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ΣΧ, ΔΚΕ, ΘΔΧ: The Tryo Trio of 1858

By James T. Herron, Jr.

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Originally published in The Jefferson College Times, Volume 10, Number 3, May 1977. Reprinted with the author's permission. The Jefferson College Times is a publication of the Jefferson College Historical Society. Society membership is open to all: Individual $10; student $5; contributing $15; business or institutional $25; sustaining $50; life $150. Send membership requests and fees to Joseph A. Solobay, 514 Craighead Street, Canonsburg, PA 15317.

The school year of 1857-58 was the zenith of Jefferson College enrollment; there were 250 students, not including those in the Preparatory Department.  The graduating class numbered 73, the largest in the history of the school.  At this time, Jefferson College was the fourth largest college in the nation, exceeded only by Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Francis J. Collier (Jefferson 1858) described Jefferson College life in the History of the Class of 1858, published in 1884:

Dear old Jefferson College comes into view once more. With mingled feelings of joy, gratitude and sadness, we have returned, after an absence of twenty-five years, to renew our friendship and rehearse our experience; to gaze upon the college buildings that stand on the hill-side at Canonsburg; to enter rooms, halls and chapel once filled with noisy, restless students; to gather around the pump near the college door, and drink of its pure, cool water; to lie down on the grass under the shady trees of the campus; to tread again familiar walks; to hear the sound of the bell that called us to morning prayers and Sunday worship and daily tasks, and whose welcome ring often gave us liberty; to think of the solemn seasons of revival, and of those sad occasions when fellow-students and classmates were removed from us by death; to go through the streets and into the stores and dwellings of the college town; to look old friends in the face, take them by the hand, and talk of pleasures past; to behold the places where beloved professors lived; and to visit the graves of the fondly remembered dead.

Gathered here, we recall the scenes and incidents of other days—the meetings and partings; the anxious recitations; the exciting contests; the joyous commencements; the grand processions and celebrations; the pushing and crowding in entry and on stairway as class encountered class; the rivalries of literary and secret societies; the eager pursuit of new candidates for initiation; the strife for offices and honors; the heated discussions, especially upon the subject of slavery; the mysterious appearance of College papers; the moonlight serenades; the senior parties, and the disappointment sometimes caused by undergraduates stealing the refreshments; the terrible throats made by the President against offenders; the walks and drives with one another and with maidens fair; the impatient waiting for meals, for mails, for hacks and stages; the rush for books at the Franklin and Philo Libraries; the boisterous gatherings at Fort Job, Fort Soup, Fort Death, Fort Hunt, Fort Black, and in Brick Row; the winter coasting down "Sheep Hill;" the summer bathing in Chartiers; the treating to oysters, ice cream, and strawberries at John Brown's saloon; the sports and games in room and field; and, not to be forgotten, the smiling girls, who stepped forth two and two from the portals of Olome, on whom we gazed with love and admiration.

The school year was divided into three terms.  The first term started September 16, 1857, and ended two days before Christmas.  The second term was from January 6, 1858, until March 26.  The Annual Contest between the literary societies was held on the last day of the second term.  The spring vacation, the longest of the year, six weeks, was followed by the third term which started May 7 and ended August 6.  For the seniors, it ended two days earlier; commencement was held August the fourth.

Interest in the student organizations at the college was great.  Few students were not members of one of the two literary societies; nearly half joined a secret fraternity while at the college.

At the start of the 1857-58 school year, there were four fraternities at Jefferson - Beta Theta Pi, Phi Gamma Delta, Phi Kappa Psi and Phi Kappa Sigma.  Each had its niche in the life of the college.  But during the second and third terms of that year, the fraternity situation changed dramatically. Where there had been four fraternities, there became seven. Between February 8 and July 24, three new fraternity chapters were chartered on the Jefferson College campus.

James Ritchie, who was a junior that year, relates what happened when the badge of the first of these new fraternities, Sigma Chi, appeared.  His account was first published in the Sigma Chi Quarterly, May, 1890.

