Note: This is an extended version of the History of Sigma Chi, originally slated for publication into the 2003-2005 Norman Shield
The Fraternity System:
Since its early conception, there has been a distinct spirit and purpose within the fraternity system. One may ask what is it, then, that holds so many men through life to continuing loyalty to their early fraternity associations. It can be called brotherhood, the spirit of idealism, or something even more.
Over 100 years ago a young Sigma Chi defined Fraternity as “an obligation, a necessity, an introduction, a requirement, a passport, a lesson, an influence, an opportunity, an investment, a peacemaker, and a pleasure.” This sentiment found general acceptance among all fraternity collegiate men, even in the early evolution of the fraternity system. “May the story of these foundations, and of the deeds of men building worthily upon them, serve as the continuing inspiration of those who will be the builders of tomorrow.”
It was the year 1776, a year of birth for both the United States, and Phi Beta Kappa, the first American society to bear a Greek-letter name at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Congeniality and fellowship were the foundations of Phi Beta Kappa, with friendship as its basis and benevolence and literature as its pillars. Like the fraternities of today, they had a ritual, which was secret to all but its members, as well as a secret motto, grip, password, and badge. Members decided to admit tutors and faculty members, engage in a philanthropic endeavor, and set a probationary period for prospective members. This society soon became and has since remained purely honorary, with high scholastic attainment in liberal arts as the prerequisite for membership.
Over 175 years ago, nine companions met over apples and roasted potatoes in a cold and bare dormitory room at Union College, unaware they were to set the precedent for the entire future collegiate student organizations. These young men formed Kappa Alpha Society, the oldest secret brotherhood of a social and literary character, and were founded at Union College in Schenectady, NY in 1825. The second oldest fraternity, Sigma Phi Society, was founded at the same institution in the spring of 1827. It was the first fraternity to establish a branch chapter at Hamilton College in 1831. The third oldest fraternity, Delta Phi, was founded in the fall of 1827.
Regarded as the “Mother of Fraternities,” the Alpha chapters of Kappa Alpha Society, Sigma Phi Society, and Delta Phi comprise the Union Triad, the first three social college fraternities. These three Eastern societies therefore became the pattern for the American college system, and imitation of them or opposition to them accounts for the establishment of nearly all general Greek-letter organizations.
After a few years, the Union Triad faced faculty opposition. Kappa Alpha Society and Sigma Phi Society went underground, while Delta Phi remained public. Delta Phi took up the defense of the fraternity movement, and it was Delt John Jay Hyde, class of 1834, who so convincingly argued the case of the fraternities before the faculty and trustees, that they allowed the fraternities to remain to grow, flourish, and expand to other campuses.
By 1833 the American fraternity system was confined to two states, New York and Massachusetts. Kappa Alpha Society had two chapters-
Opposition to the establishment of Alpha Delta Phi at Miami University led to the formation of Beta Theta Pi on August 8, 1839, the first fraternity to originate west of the Alleghenies. The birth of Phi Delta Theta occurred at
Delta Kappa Epsilon was founded at Yale in 1844 by 15 members of the class of 1846. The 13th chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon was established at
Thus, the now famous “Miami Triad” of Beta Theta Pi, Phi Delta Theta, and Sigma Chi became complete and began to spread over the West and South as the members of the Union Triad had covered the Eastern States. The three mother chapters were dormant during the inactivity of Miami University from 1873 until 1866 and during other short periods in the cases of Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Chi. In all three organizations the number of charter grants as exceeded 140, and today the Miami Triad fraternities are international in every sense of the word.
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 first fraternity to be started in the South, the W.W.W., or Rainbow, was founded at the
Sigma Alpha Epsilon was founded in 1856 at the University of Alabama, and is recorded as being the second fraternity founded in the South. The Virginia Military Institute was the site of three foundings: Alpha Tau Omega in 1865; Kappa Alpha Order was founded at
Since 1900 the development of new fraternities has been so rapid that the 20th century organizations out number those established during the 124 preceding years.
Indirectly an outgrowth of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, the Kappa chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon was chartered on March 8, 1852. The founders of the Kappa chapter withdrew from Phi Delta Theta due to their lack of individuality, independence, and self-assertion, which the Kappa founders believed was a fundamental concept in the college brotherhood. Some two years after the establishment of the Kappa chapter, a similar crisis arose, which eventually led to the founding of Sigma Chi. Fittingly, Sigma Chi was born out of a matter of principle.
There were three literary societies in Miami in 1854. The Erodelphian, the
During this time, Whitelaw Reid presided as President of the Kappa chapter. Reid was a distinguished gentleman in school, and throughout his life. It was Reid who had “rushed” the likes of Runkle and Jordan.
In the fall of 1854 a disagreement arose in the Kappa chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Miami University, Oxford, OH. The chapter consisted of 12 men. One of these men, Omar Newman, was one of the candidates for poet at the Erodelphian Exhibition. Six of the men, led by Whitelaw Reid, supported Newman for poet. Four of the six members, James Parks Caldwell, Issac M. Jordan, Benjamin Piatt Runkle, and Franklin Howard Scobey, refused to vote for the brother because they knew him to lack poetic abilities, therefore the rival candidate, who was not a DKE, won.
