History of the Order of AHEPA 1922 - 1972


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In "Iphigenia in Aulis" by Euripides, Iphigenia offers her life in sacrifice for the sake of her land, Greece, and says to Clytemnestra, her mother: "I have chosen death: it is my own free choice. I have put cowardice away from me. Honour is mine now. 0, mother, say I am right! Our country -- think, our Hellas -- looks to me. On me the fleet hangs now, the doom of Troy, Our women's honour all the years to come. My death will save them, and my name be blest, She who freed Hcllas! Life is not so sweet I should be craven. You who bore your child, It was for Greece you bore her, not yourself."

In another translation, the last sentence of that paragraph is translated thus: "Thou didst bring me forth for all the Greeks in Common, not for thyself alone."

I believe the words "Not for thyself alone" do aptly describe the Order of Ahepa during its past fifty years of service to the community, and the nation. Ahepa has fostered programs which may have indirectly benefitted its own membership, but which by and large are aimed for the benefit of a much larger, much vaster audience. Ahepa has worked for the benefit of "all the Greeks in Common" and yet, Ahepa's membership, including its Auxiliaries, represents only about 2.5% of the entire population of Americans and Canadians of Greek descent, today. And yet, Ahepa's programs are not limited to those which may directly affect only those of Greek descent, but have and do include those which work for the benefit of our complete American and Canadian life.

These pages try to reflect that great diversity of active programs that the Order of Ahepa has achieved, and is continuing to sponsor and develop.

Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) said: "We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their roots in Greece." Sir Henry Maine said: "Except the blind forces of nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origin." Will Durant, in his History of Greece, says: "Greek civilization is alive; it moves in every breath of mind that we breathe; so much of it remains that none of us in one lifetime could absorb it all … They will think of Greece as the bright morning of that Western civilization which, with all its kindred faults, is our nourishment and our life."

Today's citizens of Greek descent in the United States and Canada take pardonable pride in their ancestry, and the Order of Ahepa, whose membership is composed of approximately 95% of citizens of Greek descent, reflects that same pride. The ties between the members of Ahepa and the people of Greece are quite strong, since strong family relationships still exist within these countries. For this reason, Ahepa's programs of activity include charitable and educational aspects concerned with the people of Greece, even today.

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Since Ahepa's purpose of establishment was to "Americanize" the Greek immigrant at its inception in 1922 in Atlanta, Ga., I felt that some of the history of Greek immigration to the United States should be included in this book, as a background for the reasons for the establishment of the Order of Ahepa Part II of this book deals with that subject, as well as with immigration from other parts of Europe. The continuity of the subject then demanded that material be included on the earliest Greek arrivals in the New World, dating back to Columbus, and the Spanish explorers. Thus, Part I of the book is devoted to that subject.

This book is not an interpretation of events, neither is it intended as a sociological study; it merely presents events that happened, and the reader must draw his own conclusions. The book includes many quotations, at length, especially on the subject of immigration, and I am indebted to several books for source material. Proper credit has been given to these, wherever possible. The greatest problem has been to select and condense this material into one volume, and to include the most important views and conclusions, of others.

The Order of Ahepa began as a fraternal association in 1922; in later years the Order of Sons of Pericles, junior young men's auxiliary, was added, then the Order of Daughters of Penelope, senior women's auxiliary, and finally the Order of Maids of Athena, junior girls' auxiliary. These four associations are now known as the Ahepa Family. The Ahepa Family is represented in all states of the United States, except Hawaii and Alaska (where the chapter is inactive) with a combined total of more than 1,100 local chapters, and an active and paid membership in 1972 of more than 47,000 members.

If one were to make a close study of the many Ahepa programs of the past 50 years, he would have to admit that there has been a "shotgun" approach -- a wide variety and seemingly in every possible direction and field. Think of a subject matter, and the Ahepa Family has endeavored to give help and assistance in that area. The Greeks are known for "diaspora" -- dispersion from Greece into all parts of the world; they are also known for becoming involved into many different areas of interest, and the basic reason for this is, I believe, because of their strong and intense "individualism." In every chapter, District Lodge, Supreme Convention, this individualism comes to the fore, and consequently the Order of Ahepa has become involved in a multitude of worthy programs.

Name it, we have it. Donations and participation in programs for churches, schools, scholarships for students, Community Chest Funds, United Givers Funds, Red Cross, War Bonds, Defense Bonds, for the Blind, Greek language studies, sports programs, benefits for athletes, cultural studies, orphanages, hospitals, health centers, victims of floods, and earthquakes, monuments and statues for commemorative purposes, Salvation Army, disease controls and research, youth programs.  

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The first Greek immigrants to the United States bore the same suffering, privation, and discrimination that immigrants from other lands found upon their arrival here, but the enterprising attitude and adaptiveness of the Greek immigrant stood him in good stead as he constantly sought to better his life, and moved up into the "accepted" ranks of community life. He bowed his head to his work at hand, clinging to his beliefs and traditions, centered his world around his family's betterment, and slowly won over his critics, who had to concede defeat as he proved to be an asset to the community. And let's admit, the Greek immigrant was too busy caring for his family and himself, and educating his children, to worry about his detractors, for life was a steady struggle of constant sixteen hour days of labor, seven days a week.

It was not until 1900 that the first Greeks arrived in the United States in large numbers, which reached a high point in 1907-1910. Like preceding immigrants, and the other millions who arrived here in the first decade of the 20th century, the Greek immigrant took whatever work was available for him, at the bottom rung of the labor market. He went into the mills, the mines, the railroads, the kitchens; or as a peddler; but he did not stay long. Within months, or a very few years, he was in his own business, either in a confectionery, restaurant, flower shop, or shoe shine stand. His independent nature rebelled against the mines, the mills, and the railroad gangs.

