Sanguine et Purpure
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History of Sigma Phi Epsilon
(as found on the Headquarters
The First 50 Years
The Place of Our Origin
Richmond College, where Sigma Phi Epsilon was founded in
the early 20th century, was at the time attended by a
mere 200 students, and perhaps between a third and a half of this number
belonged to five fraternities. Kappa Alpha Order had come there in 1870,
Phi Kappa Sigma in 1873, Phi Gamma Delta in 1890, Pi Kappa Alpha in 1891,
and Kappa Sigma in 1898. Phi Delta Theta, Sigma Chi, and Sigma Alpha
Epsilon also had established chapters there, which had expired. The little
Baptist college was founded in 1830, and many of its graduates became
Most of the national fraternities, as their histories show, have been
established simply because they were needed. The desire for brotherhood
was in young men's souls. Sigma Phi Epsilon was founded because twelve
young collegians hungered for a campus fellowship based on Judeo/Christian
ideals that neither the college community nor the fraternity system at the
time could offer. Sigma Phi Epsilon was needed.
Sigma Phi Epsilon Founded
Carter Ashton Jenkins, the 18-year-old son of a minister, had been a
student at Rutgers University, New Jersey, where he had joined Chi Phi
Fraternity. When he transferred to Richmond College in the fall of 1900,
he sought companions to take the place of the Chi Phi brothers he had left
behind at Rutgers. During the course of the term, he found five men who
had already been drawn into a bond of informal fellowship, and he urged
them to join him in applying for a charter of Chi Phi at Richmond College.
They agreed, and the request for a charter was forwarded to Chi Phi only
to meet with refusal because Chi Phi felt that Richmond College, as any
college with less than 300 students was too small for the establishment of
a Chi Phi chapter.
Wanting to maintain their fellowship, the six men, Jenkens, Benjamin
Gaw, William Carter, William Wallace, Thomas Wright, and William Phillips,
decided to form their own local fraternity.
The First Meeting
While in the formative stages, the six original members found six
others who were also searching for a campus fellowship that neither the
college campus nor the existing fraternity system could offer. The six new
members were Lucian Cox, Richard Owens, Edgar Allen, Robert McFarland,
Franklin Kerfoot, and Thomas McCaul.
The twelve met one day in October 1901, in Gaw and Wallace's room on
the third floor of Ryland Hall to discuss organization of the fraternity
they would call "Sigma Phi". The exact date of this meeting is
not known, and if any minutes were kept, they have been lost. However, the
meeting was probably held before the middle of the month, because the
twelve founders are named as members on November 1, 1901, in the first
printed roster of the Fraternity. Jenkens is listed as the first member.
A committee of Jenkens, Gaw, and Phillips was appointed to discuss
plans for recognition with the administration of the college. These men
met with a faculty committee, where they were requested to present their
case. The faculty committee requested that the new group explain:
- The need for
a new fraternity since chapters of five national fraternities were on
the campus and the enrollment at Richmond College was less than 300.
- The wisdom of
this attempt to organize a new fraternity, with twelve members, of
whom seven were seniors.
- The right to
name the new fraternity Sigma Phi, the name of an already established
Jenkens, Gaw, and Phillips answered along this line:
"This fraternity will be different, it will be based
on the love of God and the principle of peace through brotherhood. The
number of members will be increased from the undergraduate classes. We
will change the name to Sigma Phi Epsilon."
Though the discussion lasted some time, the faculty committee was
friendly, and permission was granted for the organization of the new
fraternity to proceed, provided full responsibility for the consequences
would rest on the group of twelve students.
Immediately at the close of the meeting with the faculty committee, the
fraternity committee rushed to Jenkens' room to borrow Hugh Carter's
Greek-English Lexicon, convinced themselves that Epsilon had a desirable
meaning, and then telegraphed jeweler Eaton in Goldsboro, North Carolina,
to add an E at the point of each of the twelve badges which were
manufactured and ready for shipment. Before the job of adding an E on the
badges was complete, eight other students were invited to join SigEp. The
purchase order was then increased to twenty badges at $8 each, with the
initials of each man engraved on the back of his badge.
These twenty original heart-shaped badges were of yellow gold, with
alternating rubies and garnets around the edge of the heart, with the
Greek characters S f and
the skull and crossbones in gold and black enamel in the center and a
black E in gold at the
point. (William Hugh Carter's and Thomas V. "Uncle Tom" McCaul's
original badges are on display at Zollinger House.)