Thomas Cowan Bell and Daniel William Cooper (members of the Eccrittean Society) voted for Newman, but admired the principles of the other four. Thus, they became six. Whitelaw Reid was deeply offended at the course pursued by the four. Several weeks of meetings, and attempted meetings, ensued. Bo
At the heart of the conflict, which then divided the Delta Kappa Epsilon at Miami, was the very issue which had been held in the chapter as vital in its own establishment- that of individuality against organization. This time the occasion of chapter differences pertained to certain college honors as related to college politics. It was largely because the older leaders of DKE abandoned this principle in the matters at issue that Sigma Chi came into existence.
By February of 1855, relations within the Kappa chapter grew tense, and differences of opinion arose as to what were the requirements of loyalty in Delta Kappa Epsilon. Obviously nearing the “breaking point,” the six “rebels” had decided to host a dinner for the other DKE’s to resolve the matter at hand. On hand early at the Ringold Bakery Restaurant, the entire six sat together at the end of the table farthest from the entrance, awaiting developments in anticipation. Instead, they heard a heavy stomping up the stairway. There stood in the doorway, facing the six, the stern figures of Whitelaw Reid and Minor Millikin. Millikin was a young alumnus attending Harvard for law studies, who had happened to be at home in a nearby city when the crisis arose.
Earlier, Reid and Millikin had conjured a plan that they had assumed would end the conflict. Reid quickly introduced his companion to the surprised six, indicating an authoritative character of what was to be spoken. Millikin lost no time: “My name is Minor Millikin; I come from Hamilton. I am a man of few words.” He then passed judgment on all of the matters in dispute. Since he had heard only one side of the story, his verdict was against Runkle and Scobey, and the others who had originally opposed election of the Deke as the Poet for the Erodelphian Exhibition.
Millikin then unfolded a plan where “justice” would be satisfied with the formal expulsion of Runkle and Scobey (undoubtedly the leaders of the rebellion), after which the remaining members could remain after being properly chastised. However, Reid and Millikin had not realized the loyal devotion the six had for each other. Heated words ensued. The feast was quickly forgotten.
It was at that dramatic moment that Ben Runkle stepped forward, and removed his DKE badge from his coat. Tossing it upon the table before them all, he exclaimed, “I did not join this Fraternity to be anybody’s tool; and that, sir,” addressing himself directly to Millikin, “is my answer!” With Reid and Millikin in awe, he abruptly left the room while the other five followed.
The final meeting of the 12 active members of Delta Kappa Epsilon was held in Reid’s room in the “Old Southwest” building several days later. After a futile effort led by Reid for the expulsion of the troublesome members, with “six against six” on all vital issues, the meeting broke up in considerable disorder. During this time Reid and Millikin presented their case to the DKE Yale chapter for the expulsion of the six. Meanwhile, Scobey wrote a letter to the Yale chapter stating his case, on behalf of the six. The parent-chapter evidently first urged a compromise of the differences, with the suggestion that the senior initiate (which was Scobey) be allowed to stay as an active member, while the other five be demoted to “honorary” membership. By April of 1855, Millikin persuaded the Yale chapter to vote with the Kappa chapter in “the Bull of Excommunication,” which formally expelled the six from Delta Kappa Epsilon. By this time, the six had already begun plans to form a new fraternity.
During those months, the revolt against the organization and its methods developed into a new fraternity because of the congenial fellowship of its founders and their unswerving loyalty to certain high ideals. It was that a fine feeling of real comradeship, at first hardly defined among them, glowed and burned into the consciousness of an undying friendship as each began top think of a college brotherhood which might mean much for the spirit and service of life, rather than for organization and matters. Thus, the new fraternity was really born, not made. It was the expression of a sense of kinship in the pursuit of their chosen ideals.
The Early Beginnings of Sigma Chi:
One of the best moves these six ever made was to associate themselves with William Lewis Lockwood. He had entered
The plans of the seven crystallized rapidly. A room on the second floor of a substantial brick building at the southeast corner of the public square and on the north side of High Street in Oxford is properly known as the “Birthplace of Sigma Chi” (or Sigma Phi, as it was originally called), which also served as the living quarters of Runkle and Caldwell.
It was in this room that Runkle and Lockwood worked out the details of the design of the badge, with the help of James Beard, a DKE who sympathized with the founders, but would not break away. Originally, there were two designs for the badge. A majority vote of the seven founders resulted in the current badge of today. The White Cross was designed as exactly as we know it today except for the letters Sigma Phi in the black center, which were changed to Sigma Chi. It is worthy to note that the founders started the fraternity as Sigma Phi. The older Sigma Phi, of
Throughout the year, an intense rivalry developed between the Beta’s and Sigma Phi. One night, when the chapter met in regular session in Lockwood’s room, they noticed the place had been entered, and that the tin box containing the Constitution-Ritual, seals, and records, had been stolen. This quickly prompted the founders to re-write a new constitution and ritual, as well as changing the permanent name to Sigma Chi. Originally, it was not known who had stolen the original constitution and ritual, but after months of detective work, the tin box containing the items was found. It was then realized that the box had been cut open by a large bowie knife. It was assumed that the owner of the knife (who had also happened to belong to Beta Theta Pi) had been responsible for stealing the items.
The founders’ unfortunate experience in Delta Kappa Epsilon, which they saw as a group focused on conformity for political gain, stirred their hearts and their spirit. The founders of Sigma Chi wanted a spirit of allowing and accepting differences in points of views and opinions. This “spirit” became documented as “The Spirit of Sigma Chi.” Though “The Spirit” calls for men who are inherently “different,” it is expected that the members, in their differences, remain responsible, honorable, gentlemanly, friendly – indeed all those characteristics are also listed in “The Jordan Standard.”