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Modern Fraternities

  When colleges and universities were first started, the schools were very restrictive. As a result, different types of organizations were formed to create an avenue for discussion, thought, and social activities. The first of three different student organizations that catered to the students needs was the Academic Class structure. Here classes banded together to compete with one another and to express their feelings. After a few years, the Academic Class societies formed organized structures, elected officers, and had their own secret colors, symbols, and mottoes. A few of these societies later became social fraternities. The second organization, which was secret, was the Secret Literary Society. These societies trained members in drill and composition. Here, radical views among students were expressed because the colleges/universities prohibited students to discuss any thing other than prescribed work. These meetings were secret and each had its own color, motto, badge, etc. The last of these social societies founded was the Secret College Fraternity. The purpose of these early fraternities was similar to those of the literary societies. At this time, many literary societies had become influenced by faculty control, and the formation of secret fraternities was to avoid all together any outside control of their activities.

The first secret college society was The Flat Hat Club This organization was founded in 1750 and was very similar to literary societies except it incorporated social activities as a part of its intended purpose. Thomas Jefferson was a member. Since 1772, there has been no record of the Flat Hat Club being in existence.

The P.D.A. Society 1751 was the first society to use the letters of its motto as the name of society. Members had little regard for scholarship; rather they preferred social aspects of college fraternities. This society also refused admittance to anyone who considered himself a "Greek" scholar. An offended "Hellenist" then organized his own secret society, and thus started the trend for Greek-lettered organizations.

The first Greek-lettered society was Phi Beta Kappa. This organization was founded in 1776 and had many connections to Masonry. Among these were documented membership of Phi Beta Kappa in lodge, and the practice of chartering new chapters in other locations. In 1831 when the Harvard chapter released its ritual in fear of he anti-secret society movement, the societies orientation changed. This organization is now prestigious honor societies.

All three of the above were founded at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia.

The founding of fraternities can be divided in to several distinct eras, with unique characteristics associated with each era. One can only assume that the characteristics and founding principles are reflected in the rituals of these groups.  Check out the website for the International Greek Letter Society Archives for history on organizations as well as some excellent pictures of their badges.

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Last Updated: 2008-03-14 18:23
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