The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  1798


FRATERNITY life at the University of Michigan goes back almost to the first days of the University. The first two fraternities, Beta Theta Pi and Chi Psi, were established in 1845, the year the first class was graduated. At this time the whole fraternity system in America was scarcely twenty years old.

Phi Beta Kappa, it is true, had been established at the College of William and Mary on December 5, 1776, as an undergraduate literary and social organization and thus may be said to be the oldest American college fraternity. After the demise of the first southern chapters because of the Revolutionary War, it spread to the colleges in the North, where, however, it apparently never became a fraternity in the modern sense. The secret provisions of its constitution were very generally attacked, and as a result most chapters dropped the feature of secrecy and emphasis was increasingly placed upon the policy of indicating and rewarding scholastic attainments.

It remained for a group of fraternities established at Union College in 1825 and 1827 to set the pattern for the present American fraternity system. The first of these was the Kappa Alpha Society, formed in the autumn of 1825 by certain members of a defunct military company who enjoyed the fellowship it had provided. Two years later, March 4, 1827, saw the establishment of Sigma Phi, and in November of the same year Delta Phi was organized.

From this little group the fraternity system spread throughout the country, so that by the time it was introduced at Michigan there were eight national fraternities with chapters in the leading institutions of the country. Seven of these, Kappa Alpha, Sigma Phi, Delta Phi, Alpha Delta Phi, Psi Upsilon, Chi Psi, and Delta Kappa Epsilon, were first established in eastern institutions, while Beta Theta Pi, founded at Miami in 1839, was distinctly western in its origin.

The question as to which fraternity first appeared in Ann Arbor has long been a matter of discussion, though in the official list of fraternities in the Michiganensian Chi Psi has been given the place of honor. However, Beta Theta Pi was organized on July 17, 1845, and the chapter was established on the following November 13, according to the records of the chapter, although its members, apparently, did not wear their badges or publicly make known the existence of the fraternity. This would make it just a little older than Chi Psi, which was organized in December, 1845, and actually established in April, 1846, with its members immediately proclaiming their fraternity affiliation. Moreover, Chi Psi has had a continuous existence at the University, whereas Beta Theta Pi was disbanded for two periods, from 1850 to 1854, and again from 1864 to 1875.

The relative priority status of these two fraternities has given rise to many heated discussions among fraternity men, with the question officially adjusted in 1931, when it was finally agreed that Beta Theta Pi and Chi Psi were of equal rank as to their years on the Michigan campus and should be jointly listed in first place in the Michiganensian, Beta Theta Pi to be given first place in the even years and Chi Psi in the odd years. This procedure was soon superseded, however, when all the fraternities were listed in alphabetical order.

With the establishment of Alpha Delta Phi, August 5, 1846, a large proportion of the students then in the University became members of the three existing fraternities. There was, however, on the books of the University a Page  1799rule drawn up in 1840, before any students were enrolled, by Professor George Palmer Williams, known as Rule Twenty, which provided that "no student shall be or shall become a member of any society connected with the University which has not first submitted its constitution to the faculty and received their approval."

Apparently, small attention at first was paid to this rule. It had been approved in accordance with the ideas of faculty regulation of student life prevailing in most colleges of that period, when the students were on the average younger than they are today. For a short time the existence of the fraternities was unnoticed, at least officially; but in the summer of 1846 some student depredations were traced to a small log house situated in the depths of the heavily wooded area east of the campus, probably on the present site of Forest Hill Cemetery. This building, which was discovered to be the headquarters of the Chi Psi fraternity, is supposed to have been the first fraternity lodge of which there is a record in any American university. A University official attempted to enter the building, but was barred by the students because of the rule of secrecy of the organization. This incident led to a revelation of the existence of two fraternities, Chi Psi and Beta Theta Pi, and compelled the faculty to take some action in the enforcement of Rule Twenty.

Lists of the members of the two fraternities were freely given the faculty upon request, since the students relied upon the large proportion of the undergraduate body who were members of these organizations, their connections with the people of Ann Arbor, and their widespread affiliations in many other leading educational institutions of the country, to prevent any drastic action by the faculty. In the meantime, another society, Alpha Delta Phi, had been established on Commencement day, August 5, 1846. A representative had offered to submit certain parts of the constitution to the Regents, but the Board was too busy with Commencement business to consider the matter at the time. The students, nevertheless, completed their organization, and it was not long before the faculty was aware of a third fraternity in existence on the campus.