Founder Lucian Cox reflected on the "Brotherhood that had inspired
him and his brothers" when he wrote in the Sigma Phi Epsilon Journal,
Vol. 1 No. 1, March 1904:
"As a member of an ideal fraternity, the resources of every member
of that body are my resources, the product of their lives is my daily
life. The fraternity is a common storehouse for experience, moral
rectitude, and spirituality; the larger and purer the contribution of the
individual, the greater the resources of each member."
Five men were invited to join before Christmas and became members in
January, 1902. Three more of the first group of 21 joined February 1,
Meeting in the Tower Room
In November or December, 1901, an unheated, unfurnished single room,
about ten by twelve feet, in the tower of Ryland Hall, was assigned to the
new fraternity by the college. Before January 1, 1902, SigEps had lined
all open wall space with wide board benches. The wall was papered—purple
and red. A rostrum, shaped like a horseshoe, was built in a corner. The
small oil stove would not heat the room, so secret meetings continued to
be held in SigEp dormitory rooms until March, 1902.
Virginia Alpha's Second Year
By March 4, 1902, the number of SigEps stood at 21 out of the total of
209 students enrolled. Seven of these 21 SigEps were graduated in June,
1902, and six others did not return to college the following September. Of
the remaining eight who did return to Richmond College the next session,
only two were founders—Gaw and Wright. College records show that of the
eight who returned, four were sophomores, three juniors, and one senior.
After recruiting many students, only one new man joined in the fall,
and one more in the spring. The small college enrollment of 223 students
in the session of 1902-1903, no hope for a large increase of enrollment in
the next few years, and increasing competition for new members from the
chapters of five national fraternities on the campus made the members of
Sigma Phi Epsilon realize the crucial position of their local fraternity.
After discussing the situation at several meetings, a momentous
decision was reached. Sigma Phi Epsilon must either convert the local
fraternity into a national fraternity immediately or watch the local
fraternity die. The secretary was instructed to request Founder Lucian B.
Cox, an attorney in Norfolk, Virginia, to write an application for a state
charter for Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and return it to him at the
earliest possible moment.
This charter was signed by all eight SigEps enrolled at Richmond
College on October 18, filed in the Circuit Court of Richmond City on
October 20, and recorded by the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia
on October 22, 1902. (The original charter is on display at Sigma Phi
Epsilon Headquarters.) Under that state charter, Virginia Alpha
established chapters at five other colleges that session; one of these, at
West Virginia University (West Virginia Beta), is active today.
Sigma Phi Epsilon's Growth
Sigma Phi Epsilon ended its fifth year of operation with 14 chapters in
nine states. Nineteen chapters had been chartered, despite the little
money that the group had to work with. But the will of the fraternity's
first brothers to expand and develop their fraternity prevailed, and
chapters spread west to Colorado, north to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and New
York, and south to North and South Carolina.
The next five years brought forth 17 new chapters and representation in
a total of eighteen states. In addition to those mentioned, Sigma Phi
Epsilon was chartered in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia,
Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.
This momentum continued with the appointment of the first Grand Secretary
of Sigma Phi Epsilon.
Our First Grand Secretary
fifth Grand Chapter Conclave, held in 1908, is particularly
significant because it was at this Conclave that the Laws were
changed to provide for a central office and the employment of a
full-time chief executive officer to bear the title of Grand
Secretary. Founder William L. Phillips ("Uncle Billy")
was employed as Grand Secretary and, according to the minutes, was
to receive a salary of $900 in the first year.
An article by Frank W. Shepardson, first published in the 1927 edition
of Baird's Manual of American College Fraternities, refers to the
"latest development in fraternity administration… the establishment
of a central office (headquarters) with a full-time secretary in
charge." It is apparent from this that the Grand Chapter of Sigma Phi
Epsilon, in taking this step, was showing remarkable forethought as a
pioneer in fraternity administration, as it was to be later, in being one
of the first two fraternities to own a headquarters building.
In slightly less than ten years, Sigma Phi Epsilon had grown from a
single chapter to a fraternity with chapters in 21 states and the District
War, Depression, and Recovery
World War I took its toll on college attendance, and had
an adverse effect on fraternities, both in membership and expansion.
The Journal editor reported:
"Already men are leaving in large numbers, while a great many
institutions… devote their athletic fields to drilling…"
Congress passed a draft bill with age limits from twenty-one to thirty
years. The editor advised all chapters that, "while fulfilling every
duty to our country, let us also strive to maintain every chapter."
The cover of the October, 1917 Journal featured two SigEps in
army uniforms. Grand President Knauss wrote of his pride in the brothers'
response to the call of duty. He warned, however, that:
"The ranks of active fraternity men have been depleted all over
the country… these are trying times, and for some chapters, they will be
He also recommended that each chapter buy a Liberty Bond to help fund
the war effort.