For some time expectation in college had been standing on tiptoe waiting and watching for something new to appear amongst the fraternities. It was certainly coming, so they said, but no one could tell just what it would be.  Finally, it somehow leaked out, or had been correctly conjectured, that on a certain morning, whatever it might prove to be, it would come to light. And a little too early for chapel small squads of students, with their books under their arms, stationed themselves a few feet apart, at the street crossing, just below the corner of the campus, where most of the students on their way to college would come together.   The aforesaid squads looked wonderfully like four or five committees of three appointed for a purpose known to themselves.   They were all fraternity men.

Presently the students began to pass along as usual, first the few always early, but soon the sidewalks were crowded, the committeemen, or whatever they were, keeping a sharp lookout for "signs."  All at once one of them, with suppressed excitement, exclaimed, "Look there, that's it; why, I never saw anything like that before," as the first White Cross was seen on the breast of a passing student.  Then several of them chimed in with "Yes, and yonder goes another!  And another!  There must be about a half a dozen of them."  "More than that," rejoined a Phi Psi, "there's no telling yet how many of those fellows without badges may be members."   He was about right.  One not flush of money could hardly afford a badge at the price then.  "They'll control a heavy vote," was the last he was heard to say as he walked on lost in thought . . . . .

The Deltas at once walked close up to the new-comers, meaning by a silent welcome, as we thought, that they considered it a pretty good thing. The Betas, reputed at that day to be just the very least aristocratic, more than half "turned the cold shoulder," and looked on with a sort of grave and dignified indifference.  The "Skulls" didn't like the looks of it at all; it might stand in their way for some new men whom they would like to have. The Phi Psis were grim and sarcastic.  They were shrewd politicians, and saw at a glance the danger to their long supremacy.  College politics would be revolutionized.

The Phi Psi who worried about how many were members of the new fraternity need hardly have been concerned.  Sigma Chi had eleven charter members in the new chapter; Phi Kappa Psi had a greater number in the senior class alone.

Sigma Chi

Sigma Chi had been founded at Miami University at Oxford, Ohio in 1855 by six disgruntled members of Delta Kappa Epsilon. The six resigned from DKE and started their own fraternity because of a dispute involving the selection of a representative to an oratorical contest.

Four of the six had been students at Geneva Hall, Northwood, Ohio before entering Miami.

In the fall of 1857, three other men from Geneva Hall, Charles D. Trumbell, Henry Wallace and William Pollock Johnston, entered Jefferson College.  Trumbell and Johnston joined the senior class.  Henry Wallace, whose grandson bearing the same name was Vice-President under Franklin D. Roosevelt, entered the junior class.

The men were undoubtedly aware of the events at Miami initiated by their former associates at Geneva Hall; for, in January a petition to charter the Jefferson College chapter of Sigma Chi was submitted to the fraternity headquarters.  The petition was accepted, and the Iota Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity held its first meeting on February 8, 1858.

While the fraternity was a social organization, it was also a part of the educational process.  One of the first entries in the chapter's minutes is the notation that $50 was to be spent for the "leading English and American reviews and quarterlies for the chapter hall."

However, the minutes show that the activities of the fraternity were not entirely scholarly:

Pursuant to previous arrangments the anniversary of the fraternity was held in John Brown's Saloon, February 8, 1860.  All the members were present, and fifteen of the best looking ladies in all this country, and the most sensible also.

Any notion that the festivities bordered upon being a drunken orgy is fallacious.  Canonsburg was a dry town at the time.  John Brown's Saloon dispensed ice cream and Tailor cakes; the program included an oration, a poem and a performance of the Canonsburg String Band.

Iota Hall, the chapter headquarters, is said to have been "a commodious room, well furnished, upon the third floor of FORT JERUSELEM." Fort Jeruselem was the old seminary building on West Pike Street.  The seminary had left Canonsburg in 1855 and moved to St. Louis.