The question of the proper action to take in regard to these organizations was a serious one for the faculty. At first, they decided upon a moderate course, simply requiring the societies to promise not to initiate more members, and exacting of all matriculates in the University a pledge not to join societies that had not secured faculty approval. Thus, they thought the organizations would soon disappear. But their expectations proved to be ill-founded. Alpha Delta Phi proceeded to initiate new members on the assumption that it existed, if not with the approval, at least by the sufferance of the faculty. The faculty learned of this action in March, 1847, and the new initiates were obliged to withdraw, while a stringent pledge was signed by the original members. A second offer by Alpha Delta Phi to submit its constitution was declined by the faculty since "it had no authority to legalize them as a society in the University of Michigan." The students promptly took advantage of this statement, maintaining that if the faculty could not legalize a society it could not forbid it. Beta Theta Pi, which sought recognition in July, 1848, was informed that it came under the prohibition of the law.

It is very plain that the students relied upon their strong position and continued to initiate members sub rosa under one pretext or another for some time following this action of the faculty. Toward the close of the college year 1847-48, the faculty addressed letters to the presidents of several eastern colleges Page  1800asking their opinions concerning the possibility of suppressing the Greek letter societies. The reports were generally unfavorable, but it was apparent that while regulations similar to Michigan's Rule Twenty were supposedly in force, none of the institutions had been able actually to suppress the societies. It was even suggested by Chancellor Frelinghuysen of New York University that so many lawyers and other literary graduates belonged to them that suppression would be difficult.

Thus, the situation drifted on until 1849, when a recently issued catalogue of the University was found on the campus in which were printed the names of eleven undergraduate members of the Chi Psi fraternity. This precipitated a further inquiry which led to disclosure of the names of the members of Alpha Delta Phi. In both cases, the student defense was that it was no longer a chapter in the University, but "in Ann Arbor"; the members did not meet on University premises; and as persons unconnected with any college had been admitted to membership the societies could not be regarded as consisting of students.

This plea was considered an evasion, and it was announced that the members of these two fraternities would be dismissed from the University at the opening of the next term unless they renounced their affiliations. As a result seven students ostensibly withdrew from their fraternities, while the rest were expelled on December 18, 1849. Members of the third fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, were not dismissed until September, 1850, since they had made the plea that their constitution was not signed. Thus, a very considerable proportion of the student body of that period left the University, never to return. Many went to Union College, others to the University of Rochester. A few returned to Ann Arbor, while some never finished their college course. The number of graduates for the years 1850-53 ranges from ten to twelve, in contrast to the twenty-four who were graduated in 1849, and the twenty-one in 1854, after the last class affected was graduated.

Events of such far-reaching importance naturally did not escape the attention of the citizens of Ann Arbor, many of whom had sons and friends among the student body. They severely criticized the faculty as well as the Regents, who were not able to take a decisive position after a tie vote, six to six, on a resolution declaring the student fraternity members were not to be "regarded as amenable to punishment," submitted on July 20, 1848. Moreover, the attention of the Masons and other secret societies came to be focused upon the struggle. The result was an indignation meeting of citizens held on December 20, 1849, at which support was given to the fraternities and a complete change of faculty was advocated. As a further result, a bill was introduced in the legislature of 1850 providing that the Regents should be elected by the people instead of appointed by the governor.

Thus, the state legislature was drawn into the struggle, and it has been asserted that the call for a constitutional convention was a direct result, since the 1850 constitution provided for the election of the Board of Regents. In any case the whole problem was carried to the legislature by some of the expelled students, by the nonfraternity students, who supported the faculty action, and by the faculty itself, which submitted a rather ill-considered memorial containing many violent and unsupported statements. The situation, moreover, had been complicated by certain students' submitting a garbled version of the faculty memorial several weeks in advance.

This continuing agitation eventually became too strong for the faculty, and it Page  1801was forced to change its position. In a series of meetings held in October, 1850, the constitutions of Beta Theta Pi and Alpha Delta Phi were considered, as well as an "exhibition of the system of fundamental rules and regulations of which the constitution of Chi Psi consists," which resulted in the reinstatement of the fraternities. The first action taken was in regard to Beta Theta Pi and was embodied in the following resolution:

whereas, The Constitution of Beta Theta Pi society has, in compliance with the twentieth Article, Chapter 4, of the college laws, been perused for the approval of the faculty in order that students may be members thereof,

Resolved, That the faculty, having examined, do so far approve said constitution as to permit students of the university to be members of said society on condition. [Here are set forth the conditions: (1) No senior shall belong until written consent of his parent is filed with the president of the faculty; (2) the faculty shall be informed of times and places of meetings; (3) all meetings shall be held in college buildings; (4) no change shall be made in the constitution without approval of faculty; (5) the faculty shall be furnished the name of every member within one week of his admission; (6) the fraternity shall not interfere with the administration of college government; (7) the regulations shall be obligatory upon the entire fraternity.]

The yeas and nays being called for, the resolution was passed by the following vote: Yeas, Professors Whedon, Douglass, Fasquelle and Ten Brook; Nays, Professors Williams and Agnew.

