Last modified: 2003-06-21 by
Keywords: united states | fraternity | college | university |
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Fraternities have long played a prominent role in university life in the United States. Although some of the older universities, such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth have systems of comparable student clubs that are unique to their own institutions--"final clubs" such as Porcellian at Harvard, secret societies such as Skull and Bones at Yale, eating clubs such as Ivy at Princeton--the dominant form of such organizations is found in the "Greek" system, fraternities whose names are made up of two or three Greek letters, founded at one college or university and then colonized from there to other campuses. Some of the larger bodies now have scores of chapters across North America. (A disclaimer: I do not belong to any social fraternity myself.)
The first Greek letter society, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. It was originally a literary, debating, and social club but over the years became an honorary society, with chapters at most major institutions, to which students are elected for academic achievement. There are also other similar societies with Greek-letter names that honor achievement in particular academic fields.
The oldest purely social fraternity is the Kappa Alpha Society, formed at Union College in New York in 1825, followed quickly by Sigma Phi and Delta Phi, also at Union, Alpha Delta Phi at Hamilton College, also in New York, and Psi Upsilon, the oldest for which I have been able to find a flag.
Joe McMillan, 11 March 2001