The six were typically active college students, members of literary and academic societies and athletic groups, editors of campus publications. Hague and Brooks even ran the college store. On March 15, 1873, they met in secret. Brooks already had prepared a constitution and symbolism, and Hague had designed a ritual. The first meeting seemed destined to succeed, for the individuals all had done their work well. The ritual has been changed only six times since, and never drastically. The symbolism and esoteric structure have never been altered. Clay was elected president of the group—which for its first five years had no name. Its cryptic characters could not be pronounced, either, though Brooks recalled that outsiders referred to them as “T, double T, T upside-down.”
The Grand Chapter was organized in 1878, to tie alumni and undergraduates in a continuing relationship, and Charles Sumner Howe, and 1876 initiate, was elected its first Grand President (at the age of 20). Phi Sigma Kappa was adopted as the group's official name that same year—after four years of debate and the work of seven committees.
Originally, only one chapter was contemplated by the Founders. And although the germ of expansion arrived early, its period of gestation consumed 13 years. As early as 1875 an inquiry had been recieved from a group at Maine Agricultural College, and a few years later there was an unexpected letter from the University of New Mexico—but nothing came of either “feeler.” In 1878, John A. Cutter was inducted into the group, a man destined to have much to do with the preservation of the order's early records and with its expansion beyond the confines of the Massachusetts campus. He later attended Albany Medical College (in 1873 merged with Union College) and established a group which became Beta Chapter. Cutter also was instrumental in the establishment of Gamma at Cornell; the transition to a national order was accomplished. These same early years saw the pin (or badge) adopted essentially as we know it today (1888); an induction ritual, which embodied the concept of universal brotherhood and expanded the order's horizons beyond Massachusetts, was written in 1890; and the first chapter out of the Northeast came into being at West Virginia University (1891).
“Bigness was never one of our ideas,” Big Chief Barrett said in later years, admonishing a convention that was getting starry-eyed over dozens of new expansion possibilities. And the principle has held; though Phi Sigma Kappa stands high among national orders, size alone has never been a major consideration or goal.
Phi Sig's value to other campuses was as an organization offering something special and valuable to persons of varying backgrounds. It never was simple another fraternity to be invited. Founder Brooks, four years before his death in 1938, put it this way:
“We believe that our fraternity exerts a powerful influence for good in national college life. The thought which lay in the minds of the Founders was good. May our brothers never forget that the foundation for a useful and satisfying life must be thought—thought resulting in the visualization of a high ideal; and the determination to use all of one's strength of body, mind and soul for its realization.”
Even Canadian campuses were not excluded in the thinking of those who carried new chapters in all directions shortly after the turn of the century. Rho Chapter was organized at Queen's College at Kingston, Ontario in 1903, and seventeen other units were added during the decade. Under Cutter's and Barrett's leadership, the national organization was strengthened, and work was begun among the alumni to support their continued interest in the Fraternity after graduation. The Greek system's uniqueness among American organizations is based partly on this principle—the idea of continued involvement for members after undergraduate days. Phi Sigma Kappa was one of the early leaders in such efforts and remains one of the strongest alumni-oriented groups. If Founder Brooks' assessment of our purpose is true, then there is no end to the Fraternity's influence on its members, and its role in their lives—another vital part of our heritage.
Though the admonition against “bigness for bigness' sake” was always there, the demand to serve campuses wherever they might be was equally loud. In 1909, for example (after the Grand Council had earlier refused to put a chapter on the West Coast because of the distance involved and because it feared such a chapter would be denied the visits and services of a nearby headquarters), the Fraternity spanned the continent. The Ridge Road Club of the University of California became Omega Chapter—fittingly utilizing the last letter of the Greek alphabet and preparing the way for the first of the Deuteron or second-series units. This national aspect did not escape the notice of the mid-continent; within six months, petitions were received from Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa State. Some who were there tell us that the induction ceremonies at the early Deuteron units often included a reminder in the form of Founder Hague's benediction on the night of March 15, 1873, words that still ring of idealism and true worth:
“Let us … keep on growing till our beloved fraternity shall become full grown …, having the strength to help and protect its members, wisdom to guide them to helpful and good things as to college life, and love so warm that its members shall feel its kindly glow, that brotherly love may indeed be a reality and not an idea.”
