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From The Phi Gamma Delta, Volume 55, Number 3, December 1932, pages 255-258

The Story of Graduate Chapters

Historical Records Show Lafayette, Indiana was First Alumni Group

By Arthur R. Burnstan (Lafayette 1925)

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Graduate chapters in Phi Gamma Delta have an interesting historical background. Although the need for some concrete organization for the expression of graduate support, it seems to have been felt since the earliest days of the fraternity's life, a long discussion ensued before any action was finally taken.

Looking back through the years we wonder why it was so difficult for organizations of this type to come into being, but doubtless those who were entrusted with the care of the fraternity's government felt that they had good and sufficient reason for holding up the organization of graduate groups.

In a search through the earliest records many references were found to indicate that some action was contemplated almost from the time when the first Deltas departed from academic halls.

In the minutes of Alpha, which was also the Grand Chapter at that time, frequent mention is made of the visits of the alumni brothers and their participation in the discussion and general activities of the meeting. A bond grew around these contacts and someone decided that if the relationships were to be of a permanent character some official recognition should be given to alumni organization.

This idea took its first concrete form in a resolution that was offered to the meeting held on July 30, 1851. The minutes show that at that time a committee was appointed "to report some resolutions, concerning members reporting themselves periodically after leaving college."

At the next meeting the committee brought in the following report:

For the further carrying out the principles of this order, advancing its interests and strengthening the ties of individual members.
Resolved, 1st. That every member of our order be requested to keep his chapter informed of his residence, occupation and prospects, by correspondence at least once during the college year, and oftener should he change his location or anything of importance occur.
Resolved, 2nd. That every chapter be required to forward periodically to the Grand Chapter, the name, residence and occupation of each of its members and that the Grand Chapter distribute copies of the same to each other chapter, whence they may be further distributed to individual members.

It was many years before any concrete evidence appeared that would tend to show that this early activity bore fruit, but undoubtedly the first issues of the catalogue were the outgrowth of the idea that had its inception at this early date and it might not be too much to say that the contacts cemented in this way eventually brought on the organized graduate chapters.


About five years after the presentation of the foregoing resolution the first move was made toward the definite recognition of an alumni association. A group of Deltas living in the vicinity of Pittsburgh were in the habit of coming together at irregular intervals and they decided that they would like to have some tie that would hold them closer than that afforded by membership in various undergraduate chapters.

As a result of this the first petition to the fraternity for a graduate chapter was presented in December, 1856, when a letter from Allegheny City was received by the Grand Chapter. This letter was written by a "committee of Deltas in and about Allegheny and Pittsburgh" and it asked the Grand Chapter to determine the attitude of the fraternity toward the establishment of a graduate organization. It requested further that the constitution. be amended to permit alumni groups to organize and to function.

The records of the Grand Chapter indicate that the Secretary was instructed to communicate with the other chapters, but minutes of subsequent meetings failed to 
record the tenor of the replies and the plan lay dormant for many years. It is likely that during this period other groups considered the matter even though there was no definite action. This assumption is taken because of various communications indicating the ever-present feeling that some organization of graduate members was necessary to the advancement of the fraternity's interest.

The catalogue of 1870 was the first to list the 
rosters of graduate chapters, Alpha at Lafayette and Beta at Indianapolis being recorded. The practice was not continued in the 1878 and 1895 directories, but was resumed in the Vernon rosters of 1898, and then abandoned.

The establishment of an official magazine was a great contributor toward the crystallization of fraternity thought. From the very first issue many ideas that had long been undeveloped were constantly put before the entire group. In the first issue of The Phi Gamma Delta magazine (January 1879) an extensive plea for graduate chapters was offered by H. L. C. [probably Herschel L. Campbell, 1879], who dates his article from the "Han of Pi," December 3, 1878.

This article deals with both the advantages and objections to the official recognition of graduate groups and in a summation decides that the former are in so great a preponderance that it is both a privilege and a duty for all loyal Deltas to organize where the opportunity is present.


In the next issue a contributor from Alabama takes issue with H. L. C. and presents a strong objection to the proposed graduate chapter. His chief fear is based upon the assumption that these chapters will wish to initiate new members and he feels that this activity will bring within the fold persons who are sympathetic to the aims and ideals of the fraternity. It is probable that this objection is based upon a suggestion that had been made at some earlier time but no record of the inception of the idea has been found.

Among the several objections that have been uncovered this idea is frequently mentioned and seems to be the main reason for the storm of protest. Perhaps the suggestion was made at a preceding Ekklesia, as a committee is referred to as reporting favorably at a recent convention on the establishment of graduate chapters.