The Civil War caused many vacancies in the roll of students.  Southerners left a hostile territory and others left to join the army; most, the Union, but some, the Confederate. However, Sigma Chi was not crippled by the drop in enrollment. Some stayed in School and others returned to the college after completing their tours of duty.  There were always enough members to keep the fraternity active, although their numbers were smaller than before the war.

The Iota Chapter of Sigma Chi was active throughout the final years of Jefferson College, and assumed a leadership role in the national fraternity, which consisted of chapters at ten colleges.  However, the life of Iota Chapter was not long.

The union of Washington and Jefferson Colleges came about because of severe financial difficulties experienced by the two institutions.  Sporadic overtures had been made for some fifty years by Washington College for a union with Jefferson.

The final agreement for merger in 1865 specified that the sophomore, junior and senior classes were to be in Canonsburg.  The freshman class, the preparatory department and the scientific course were to be in Washington.

However, starting in September, 1869, all classes were moved to Washington, which caused a great disturbance in Canonsburg and in the college.  Legal action was taken that reached the Supreme Court, but the college left Canonsburg.

The students, as may be expected, had strong opinions concerning the actions of the Board of Trustees of the college. Some fraternities did as best they could under the new circumstances, but Sigma Chi took a bold step.

At the time the chapter gave up its charter, its membership included seven undergraduates.  Not only did the fraternity not move to Washington; its members also refused to go. Every member left the college, five of them transferring to other institutions.  No member of Iota Chapter graduated from W & J at Washington.

Delta Kappa Epsilon

The second new fraternity of 1858 was Delta Kappa Epsilon.  As has been previously mentioned, Sigma Chi had been the offspring of DKE at Miami University.

Delta Kappa Epsilon had been founded at Yale in 1844.  The establishment of the Jefferson College chapter was the result of the transfer of Lafayette College students to Jefferson College.  The fraternity can be said to have come to Jefferson College on a president's coat-tails.

In January of 1857, a new president had come to Jefferson College, replacing the Rev. Alexander B. Brown who had resigned the previous year.  This man, Jefferson's eighth president, was Joseph Alden.  Alden came to Jefferson College from Lafayette College where for the preceding five years he had been Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy.

William Livingston Alden, the son of the new president, had completed two years at Lafayette and entered the junior class at Jefferson College.  In the fall of 1857, two men who had been classmates of William Alden - William Alexander and Samuel Gamble -  also came to Jefferson and joined Alden for their senior year.

The three men had more in common than being classmates at Lafayette; they were also fraternity brothers in the Rho Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.

The men from Lafayette formed the nucleus of a new fraternity chapter on the Jefferson Campus. On June 10, 1858, ten men became charter members of the Alpha Delta Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.

The group was one of remarkable diversity.  Seven of the charter members were members of the Franklin Literary Society; the other three were Philo's.  They were made up of 3 seniors, 3 juniors, 3 sophomores and a freshman.  All but the sophomores gave their homes as Pennsylvania - two were from Louisiana; the third from Wheeling.

Additional members were soon initiated into the chapter including a fourth member of the senior class.  The next class, 1859, graduated five DKEs; 1860 also had five, but only three graduated.  The last class to graduate from Jefferson College before the full effects of the Civil War were felt was the Class of 1861.  Of the six members of DKE in the class, five graduated.  Four joined the army after graduation.  One of these was Samuel Hodgens, who at the age of fifteen had been a charter member of the chapter.  Within a year of his graduation, he was taken prisoner, released, and then seriously wounded. After his discharge from the army, he attended Jefferson Medical College, graduating in 1866.  He married a Canonsburg girl, Annie Murray in 1868, but died less than five years later from the effects of his wound.

The Class of 1862 had the largest number of DKEs, seven; but only three graduated with the class.  A fourth, serving in the Union Army, received an honorary degree.  The three who did not graduate were all from the South.  At the time of their class's commencement exercises, at least two of them were exercising with the Army of the Confederacy.

