Theta Delta Chi was founded at Union College in Schenectady, NY. A party of six men met one May evening in 1847, and having quietly among themselves discussed friendship as a power, formed our fraternity, the ties of which now extend throughout all countries and climates. These six men, all members of the class of 1849 at Union College, were Abel Beach, Theodore B. Brown, Andrew H. Green, William Hyslop, William G. Akin, and Samuel F. Wile. The founders appear to have intended nothing more than the organization of a literary society. When the project developed, the idea of forming a new secret fraternity was discussed. A committee consisting of Hyslop, Green, and Beach was entrusted with the task of proposing a name and formulating a constitution and insignia for the new society. To Abel Beach we are indebted for the Fraternity motto, and to Green for the wording of our ritual.
The Early Years
The Founders decided early that the scope of the society should be greater than Union College, and they undertook expansion almost at once. In January, 1849, two of the Founders, Green and Akin, together with the first initiate, Francis E. Martindale, organized the Beta Charge (later to be called Beta Proteron) at the Ballston Law School in Ballston, New York. The venture aborted two years later when the school itself moved to another location. No attempt was made to pursue it, and the initiated members were placed upon the Alpha rolls.
The Fraternity had better luck in the next decade. Gamma at the University of Vermont (1852), Delta at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1853), Epsilon at William and Mary (1853), and Zeta at Brown (1853) were quickly established. Eta followed at Bowdoin in 1854, and in the first move westward, Theta was chartered at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio that same year. Three charges appeared in 1856: Iota at Harvard, Kappa at Tufts, and Mu at the University of North Carolina. Iota endured one year and went under because the Harvard faculty, in a state of alarm, prohibited fraternities. Iota was revived in 1885 and lasted until 1916. Kappa enjoys the honor of being the oldest living charge in continuous existence.
Three charges were chartered in 1857: Nu at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Xi at Hobart College in Geneva, New York, and Omicron at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The last charge to be established before the outbreak of the War between the States was Pi at Washington and Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania in 1858, unless we count the mysterious Rho Charge at the University of South Carolina. It may have been organized in 1859, but any records, if they ever existed, must have perished during the War. In 2008, the Charge was re-chartered as Rho Proteron with eleven men constituting its first recorded initiates.
The Civil War and Lambda Graduate Controversy
In 1860 the rolls of the Fraternity included Alpha and 17 new charges, of which six - Beta Proteron, Gamma, Iota, Lambda Graduate, Nu, and Rho (Proteron) - were defunct. The War severed the remaining southern charges from the north, and Epsilon and Mu quickly passed out of existence. Theta at Kenyon, of largely southern membership, disbanded as well, while Eta at Bowdoin, Omicron at Wesleyan, and Pi at Washington and Jefferson were unable to stand the stress of wartime and gave way. Many other charges were seriously weakened as undergraduates left college for the army, and Alpha took corrective action to strengthen the Fraternity, establishing three new charges: Sigma at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (1861), Tau at Princeton (1863), and Upsilon at Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (1865). Princeton’s faculty soon banned fraternities, and Tau was disbanded. In 1867, Phi was chartered at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and Chi at the University of Rochester in New York State.
In 1856 a number of graduates from different charges who were living in New York City formed the Lambda Graduate Charge, which began to initiate a number of men prominent in the theatrical profession and in the newspaper world. In 1857 a controversy arose. Up to this time, the executive authority of the Fraternity had remained vested in the Alpha Charge, but at the Convention of 1857 an attempt was made to transfer power to the Lambda Graduate Charge. Alpha threatened to secede if it was deprived of its authority. It was asserted that if the Graduate Charge should continue to initiate members who were not in college, Theta Delta Chi would soon cease to be a collegiate society. The question was swiftly settled by the dissolution of the one-year-old Graduate Charge, whose ten initiates were affiliated with Delta.
The dispute over the Lambda Graduate Charge did not settle the important question of who should have power in the national affairs of the Fraternity. In 1859 another attempt was made to curtail the powers of Alpha, which still retained supreme executive authority, but the dissidents were beaten off. In 1867 Alpha collapsed; her demise is attributed to the unfavorable conditions then existing at Union College. The Convention of 1868, representing only eight surviving charges, took action.