Editor McDowell decided that the discussion had reached a point where it called for some editorial comment and after referring briefly to the advantages to be derived, suggested that "properly regulated alumni chapters would be a boon to the fraternity's growth."

In 1880 the issue was finally settled and by vote of the undergraduate chapters, an amendment was adopted empowering the Grand Chapter to grant charters to alumni organizations. Thus, at the conclusion of 23 years of intermittent discussion and debate, the hopes of the group from Allegheny City were officially sanctioned by the acts of the fraternity.


One of the most surprising occurrences now followed. It was expected that many petitions would be immediately forthcoming from alumni groups, but such was not the case. A clue to this inactivity is furnished by an article written a short time later, which accuses the fraternity of "bungling." The accusation is based upon the failure of the act to specify who might form such a group and what might comprise the scope of its activity. At this point the discussion was resumed and a fervent supporter claimed that the descriptive name was sufficient answer to these questions and hoped that no such trifles would prevent the immediate petition of several groups.

The interest in this connection, however, again died down and was not revived until Dana S. Porter (Ohio Wesleyan 1884) assumed editorship of The Phi Gamma Delta magazine in April, 1883, and in his second issue commented editorially upon the old question. Apparently his plea fell on fertile soil in at least one center of alumni activity because in January of the next year a brief sentence buried among exchanges from other fraternity magazines announced the establishment of an alumni chapter of Phi Gamma Delta. Just why this was not considered important enough to warrant some greater comment is not known but no article appeared in the magazine and no report of the Grand Chapter was published in connection with this momentous event.

Two alumni groups seem to have become tired waiting for the general organization to act because even though this chapter which was established at New Albany, Indiana, was the first to come under the new law, it took the name of Gamma. In an examination of the old catalogues it was found in the 1870 publication that in addition to the regular chapter rolls there were listed the rosters of two graduate chapters, Alpha at Lafayette, Indiana, with ten members, and Beta at Indianapolis with six members. It appears that someone decided that this delayed sanction was sufficient to make legitimate children of Alpha and Beta so that with the passage of the authorizing act two graduate chapters immediately came to life and the third offspring was christened Gamma.


As other chapters were formed the names of the Greek alphabet were used in the same manner as they had been employed in designating undergraduate groups and after the alphabet had been exhausted the Alpha Deuteron Graduate Chapter was formed at Wheeling.*

* Greek-named graduate chapters: Alpha, Lafayette; Beta, Indianapolis; Gamma, New Albany; Delta, Chattanooga; Epsilon, Columbus; Zeta, Kansas City; Eta, Cleveland; Theta, Williamsport; Iota, Spokane; Kappa, Chicago; Lambda, Dayton; Mu, San Francisco; Nu, New Haven; Xi, New York; Omicron, Pittsburgh; Pi, Philadelphia; Rho, Brooklyn; Sigma, Albany; Tau, Denver; Upsilon, Minneapolis; Phi, St. Louis; Chi, Toledo; Psi, Cincinnati; Omega, Bloomington, Ill.; Alpha Deuteron, Wheeling; Delta Mu, Detroit; Delta Chi, Washington.

This plan was altered in 1904, when the first graduate group to have other than a Greek name was formed at Allentown, Pennsylvania. This was done shortly after our undergraduate charter at Muhlenberg College became inactive. It was felt that the excellent group of loyal alumni from that chapter should have some means of perpetuating their organization and the Allentown Graduate Chapter was formed for that purpose.

Later in the same year the Seattle Graduate Chapter came into the roster; and was assigned an English name.

Two exceptions to the abandonment of Greek nomenclature later appear - Detroit, founded in 1907, and Washington, founded in 1916. In both these instances the geographical classification now employed for distinguishing undergraduate chapters was used and Detroit, Michigan, was named Delta Mu and Washington, D.C., became Delta Chi.

All other chapters and associations are designated by the name of the cities in which they function, with the exception that in the sparsely Fiji-populated states of Montana and Arizona the state name was given to the groups. The honor of being the first foreign group fell to the China Graduate Association, whose headquarters are in Shanghai.

Down an irregular and broken course our present graduate organization has been built up to its present state. It may be considered unfortunate for both the early graduates and the undergraduates that this type of support was so long delayed. Yet the present roster of graduate groups [in 1932] - 75 chapters and 32 associations - has in a tremendous degree made up for the early loss of fraternal contact among those who have left Academe's halls.

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