Even though his newly-established business might be small, or large, the Greek immigrant devoted his full day and full week in the store, and as his business grew, so did his energy and his ambition. Along with other immigrants from other lands, he was accused of every conceivable crime and plot, and although the unjust and unfounded criticisms and charges rankled him, the Greek immigrant stuck to his only means of achieving acceptance in the American community -- success in business, profession or trade. He educated his children -- his ultimate goal -- so that they would be properly prepared to face a good future as Americans. And he succeeded.

The Greek immigrant was in constant communication with America, which few people take into account in their studies of the immigrant, since he attended to the wishes of the American public every day in his restaurant, confectionery, flower shop, or shoe shine stand. He thrust himself into daily American life almost from the moment he entered this country. He made it a point to render service, for which he expected to be paid. He took pride in his work, and he was patient. He did not expect more than his worth, and he wanted no handouts. He took jokes about his language accent good-naturedly, but when he was abused to the extent that he felt insulted, his Greek pride quickly broke the bonds of restraint and this was when he occasionally found himself in trouble with the law.  

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The so-called "Roanoke Riots" against the Greeks of Roanoke, Va., were only caused by those who ate and drank at Greek restaurants, then walked out without paying. The first such incidents were marked off by the Greeks as losses to be forgotten, but when such incidents became more regular and intentional, the Greeks reacted with force against their tormentors, which was their only recourse. This incident is covered in Part II of this book. The "South Omaha Riots" is another instance when the Greeks became the victims of an unruly mob who destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars of Greek property, merely because one Greek was involved with the accidental death of a policeman, the night befOregon

The history of the years between 1900 and 1922 is not entirely a pleasant one for the Greeks in America. And yet, the remarkable result of those years is that no real bitterness was held against his neighbors, even against those who were the real troublemakers. And no bitterness remained against America, for America was and is the land that welcomed them, sometimes begrudgingly, and offered them a miraculous chance to move up into the world, raise a family, educate the children, and become a part of the community.

Born of a father and mother who were born in Greece, immigrated to the United States from different parts of Greece, who met here in America, married and raised six children, I can and will always feel awe and respect for what they have accomplished. Their constant obsession was to build a good home, raise a good family, and educate their children. They retained and maintained as much as they could of the customs and traditions of their homeland and their own upbringing. They taught the Greek language to their children, and fought to maintain their Greek Church, for their children, and for future generations.

The story of the Greek immigrant is probably no different than that of other immigrant groups. We can only offer the conclusion that the strength, the development, and the greatness of America today is due to those some 40 million immigrants from all nations who left their homelands to seek a new future here in the New World. They were the "labor force" that the nation needed for its future growth. We of today's generations thus have the privilege of paying tribute to those many millions who left family, friends, and their homeland to enter a strange and different world where their perseverance enabled them toresettle, relocate, and found new generations of Americans.

This book is also a tribute to the many thousands of members of the Ahepa Family at the chapter, district, and national levels, who have maintained constant faith and belief in the programs and aspirations of the fraternity. They are, of course, too numerous to mention by name here. There are, however, a few persons of vast importance to the fraternity, whose names are not included in the following pages of this history, to whom the Order of Ahepa owes a great debt for their many years of daily service and without whose efforts the fraternity could not have maintained its existence.  

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These individuals are the staff at the Ahepa Supreme Lodge Headquarters in Washington, D.C., who have weathered the impact of many changes of fraternal administration, and who have given constant and devoted services to our fraternity. They are: Louise Evanson and N. Marie Jones (who have retired after more than 35 years of consecutive service at Headquarters); and Cleo Kathas, Zelma Stains, and Stella Stevens, who are all presently on our staff and each of whom has 20 or more years of service. On behalf of the entire fraternity, it is my privilege to extend to each of them grateful thanks and appreciation, and let them know how much our fraternity is indebted to them for their efforts.

To my wife, Mary Ann, and my son, John, my grateful thanks for their understanding and thoughtfulness and acceptance of the many, many times that I have been away from home on Ahepa business, either on trips or in the evenings at the office, during the past 14 years.

And, finally … A word to all members of the Ahepa Family.

Perfection is an ultimate, and though we strive for perfection, it will always be beyond our grasp. We of the older generation have acknowledged this fact; but the young still believe that it can be attained, which is their prerogative and right. And for the sake of all mankind, this is as it should be.

The Order of Ahepa has not been perfect; and may never be. But, like the ancient Greeks, we must continue to strive for excellence in all that we do as members of the Ahepa Family, hopefully to achieve our goal of perfection in some distant future.

We have cast our efforts into a myriad of projects and programs, and for this we cannot fault the fraternity, for these efforts have brought appreciation, recognition, and a sense of accomplishment.

Our combined efforts have resulted in awareness among all citizens of Greek descent as to their rightful place in today's society. Their record speaks for itself in the economic, social, and political life of our communities and our country. Though small in numbers, comparatively, the Ahepa Family has been an important factor in the progress of not only the citizens of Greek descent, but in the progress of the community and the nation.

We look forward to our next fifty years with anticipation, and with the secure knowledge that the fraternity has done an outstanding job during its first fifty years of service to the community and nation.

June 1972 George J. Leber


© Copyright Order of AHEPA

George J. Leber's book is copyright protected. However, any portions of this book may be quoted at length, provided that proper credit & acknowledgement is given to the book, author, publisher, and pages.


Leber, George J. History of the Order of AHEPA 1922 - 1972. Washigton DC, Order of AHEPA, 1972.

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