arm, the Alpha Phi Foundation, founded in 1956. The fraternity officially adopted Cardiac Care as its philanthropic priority in 1946, which then became the Foundation's focus upon its founding in 1956. The Foundation supports programs and research that study heart disease in women - specifically its symptoms, its treatment and its prevention. The foundation raises and awards funds and grants for programs in leadership and academics, towards women's heart health, for members with financial needs, and for heritage preservation and education about philanthropy.
The Foundation helps fund research and educational programs that support the improvement of women's heart health through its annual Heart to Heart Cardiac Care Grant, a $100,000 award towards better understanding gender differences in heart health through increasing heart disease prevention and treatment in women. The fraternity considers the first Friday of February as Red Dress Pin Day and the month of February as Cardiac Care Month where individual Alpha Phi chapters are encouraged to develop a relationship with a local cardiac care project in their community as well as to promote awareness of women's heart disease.
Collegiate chapters of Alpha Phi host a philanthropy event known as The Red Dress Gala (also called "Red Dress Ball" or "Aphiasco" by some chapters), which includes a silent auction, guest speakers, and a full dinner for sisters, alumni, and family. Traditionally, the collegiate members wear red dresses to represent their support for Women's Heart Health. This event raises funds for their Foundation and the Heart to Heart Grant. Collegiate chapters, alumnae chapters and individual members can nominate a local heart project for the Heart to Heart Cardiac Care Grant. Self-nominations are also accepted. The recipient is selected by a team of medical professionals and the Foundation board of directors.
1995 - Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, formerly the Deaconess Hospital, Institute for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease - sponsored by the Zeta Phi Chapter, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1997 - Presbyterian Healthcare Foundation's "Women's Heart Night Out" - sponsored by the Albuquerque Alumnae Chapter
In 2013, Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev was terminated from the Theta Mu chapter at Hofstra University for abusive hazing. At the time, Kazantsev was serving the chapter as head of recruitment.
In 2015, the Beta Mu chapter at the University of Alabama took down a recruitment video that was heavily criticized for its lack of diversity and the provocative way in which collegiate women were portrayed.
In October 2016, the Iota Delta chapter at the University of Rhode Island charter was revoked for at least four years. On bid day, the sorority was accused of endangering the health and safety of new members and violating the university's alcohol policy.
In January 2018, Harley Barber, a member of the Beta Mu chapter at the University of Alabama was terminated from the sorority and expelled from the college after posting videos on social media in which she repeatedly used the n-word and other profanities to make degrading comments about African-Americans. The incident gained media coverage across the country, University President Stuart R. Bell, the University Panhellenic Association, and Linda Kahangi, executive director of Alpha Phi International Fraternity released statements.
In January 2018, three members of the Iota Iota chapter at the George Washington University were removed from the organization due to a racist social media post. The incident prompted criticism from national and international news sources and the University's Student Association received petitions to remove the chapter from campus.
In September 2018, a document by a former recruitment chair of the University of Michigan Alpha Phi chapter surfaced with descriptions of how the chapter's membership selection process was based on selecting for certain physical appearances and assigned numbers to these women based on the judgment of the recruitment chairs and representatives from their international headquarters. The exposé described that Alpha Phi supervisors ordered her to give the PNMs an "External Prescore" based on pictures from their social media profiles. Throughout the recruitment process, active members in the sorority were also ranked on superficial qualities and matched with "stronger" or "weaker" PNMs.
In January 2019, the Alpha Phi chapter at Old Dominion University was accused of racist behavior within the members of the sorority. School officials are investigating the allegations and the chapter cannot currently hold functions of any kind at this time.