Reorganization and Growth, 1867-1889
The 1868 Convention established the Grand Lodge, which still remains the governing body of Theta Delta Chi. At its origin, the Grand Lodge consisted of two undergraduates and one graduate member. In 1909, the two positions of Graduate Treasurer and Graduate Secretary were added.
Theta Delta Chi enjoyed success during the next few years. Psi was established at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York in 1868. Omicron Deuteron (first of the Deuterons) at Dartmouth and Rho at Washington and Lee in Lexington, Virginia (the hypothetical South Carolina Rho has been known since as Rho Proteron) were founded in 1869. Beta was founded at Cornell in 1870, and in that and the subsequent three years Epsilon, Eta, Nu, and Theta were reorganized. Epsilon, Theta, and Nu failed again, in 1872, 1898, and 1881, respectively.
The success thus was not of long duration; between 1870 and 1877 no new charges were added, while five more - Rho, Sigma, Upsilon, Zeta, and Delta - went out of existence. An effort to produce a fraternity magazine yielded one issue in 1869. Inefficiency, carelessness, and apathy reached such a point throughout the Fraternity that in 1872 the President of the Grand Lodge resigned, claiming that his letters to charges brought no replies, and that he was unable to obtain either the Constitution or the Fraternity records from his predecessor.
Things did not significantly improve before the next decade, but between 1877 and 1890 nine new charges were established, and four defunct ones revived. Lambda at Boston University was active from 1877 to 1912, Upsilon Deuteron survived at Wabash from 1879 to 1882, Pi Deuteron was chartered at the College of the City of New York in 1880, and the 1881 Convention assumed responsibility for the strength of the Fraternity by requiring the President of the Grand Lodge to visit every Charge once a year at the general expense. In 1884, The Shield magazine was founded again. Rho Deuteron at Columbia (1883), Nu Deuteron at Lehigh (1884), Mu Deuteron at Amherst (1885), and Epsilon Deuteron at Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School (1887) gained strength for Theta Delta Chi in the Northeast. There was opposition to expansion in more distant regions, and petitions were denied from such institutions as Colby, DePauw, South Carolina, and Ohio State.
Westward Expansion, 1889-1929
Before 1889 only the Theta Charge at Kenyon represented Theta Delta Chi west of the Allegheny Mountains. After that date the westward expansion comes to characterize the Fraternity. In some quarters there was strong opposition to this departure; it was argued that fraternity solidarity and efficient supervision could not be maintained with charges so far distant from the center of activity. But the western colleges, particularly the state universities, were rapidly becoming powerful and established institutions, and their claims were not to be denied. The founding of Gamma Deuteron at The University of Michigan in 1889 led to that of Tau Deuteron at Minnesota in 1892 and Sigma Deuteron at Wisconsin in 1895. During the same period, Theta Deuteron was chartered at MIT, Iota Deuteron at Williams College, and Chi Deuteron at George Washington University. In addition, the old Iota and Chi Charges were reestablished. Although Theta Deuteron failed almost immediately, it was revived in 1906.
At the time of the Fiftieth Annual Convention in 1898, 39 charges had been founded, and 21 were in active existence. In 1900 Theta Delta Chi reached the Pacific coast, establishing Delta Deuteron at Berkeley, followed in 1903 by Eta Deuteron at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The Fraternity became international when Zeta Deuteron was chartered at McGill in Montreal, and Lambda Deuteron followed in 1912 at the University of Toronto. In the Midwest, Kappa Deuteron was established at the University of Illinois (1908); Xi Deuteron was installed at the University of Washington in Seattle (1913); Phi Deuteron came into being at the University of Pennsylvania in 1915; and Beta Deuteron was chartered at Iowa State in 1919.
The rapid expansion of the Fraternity scarcely touched upon the South, including only the reestablishment of Epsilon at William and Mary (1904) and Nu at the University of Virginia (1910). The charges at Yale and Harvard were disbanded in 1900 and 1916. The Alpha Charge, disbanded amidst so much ill will over a half century before, was revived in 1923; and the thirty charges of Theta Delta Chi were joined by Psi Deuteron (UCLA) in 1929.