1862 marked the end of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Jefferson College.  There had been eleven men in the next three classes, but all left the college - except one.  The lone survivor of DKE was Thomas S. Bracken of the Class of 1865.  He joined Phi Gamma Delta and in 1863 was elected secretary of that fraternity. In 1864, ex-DKE Bracken was President of the Grand Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity.

The lifetime of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Jefferson College was only four years - 37 members.  DKE has the unhappy distinction of being the only fraternity chapter at Jefferson College to be a casualty of the Civil War.

Theta Delta Chi

The third fraternity to be chartered at Jefferson College in 1858 was Theta Delta Chi, which had been founded at Union College in 1847. The chapter at Jefferson, designated Pi, was the first entry of the fraternity into Pennsylvania. [Archivist's note: As to the founding date, the Executive Director of Theta Delta Chi reports, "a letter dated 28 July 1869 . . . states that the Pi Charge was founded eleven years previously to that exact day, so July 28, 1858." Thanks to Mike McCoy of Phi Kappa Psi for this additional data.]

Theta Delta Chi had less diversity in its membership than the other fraternities.  Its charter members were all underclassmen - four sophomores, one freshman and one prep.  Also, all were members of the Philo Literary Society.

It was not long before a few upperclassmen were elected into the brotherhood, but very few Franklin Literary Society members ever joined the fraternity.

The Civil War did not affect Theta Delta Chi as severely as it did some of the other fraternities at Jefferson. There were as many members who graduated in 1865 as had graduated in 1860.

Prior to the union of Washington and Jefferson Colleges in 1865, a period of seven years, the chapter had 43 members. However, Theta Delta Chi did not prosper as a part of W&J student life as it had at old Jefferson.

One of the difficulties that the fraternity had to contend with was the division of the student body.  The sophomore, junior and senior classes were in Canonsburg; the rest of the student body was at Washington.  The roll of the fraternity and the fraternity history suggest that the students at Washington formed a sort of sub-chapter of the fraternity.

Meetings of the chapter were probably held for several years, but the climate for fraternities was much different than it had been before the schools were united.  The president of the united colleges was strongly anti-fraternity.

Fraternities at Jefferson College had never been openly condoned by the faculty, but neither had they been persecuted. This situation changed drastically after the union.  The Annual Catalogue of Washington and Jefferson College for 1867 states: “SECRET FRATERNITIES, of all kinds, are condemned and discountenanced by the Board of Trustees and by the Faculty.”  

Theta Delta Chi, as well as other fraternities at W&J, became inactive.  The actual date is not known, but the last member of the chapter graduated from the college in 1869. By this time, the fraternity was certainly inactive.

The official roll of Pi Chapter, Theta Delta Chi, lists 90 names.  Some twenty of these were students at Bethany College, another unofficial sub-chapter of the Jefferson chapter. Of those who actually attended Jefferson or W&J, most did not graduate.  Only 32 completed their studies; 20 received Jefferson College diplomas, 12 from W&J.  Five of the W&J diplomates actually graduated from Jefferson College in 1865, but the degrees were granted under the seal of the new corporate entity, Washington and Jefferson College.

The fraternity, although it lasted until after the union of the colleges, was essentially a Jefferson College fraternity that withered and died in the new college structure.


None of the three fraternity chapters chartered at Jefferson College in 1858 survived the removal of the college from Canonsburg in 1869.

Delta Kappa Epsilon, the first to go, was a casualty of the Civil War.  Several years later, Sigma Chi surrendered its charter rather than leave Canonsburg.  Theta Delta Chi existed on the rolls of the fraternity until 1872, but its membership consisted of Bethany College students; the chapter was inactive on the W&J campus.

These fraternity chapters failed to survive, but it cannot be said that they failed.  Each was successful in its place and time.  The place was Jefferson College; the time, the boisterous years immediately preceding the Civil War.

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