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Highlights of Alpha and Beta Chapters

The First Chapters, Founded in 1848 and Merged in 1865

By Towner Blackstock (Davidson 1994), Curator of Archives
January, 2008

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Phi Gamma Delta began at Jefferson College on May 1, 1848.  Every brother knows of this moment of genesis.  But what happened to Alpha Chapter after that?

In the month and a half following the birth of Phi Gamma Delta, the Founders recruited eighteen men.  These included two future congressmen, and a future candidate for congress and governor.  Two became university presidents and two others university trustees.

The Founders did not stop there.  They also founded a chapter at Washington College.  In testament to their recruiting quality, every man graduating with honor at Washington that year was a Phi Gam.

Over the next twenty years the two chapters initiated over 200 men.  Executive governance of the fraternity remained with Alpha Chapter except for a couple of years when it passed to Beta Chapter.  Apparently they were less than successful and the Grand Chapter responsibility returned to Jefferson College.

In 1865, the two colleges merged to become Washington and Jefferson College.  The two chapters also thus merged, retaining the Alpha moniker.  Classes operated on both campuses until operations transferred to Washington some four years later.

In the meantime, the faculty forbid new students to join fraternities.  Membership dwindled and by 1869 the Grand Chapter had but a few brothers remaining.  The last chapter president, James Moffat 1870, asked the other chapters to vote via correspondence for who should become the Grand Chapter.  The honor passed to Upsilon Chapter at City College of New York.  There the Grand Chapter remained for a few years before becoming an independent board comprised of undergraduates and graduates in New York City.  Moffat went on to become a minister, and to serve as president of Washington and Jefferson College from 1882 to 1914.

Alpha returned in 1873 soon after the ban was lifted (See the charter to the right; it hangs at the International Headquarters in Lexington).  Its fortunes were short-lived.  In 1881, the Grand Chapter found that just one brother remained on campus.

In parallel with Alpha's resurgence and collapse, another group emerged at W&J.  A fellow named Charles M. Kurtz organized a chapter of Iota Alpha Kappa in 1873 . . . just in time for the national fraternity to disband at its convention the following year!  Undeterred, Kurtz founded Phi Delta Kappa, which spread to some six or seven campuses.  By 1880 all the other chapters had closed.  Yet the PDK mother chapter remained strong.

Recognizing PDK as the 'cream of the crop,' the one Phi Gam remaining at W&J proposed to initiate that chapter into Phi Gamma Delta.  The infusion revived Alpha Chapter.  Kurtz held the remarkable honor of having belonged to three fraternities.

Today, a walk around the Washington and Jefferson campus recalls the immeasurable imprint of Phi Gamma Delta.  The Founders' Memorial Gate graces the front of campus, the library is named after U. Grant Miller 1906, and at any given time in the last century some four or five brothers were serving as University trustees.

The chapter occupied a new house in 2006, part of a new Greek row on the side of campus.  The undergraduates responded with the top grades on campus that fall. Now that's just the sort of performance the Founders had in mind!

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