Depression and Revival
War and economic depression are frequently catastrophic for fraternities. In 1929 the Columbia Charge, Rho Deuteron, was disbanded, soon followed by Pi Deuteron (C.C.N.Y.) in 1931 and Phi Deuteron (Pennsylvania) in 1934. The Fraternity remained with 28 charges in the United States and Canada as the War succeeding the depression halted expansion. The Centennial of the Fraternity was celebrated in 1947 at the Sagamore Hotel on Lake George, and a pilgrimage was made to the campus of Union College. Over 400 Theta Delts took part in a Commemoration Service in the college chapel, and a bronze tablet was placed on the outside wall of old North Dormitory, the birthplace of our society.
Theta Delta Chi emerged from the depression/wartime doldrums and began a policy of steady expansion in the fifties. Kappa Triton (first of the Tritons) was established at Northwestern, outside Chicago, in 1951, and Sigma Phi Sigma, a local fraternity at Pennsylvania State University, affiliated with Theta Delta Chi in 1954 to become Sigma Triton. The affiliation of a local group as a Charge has since become an important method of expansion. Another, of perhaps greater importance, is the planned and organized colonization of a college at the expense of the International Fraternity. Epsilon Triton at Arizona State University was chartered in 1961 in this way; the administrative expenses of establishing the colony are covered by the Grand Lodge, while undergraduate Theta Delts transferring from their original colleges, are frequently the agents of the policy.
Omicron Triton was added at the University of Rhode Island in 1963; it had been a local on that campus for over thirty years. In 1964 Gamma Triton was chartered at Michigan State University.
A Time of Change, 1966 – 2000
The 119th Convention at Atlantic City in 1966 gave Theta Delta Chi new organizational character. A group of young alumni, led by Garret Schenck, Iota Deuteron ‘55 (Williams) won a hard-fought battle to gain the votes of the Convention and control of the Grand Lodge. Under the presidencies of Schenck (1966-68) and his successors, the Fraternity reorganized its operation as an international entity in 1971, acquiring a brownstone at 135 Bay State Road in Boston, which remained the CFO headquarters until 2000.
The late 1960’s and 1970’s were a time of both expansion and contraction. Two new Charges were chartered in Virginia in 1970, Rho Triton at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and Nu Triton at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Nu Triton has survived, but others also added--Psi Triton at UC Santa Barbara, Zeta Triton at Calgary, Alberta, Pi Triton at California State College in Pennsylvania, Beta Triton at Lake Forest, Illinois, and, so briefly that it was never chartered, Phi Proteron in Florida, all succumbed sooner or later. Upsilon, defunct since 1881, was reactivated in 1968 at Bucknell but again went inactive in 1977. The members of Rho Triton returned their Charter in 2009 with hopes of its restoration around 2014.
The most severely affected Charges were, in fact, in the Northeast, which suffered its greatest attrition since the Depression. These were troubled times on U.S. campuses, disturbed both by the draft for and by the protests against the Vietnam War and by the changes in undergraduate life and behavior among those remaining on campus. Perceptions that fraternity membership was inherently exclusivist and elitist led Williams College to move to end all fraternal housing and dining in 1965 and ultimately, in 1968, to prohibit its students from joining any fraternity (although the Grand Lodge did not recall Iota Deuteron’s Charter until 1990). After a difficult period during which they were obliged to offer full membership to women, fraternities at Bowdoin eventually were eliminated altogether. For reasons particular to the changing cultural climate of Quebec, McGill’s Zeta Deuteron went inactive in 1972.
Other Northeastern schools where Theta Delta Chi is not represented, such as Colby College, have acted similarly. The Williams administration’s actions may have served as a partial model for Hamilton College to assume control of fraternity properties and to end self-selected group living for our Psi Charge and all other fraternities there. The cultural climate of the late ‘sixties and ‘seventies also led to the weakening in membership and even temporary demise of a number of other Northeastern Charges, among them Mu Deuteron at Amherst, inactive 1969-86 and Zeta at Brown, inactive 1971-75. Further west, and for various other reasons, Kappa Deuteron and the short-lived Zeta Triton succumbed in 1970, Pi Triton in 1979, Beta Triton in 1981, Tau Deuteron in 1984, Kappa Triton in 1989 and Mu Deuteron once again in 2006.