The suspended chapter of Beta Theta Pi, however, was not reconstituted until 1854; Chi Psi and Alpha Delta Phi apparently still retained a small membership and were able to reorganize their chapters immediately.

This whole controversy served to reveal the weakness of the University and led, as has already been noted, to a drastic change in the government of the institution, particularly in the election of the Board of Regents and the appointment of a strong executive in the person of President Tappan. As was pointed out by Professor Andrew Ten Brook, who was a member of the faculty at that time, both the students and the faculty were the victims of a mistaken and impracticable theory of university government. The self-reliance and maturity of the students caused them to resent the implied faculty paternalism and minute regulation of student life. The faculty, moreover, held the narrow-minded clerical point of view of that period and supposed that they had the support of the other leading American colleges. Nevertheless, the students knew that in no other institution had faculty regulation of the fraternities been effective, and they resolutely maintained their position. Under these circumstances the final victory of the students was perhaps inevitable.

On the settlement of the fraternity question, these organizations entered upon a period of steady growth, with new chapters continuing to be established as the University grew. Delta Kappa Epsilon was inaugurated in the University in 1855, Delta Phi came in the same year, gave up its charter twenty years later, was re-established in 1923, and withdrew in 1936. Sigma Phi came in 1858, established largely under the auspices of Professor Andrew D. White. Zeta Psi came as the seventh fraternity in the same year, 1858, while Psi Upsilon was organized in 1865. Phi Delta Theta was chartered in 1864, but the names of the members were not listed until 1866, and in the spring of 1866 the chapter became dormant, not to be revived until 1887. Delta Tau Delta was organized in 1874, suspended in 1876, and reorganized in 1880. Phi Kappa Psi and Delta Upsilon came in the same year, 1876; the Page  1802latter, a nonsecret fraternity which started in the east as an antisecret organization, has developed into a nonsecret body which, however, except in the fact that its motto is known, has little to distinguish it from the secret organizations.

Sigma Chi was established in 1877, became dormant a few years later, and was re-established in 1896. Chi Phi opened its doors in 1882, surrendered its charter in 1885, and became active again in 1921. Sigma Alpha Epsilon was organized in 1888, and Theta Delta Chi in 1889. Between 1890 and 1927 the list of fraternities more than quadrupled, although the proportion of the fraternity members among the students actually decreased, owing to the rapid growth of the University. This was a larger number of these organizations than the student body could support, so that by 1940 more than one-third had closed their doors on the Michigan campus. While nearly two-thirds of the students were members of the Greek letter organizations in the University's early days, less than one-third of the men and women in the University are now members of these societies.

Among the professional fraternities, Phi Delta Phi organized the parent chapter of the fraternity at the University of Michigan in 1869. Nu Sigma Nu, a medical fraternity, was also first organized at Michigan in 1882 with the late William J. Mayo as one of the charter members, and the same year the first chapter of Delta Sigma Delta was organized by students in the Dental School.

The earlier history of the fraternities in the University is closely associated with the annual University yearbook, which first appeared in 1859 as the Palladium, apparently a reincarnation of an earlier publication known as The University Register, a four-page paper which gave lists of University officers, graduates, and secret society members. The Palladium was published by the fraternities and soon became a booklet of some fifty pages bound in glazed paper. Eight hundred copies were printed at a cost of $85. Practically all the fraternities were listed in this publication up to 1876, when the nonsecret fraternity, Delta Upsilon, appeared.

The fraternities established after that date were not included in the Palladium, with the exception of Phi Kappa Psi. Thus, the older fraternities were known as the "Palladium fraternities" and came to have a certain amount of social prestige deriving from their age and close-knit organization. Other groups resented this assumption on the part of the Palladium group and established their own yearbook, the Castalian, in 1890. In 1897 the Palladium and the Castalian, together with the Res Gestae of the Law School, were combined into a new publication, the present Michiganensian, although the spirit of the old Palladium still existed.

These older fraternities for years had sponsored the annual Junior Hop, which had been the principal student social event since 1877 and had been preceded by a similar ball given by the seniors since 1868. This control of the Junior Hop by the Palladium fraternities was resented by the other fraternities and the nonfraternity "independents," and a protest to the Regents in 1896 resulted in a ruling that if University buildings were to be used for social functions, all representatives of the junior class should be eligible to attend. The Palladium fraternities refused to participate and the result was two hops, one given in Toledo by eight fraternities, which chartered a special train, and one in the University Gymnasium by the more recent fraternities and independents. The following year a compromise was effected by which these fraternities and independents Page  1803were admitted to representation upon the Junior Hop committee, an arrangement which exists at the present time.