As an institution, Sigma Phi Epsilon survived World War I well. While
three chapters were in danger of closing, only one—Rhode Island Alpha at
Brown University—actually failed to survive the war.
It was during the fraternity's third decade that the quality of the
chapters was first measured annually by the independent College Survey
Bureau. In 1924, 24 of the 50 active chapters were rated by their peers in
the top half of all fraternities in quality on their campuses.
Expansion during this period was slowed as the Great Depression
descended upon the nation; only 15 new chapters had been installed by
In 1938, a major development took place… a merger between Sigma Phi
Epsilon and the Theta Upilon Omega national fraternity. Four chapters of TUW
merged with four of SigEps existing chapters, and seven others became
Sigma Phi Epsilon chapters. With the merger, scores of dedicated TUW
alumni became members in the Fraternity, and many became important leaders
in Sigma Phi Epsilon.
In 1940, there were 69 active chapters. The 1940s saw the Fraternity's
expansion increase, with 27 new charters granted by 1949.
The Second 50 Years
After 34 years as the Fraternity's first Grand Secretary, Uncle Billy
retired in 1942. The National Board of Directors appointed Herb Heilig,
Lawrence University '23 (Wisconsin Alpha) to take Brother Phillips' place
as Grand Secretary. Serving for two difficult years during World War II,
Brother Heilig laid the groundwork for the Fraternity's post-war
rebuilding program and resigned in 1944.
The Board then appointed William W. Hindman, Jr., Pennsylvania '39
(Pennsylvania Delta), to the position of Grand Secretary. Brother Hindman
served as Traveling Secretary and later Assistant to the Grand Secretary
under Uncle Billy, and held the position of Grand Secretary for 13 years.
Brother Hindman was instrumental in establishing 51 new chapters during
By 1959, Sigma Phi Epsilon had 148 active chapters. With the
Fraternity's rapid expansion, the leadership at Headquarters once again
changed with Bedford W. Black, Wake Forest University '41 (North Carolina
Zeta), taking over after the retirement of Bill Hindman. Bedford Black's
charge was to determine how the Headquarters should best be organized to
operate Sigma Phi Epsilon as an emerging "large fraternity."
Richard F. Whiteman, Syracuse University '54 (New York Alpha), a member of
the Headquarters staff at the time, was selected to lead the Fraternity as
its Executive Director, but his tenure was short—only a few years—when
he decided to return to his career in education. Succeeding Brother
Whiteman was Donald M. Johnson, an alumnus of the University of Kansas '45
(Kansas Gamma), who had been in business in Colorado at the time of his
appointment. Brother Johnson brought to the Headquarters staff the
business skills he had acquired. During his tenure from 1961 to 1971, he
implemented many organizational changes at Headquarters, and he enlarged
the professional staff as well.
Phi Epsilon chartered 33 new chapters between 1960 and 1969, and
memberships reached their highest levels. In 1968, the College
Survey Bureau reported that 59% of the 173 chapters were among the
top chapters on their campuses.
The 1960s began with Sigma Phi Epsilon making a transition to a more
business-like operation, necessitated by its dramatic growth during the
1950s. During this time, the professional staff located in Richmond,
Virginia, grew and became more specialized in developing an array of
services for undergraduate chapters. The most significant event of the
1960s and perhaps the most important event in our history was the
emergence of J. Edward Zollinger, College of William & Mary '27
(Virginia Delta), as the leader of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational
Foundation and the Fraternity. He served the Fraternity as Grand President
from 1967 to 1971. "Zolly" came from the successful IBM
Corporation, serving as assistant to the founder of IBM, and was very
involved in developing IBM's corporate culture.
The successful experience of Ed Zollinger in the business world, and
the stability of a long-term professional staff in Richmond, brought
together ingredients necessary for Sigma Phi Epsilon's emergence as a
leader among all national fraternities in the 1970s. It was the vision of
excellence, and the personal dedication to that vision, which made Ed
Zollinger unique, and which gave Sigma Phi Epsilon its commitment to the
In 1971, the National Board of Directors
divided Headquarter's responsibilities between the areas of alumni
operations, undergraduate operations and financial operations, appointing
Charles N. White, Jr., of Western Michigan '62 (Michigan Beta), to the
undergraduate and financial areas as Executive Vice President. Donald M.
Johnson assumed responsibility for the alumni and Foundation areas, also
as Executive Vice President.
This organizational structure continued until 1976 upon the retirement
of Brother Johnson, at which time Brother White was named Executive
Director and was responsible for the entire Headquarters operation. During
Brother White's tenure, the Regional Leadership Academy program was
created and instituted, the professional Headquarters staff was expanded,
and its responsibilities enlarged.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were difficult times. Fraternities began
losing their popularity. A generation mistrustful of established
institutions was arriving on campus in greater numbers, and many of them
scorned the Greek system as elitist, outdated, and immature.