The last three decades have seen similar patterns of initial chartering or revival and disappearance. Tau at Princeton, briefly active 1863-67, was revived in 1984 but again went inactive in 1990. Gamma at Vermont, one of our earliest Charges, having enjoyed a brief life in the nineteenth century (1852-57), was reactivated in 1987, only to fail, be reactivated, and succumb at last in 1995. Xi Triton, founded at the University of Albany in 1996, shortly went inactive but is now a colony with hopes to be chartered by the spring of 2013. Delta Triton (1990-2005) and Eta Triton (1995-2005) enjoyed longer periods of activity. Revived in 1982, Kappa Deuteron again went inactive in the ‘nineties. Omicron Triton at Rhode Island and Xi at Hobart had both fallen victim to various circumstances and went inactive but Xi was restored in the spring of 2011.
More fruitfully, Chi Deuteron at George Washington, inactive since 1956, was revived in 1987 and remains active. After an even longer period of inactivity, Upsilon Deuteron at Wabash has returned to the fold. Several other Charges have had brief periods of inactivity: e.g. Eta Deuteron at Stanford, which was inactive 1990-93. Although Epsilon Triton at Arizona State and Gamma Deuteron at Michigan both went inactive in the mid 90’s, both have since been reactivated.
Theta Delta Chi Today
While the 21st Century has seen the unfortunate closings of Charges old and new: Phi at Lafayette in 2001, Nu Deuteron at Lehigh in 2003, Eta Triton and Delta Triton in 2005, Mu Deuteron in 2006, Chi Triton in 2008, Rho Triton, Chi in 2009 and Epsilon in 2012 we have also seen a flurry of new expansion to both institutions new and old. The Iota Triton Charge was founded at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth in 2005. Recent years have seen an even greater flurry of expansion with the recharterings of Rho Proteron and Epsilon Triton in 2008 and Gamma Deuteron in 2009 and new Charges being founded at Binghamton University (Theta Triton, 2007), Marist College (Tau Triton, 2008) and Rutgers University (Lambda Triton, 2008). With the re-chartering of Psi Deuteron at the University of California-Angeles in 2010, the re-chartering of Xi at Hobart College in 2011 and chartering of Upsilon Triton in 2011, Theta Delta Chi added nine new Charges in a four year period, which has significantly increased our undergraduate numbers while steadily increasing the overall number of Charges.
We may draw the conclusion that, by comparison with the early and mid-twentieth century, fraternity membership and group solidarity is highly unstable on U.S. (if not necessarily Canadian) campuses and that considerable dedication is necessary to make a new or revived Charge survive. High, even tremendous real estate costs, extensive and elaborate requirements for safety and security, a new social conservatism and a high degree of university vigilance over matters of hazing, racism and sexism, substance abuse and other patterns of behavior once not carefully regulated, have put all fraternities on the defensive. Recent years have however seen a resurgence of Greek Communities across the country as evidenced by our recent expansion as well as growth within existing Charges.
Thankfully, this also comes at a time when generous bequests from alumni have put the International Fraternity on its best financial footing in many years, and a substantial reorganization of its structure has freed our Educational Foundation, a tax-exempt public charity, to assume responsibility for fundraising and for administering many of the Fraternity’s programs. An enlarged staff and substantial archives and workspace on Boston’s Lewis Wharf have only quite recently put Theta Delta Chi in a strong position to aid Charges in trouble. In addition, the creation of Theta Delta Chi’s signature leadership conference, The Preamble Institute (PI), first held in 2007 has been a bastion for nurturing new and emerging leaders within the fraternity. An overwhelming success, the values-based program has already seen its graduates taking larger leadership roles within the fraternity as staff and Grand Lodge members and hopes to ensure that the new found strength of our Charges will continue for years to come.