It is significant that our Fraternity did not set up a highly developed organizational chart and then induct chapters to fill the pre-planned niches. Rather, the organization developed as chapter needs arose. As we began our second fifty years in 1924, the Grand Chapter moved to meet some of these needs. The Fraternity was divided into geographical regions, each with vice-presidential representation on the Council. Regional conclaves were planned and provisions made for paying the expenses of undergraduate delegates to national conventions. Shortly thereafter an endowment fund came into existence, and the flag was designed and distributed to all chapters. In 1928, in the first meeting west of Chicago, the Fraternity met in San Francisco. President Alvin T. (Chappie) Burrows opened the Convention in a way that reminded the participants that he was aware of the heritage he now officially personified:
“The outstanding feature which appeals to all of us above all others is the sense of nationality of our Fraternity, which we have hitherto talked about but never realized to the full. The mystic chains of brotherhood which in years gone by bound us so firmly to the eastern shoreline of a great nation, have slowly but surely been extended toward the setting sun.”
Phi Sig did not escape the Great Depression; no fraternal order did. But like many of them, she came out of it wiser and stronger for the experience, filled with the knowledge that brotherhood based on a heritage of helpfulness and value cannot be submerged by a flood of economic hardship. Undergraduate delegates had fathered a plan at the 1930 Convention that channeled 25 cents each month from each active member into a fund to assist chapters stricken by the Depression; the principal of mutual helpfulness could not have been better illustrated. Low manpower, too, had brought about fraternal belt-tightening and more significant national services—training in rushing techniques, a pledge manual, better accounting systems and visits by field representatives.
But perhaps the most significant development of these years came out of the 1934 Convention in Ann Arbor. Brother Stewart W. Herman of Gettysburg wrote and presented the Creed, and Brother Ralph Watts of Massachusetts drafted and presented the Cardinal Principles. More than half-century later they stand as Phi Sigma Kappa's heritage personified, as much a part of the Fraternity's individuality as any of its more ancient rituals and symbolism.
The 1938 Convention adopted the six-degree membership structure to honor the six Founders, especially as a tribute to Founder Brooks, who had died only a few weeks earlier. The first professional manager of the Fraternity was hired that same year, marking still another organizational response to growing need in a critical period. For the hardships of World War I and the Great Depression were scarcely overcome when World War II arrived. The extraordinary efforts by which the Fraternity survived are another and longer story; the important fact is that Phi Sig did survive. The 1948 Convention in Boston marked the 75th anniversary of the founding. There were 52 active chapters; the Phi Sigma Kappa Foundation had been established, primarily to reward good scholarship among brothers; and the SIGNET was guaranteed to all members for life under a plan that had few parallels in the Greek world at that time. D. R. (Spec) Collins of Iowa, one of the Fraternity's most dynamic leaders of the post-World War II years, reaffirmed the heritage in more modern terms:
“The Founders very wisely developed the ritual and philosophy of the fraternity on the base of service to its members. The Cardinal Principles of Phi SIgma Kappa are the development of brotherhood, scholarship and charater … There is nothing in our Cardinal Principles about prestige, the most beautiful house, the best social program, ‘number one on campus’ in intramurals, activities, etc. These are all frosting on the cake. A fraternity chapter which truly serves its purpose helps its members in their own personal development. Thus I do not believe a chapter, which pledges students who are already top scholars and which wins a scholarship cup year-in and year-out, performs any distinctive service. That chapter which pledges average students, however, and encourages them in developing their own academic capabilities to the utmost, deserves the scholarship cup. The same is true of character. If we pledge only the most polished and mature individuals, there is little left for the chapter to do for these people. The fraternity can and should take average college students and help them developtheir own character, and help them learn to live together in brotherhood.”
“My fraternity did something for me when I was in school. It helped me to learn to live with others and to develop my own personal, moral, and social attributes, so that I could fit better into the society which I found when I left the University. The services of fraternity supplemented those of my family, my church and my teachers. For this reason I am willing to continue to work for my fraternity—so long as my fraternity is working to serve its individual members.”
The post World War II era saw the Fraternity recover from the worst consequences of that crisis, after which Phi Sigma Kappa and all Greek organizations had to address issues related to membership restriction, hazing, and the need for responsible programming which complements the educational mission of our host institutions. We have responded to these challenges by removing unwarranted restrictions on qualifications for membership, acting in concert with other NIC fraternities to eliminate hazing, and revising our membership education program to reflect its purpose of building a true appreciation of our fraternal priciples.
Still another challenge to fraternities occurred with the anti-Greek feeling which spread throughout the country in the late 1960's and 1970's. Membership in Greek organizations declined significantly during these years, and a number of chapters were lost. More recently, a period of expansion has occurred. While we have not lost sight of the attitude of our Founders that we should not seek bigness for its own sake, Phi Sigma Kappa affirmed a desire for purposeful expansion in the 1980's and 90's which will enhance our ability to provide the programs and services expected of a strong international fraternity. It was in this context that the merger of Phi Sigma Kappa with Phi Sigma Epsilon was first discussed in 1984. The consummation of the merger on August 14, 1985 is truly one of the most important milestones in our history.