The separate fraternity lodges or clubhouses, which add a great deal to the aspect of the city of Ann Arbor through their usually attractive architectural design, are an essential feature of fraternity life at the University of Michigan. Aside from the early log cabin lodge of Chi Psi, the first fraternity building was erected by Delta Kappa Epsilon, the little chapel-like building, built in 1878, on William Street near the corner of State Street. Alpha Delta Phi, however, had formally inaugurated the chapter house system in Ann Arbor as early as the college year 1875-76, when it occupied the octagonal residence originally used by Professor Alexander Winchell, situated on North University Avenue on the present site of Hill Auditorium. This later became the home of Delta Tau Delta.

The first fraternity clubhouse especially erected as living quarters for the student members was that built by Psi Upsilon on the corner of South University and State Street, where the Lawyers' Club now stands. It was a large, rather ungainly brick building, erected in the college year 1879-80, and reconstructed and greatly enlarged twelve years later. In 1884 the first house of Alpha Delta Phi, across State Street, was completed and dedicated, while the chapter house of Delta Kappa Epsilon, which stood next to the Psi Upsilon house on State Street, was formally dedicated in 1889.

At the present time the fraternities and sororities occupy an important place, as they always have, in the fabric of student society. They have been criticized, and with some justice, as being undemocratic and exclusive, extending their privileges to only a part of the student body. But they have added color to the college atmosphere, have provided in some degree an equivalent for home life and intimate companionship for at least a part of the student body, and have constituted unofficial agencies through which the University could reach the students on occasion when official action seemed undesirable. The strong, close-knit influence which the fraternities exercised in an early day on student life as a whole has been greatly modified in recent years, so that now the fraternities relatively are a much less important element than they were at one time when undergraduate activities and clubs, musical, dramatic, forensic, and literary, were largely dominated by them.

The question has sometimes been raised as to whether the fraternities are the ideal solution for the creation of smaller social units in a huge student body, such as exists at the University of Michigan. In the past, membership in the fraternities has been too small to permit really economical operation, and this has made membership impossible for many students because of the expense, although of late the tendency has been to enlarge the membership, since freshmen are no longer permitted to live in the fraternity houses. Moreover, initiates must have a satisfactory scholastic record before they are permitted to join a fraternity. The rise of the residence halls has also limited to a certain extent the number of students who desire to join fraternities. All of these factors have led to a decrease in the actual number of fraternities. Most of the organizations discontinued during the last decade are those more recently formed which lacked strong support on the part of alumni members, always an important factor in the maintenance of the older fraternities.

For some time there has existed a strong movement toward the elevation of student scholarship standards on the Page  1804part of the fraternities. There was a time when scholarship was not emphasized by many of these social organizations. A strong reform program on the part of the University, supported by alumni, has improved this situation, particularly since the University now publishes every year a chart showing the exact standing of every fraternity. Though the general average of the fraternity student is little if any above the general average of the University, the fraternities at the lower end of the scale almost always hear from their alumni and are subject to an insistent demand that they improve their record, with usually favorable results. It may be said, however, that the scholastic position of the different fraternities is still of lesser importance to most students than other factors in the selection of their fraternity affiliations.

A significant step in the relationship of the University to the fraternities was taken in 1914 when the Interfraternity Council was organized following a recommendation contained in a report by the Committee on Student Affairs presented in 1913. The "fraternity situation" was becoming increasingly unsatisfactory, ideals of scholarship were low, while the practice of pledging members long before they were ready for college and the questionable methods used in "rushing" prospective members called for drastic action. The most striking provisions of the constitution of the council were that all pledging must be done in Ann Arbor and not before the tenth day previous to the opening of classes; the prohibition of any freshmen living in fraternity houses; and, most important of all, that no initiate should have less than eleven hours of credit of at least C grade, and that no student on probation or warning should be initiated. The constitution provided also for the publication of an annual scholarship chart showing the relative standing of these societies.

The Interfraternity Council rules have been altered from time to time, so that the University enters more intimately and effectively into the management of the fraternities. Permission of the University is required for the holding of dances; the appointment of financial advisers, who are responsible for an operating budget and monthly financial statements on the part of each fraternity, is specified; and fraternities unable to meet their obligations at the end of the year may be denied permission to reopen by the University. In the matter of rushing the regulations now limit the rushing period, provide for the statement of preference both by the student and the fraternity, and otherwise define and limit the rushing procedure on the part of these organizations.


Castalia, Univ. Mich., 1867-70.
Castalian, Univ. Mich., 1890-97.
The Chronicle, Univ. Mich., 1869-90.
Michiganensian, Univ. Mich., 1897-1956.
Palladium, Univ. Mich., 1859-97.
Shaw, Wilfred B.The University of Michigan. New York, 1920.
The University Argonaut, Univ. Mich., 1882-90.
University Regulations Concerning Student Affairs …, Official Publ., Univ. Mich., Vol. 56, No. 16 (1954).