History of Fraternities

Serious-minded men founded fraternities that set up lifelong ideals for themselves and their successors. A true appreciation of their spirit and purpose can only be attained by understanding their colorful history.
In 1776, Phi Beta Kappa, the first American society to bear a Greek-letter name, was born at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Like the fraternities of today, it had a ritual that was secret to all but its members, as well as a secret motto, grip and password. This society soon became, and has since remained, purely honorary, with high scholastic attainment in liberal arts as the prerequisite for membership.

Kappa Alpha Society is the oldest brotherhood of a social and literary character that has had a continuous existence in American colleges. Founded at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., on Nov. 26, 1825, it is recognized as the forerunner of the present system of American college fraternities. It has chartered 12 chapters.

Sigma Phi, founded at the same institution in the spring of 1827, and the second oldest fraternity, was the first to establish a branch chapter at another college. It, too, has severely restricted expansion, having granted but 14 charters in its history.

Delta Phi, established in 1827, has chartered 24 chapters.

The Big Three

Known as “The Union Triad,” Kappa Alpha, Sigma Phi and Delta Phi soon faced faculty opposition. Delta Phi took up the defense of fraternities and member John Jay Hyde of the class of 1834 represented them. Hyde stated the aims and objectives of fraternities so well that he convinced them of the benefits of continuing the fraternity system.

These three Eastern societies became the model for the American college fraternity system, and imitation of them or splintering away from them accounts for the establishment of nearly all Greek-letter organizations.

Chapters Multiply

In 1831, Sigma Phi became the first fraternity to establish a second chapter, which it placed at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. In 1832, the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity was founded at the same college.

Go West, Young Man

By 1833, America’s fraternity system consisted of Kappa Alpha, Sigma Phi, Delta Phi, Psi Upsilon (founded at Union College) and Alpha Delta Phi. Then a lone founder of Alpha Delta Phi boldly planted its second chapter at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in what was then considered “the West.” Ohio became the third state-after New York and Virginia-and Miami University became the fourth institution to serve as a home to fraternities.

Opposition to the establishment of Alpha Delta Phi at Miami University led to the formation of Beta Theta Pi on Aug. 8, 1839-as the first fraternity to originate west of the Alleghenies. The birth of Phi Delta Theta occurred at Miami on Dec. 26, 1848.

Schism Creates Sigma Chi

Delta Kappa Epsilon was founded at Yale in 1844 by 15 members of the class of 1846. All 15 had expected to become members of one of the then junior societies of Phi Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi. When some of them were not invited to join, they decided that together they would found a new society. The 13th chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon was established at Miami in 1852. An 1855 schism in this young chapter led to the founding of Sigma Chi on June 28 of the same year.

Thus the “Miami Triad” of Beta Theta Pi, Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Chi was complete and began to spread throughout the West and South. The three parent chapters were dormant during the inactivity of Miami University from 1873 until 1886, and there were other short periods of dormancy in the cases of Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Chi. In all three organizations, the number of charter grants has exceeded 100, and today the Miami Triad fraternities are international in every sense of the word.

Southern Expansion

The first fraternity to be started in the South, the W.W.W., or Rainbow, was founded at the University of Mississippi in 1848. This group later united with Delta Tau Delta.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon, born at the University of Alabama one year after the founding of Sigma Chi, is recorded as being the second fraternity founded in the South. After the Civil War, the state of affairs in the South was so uncertain that the re-establishment of northern fraternities was not generally undertaken all at once, and as a result numerous new southern fraternities were born.

The Virginia Military Institute was the site of three foundings: Alpha Tau Omega in 1865, Kappa Sigma Kappa in 1867 and Sigma Nu in 1869. The Kappa Alpha Order was founded at Washington and Lee University in 1865, and Pi Kappa Alpha originated in 1868, followed by Kappa Sigma in 1869 at the University of Virginia. Since 1900, the development of new fraternities has been so rapid that the 20th-century organizations outnumber those established during the 126 preceding years.