Unfortunately, enough chapters behaved in just that way so the charge
The "student movement," centered on the war in Vietnam,
alienated fraternity chapters still further. Faced squarely with a
breakdown of campus and chapter values, many chapters of Sigma Phi Epsilon
and other fraternities lost direction. Men were no longer attracted to
membership with ease. None of the old recruitment formulas seemed to work.
Some of SigEp's oldest and strongest chapters died during this era because
they refused to change and adapt.
By 1972, Sigma Phi Epsilon chapters were suffering. The number of
members significantly decreased, and alumni support was
weakening—college students of the time were bucking traditions and the
ways of "anyone over 30." The Fraternity's Headquarters went
into deficit financial operation, but the Board of Directors and the
Executive Director refused to cut back on the service to undergraduate
chapters. The strength of SigEp over the years has been largely a function
of alumni guidance and Headquarters services to the undergraduate
chapters. It was that devotion to service that pulled SigEp through the
early 1970s with fewer scars than most other strong fraternities.
The investment in the belief that the hard times would come to an end
paid off. In the late 1970s, students began to change again—demanding a
return to the ideals that had lapsed earlier in the decade. Fraternities
were again in prime position to meet those desires, and because of
continued efforts during tough times, SigEp was ready.
The growth of the late 1970s continued into the first half of the 1980s
and did not show any signs of slowing. Sigma Phi Epsilon held its
strongest position ever, with 250 chapters in 45 states. With 16,000
undergraduates on college campuses, 170,000 members, and more men joining
SigEp than any other fraternity, it became the strongest and most popular
fraternity in history.
During the 1970s and 1980s, a commitment to undergraduates and
undergraduate housing emerged as a central theme with special emphasis on
long-term financial stability. Also, at this time, Sigma Phi Epsilon's
leadership in the Interfraternity world was acknowledged as it led all
fraternities in innovative approaches to programming and undergraduate
At the close of the 1980s, a commitment to alumni began to emerge from
the Headquarters operation through a focused plan to develop the Sigma Phi
Epsilon Educational Foundation as a primary resource for the Fraternity's
future. In 1987, Kenneth S. Maddox, Oregon State University '75 (Oregon
Alpha), was named Executive Director, and Brother White began full-time
management of the Educational Foundation as the President of the
Foundation. The Fraternity has benefited greatly from the increased
strength of the Educational Foundation.
A number of important initiatives began at the close of the decade. In
1987 the Self-Esteem Committee met under the leadership of Past Grand
President Don McCleary, an alumnus of The University of Texas '71 (Texas
Alpha) to discuss the issues facing the Fraternity. From the Self-Esteem
Committee developed some of the concepts for the Balanced Man Program, a
membership development program aimed at preserving Sigma Phi Epsilon's
values while providing for the needs of its members. Also, in 1989 the
Fraternity developed the first formalized strategic plan—a detailed
blueprint designed to take the Fraternity into the next millennium as the
premiere Greek-letter organization.
The 1990s have marked a major shift in the Greek world. The negative
reputation of Greek life earned by fraternities during the 1970s and 1980s
resulted in declining membership and dramatically increasing insurance
costs for all organizations. Yet through this time of turmoil in the
Interfraternity world, Sigma Phi Epsilon remained the largest and fastest
growing fraternity in history. As the founding member of the Fraternity
Insurance Purchasing Group (FIPG) in the 1980s, Sigma Phi Epsilon was
instrumental in leading the Greek community to better risk management
The Fraternity's Educational Foundation continued to support
undergraduates and innovative programs. It took a giant step by completing
the $5 million Campaign for the Heart in 1993. This was SigEp's largest
fundraising effort to date, and it will enable SigEp undergraduates to
enhance leadership and scholarship skills for the 1990s and beyond.
Through a leadership gift from Curtis L. Carlson, University of Minnesota
'37 (Minnesota Alpha), the Regional Leadership Academies were renamed in
his honor. They are now named the Carlson Leadership Academies.
A membership program unique among college fraternities was established
with Grand Chapter legislation in 1991—the Balanced Man Program. This
program is based on individual growth through academic excellence,
enhanced life skills, chapter leadership, mentoring, and service in the
March of 1996, Brother Maddox announced his intentions
to return to his home state of Oregon where he and his
wife wanted their children to spend their
formative years. The National Board of Directors selected Jacques
L. Vauclain, III, Davidson College '91 (North Carolina Epsilon),
to succeed Brother Maddox as Executive Director.