The history of fraternities goes back almost two hundred and fifty years to the College of William and Mary where Phi Beta Kappa was founded. The Phi Beta Kappa was the first Greek organization to implement many of the characteristics that you see in the fraternities around the country today. They ranged from having a badge, a ritual, a motto, bonds of friendship among brothers, high idealism, and camaraderie. The first fraternity discussed many topics at their regular meetings that ranged from freedom to taxation.
During the early 1800’s, fraternities were considered secret societies similar to that of the Freemasons. In 1826 one of the Freemasons, William Morgan, had a falling out with the secret organization and threatened to expose all their secrets. He never got the chance to expose the secrets of the Freemason society because he disappeared shortly thereafter. The Harvard chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa bowed to the heavy anti-Masonic sentiment and revealed many of the fraternity secrets. The chapter went on to explain in detail how the FBK letters were those of Filosofia Biou Kubernhthz, which was the societies “”Philosophy the Guide of Life.”” These revelations went on to propel the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity to North Americas most prestigious honorable society.
This prompted the fraternities to quickly begin expanding, students formed the powerful Kappa Alpha Society. This fraternity was more focused on being a social organization than that of a literary one. Two more organizations were formed to create the Union Triad. Sigma Phi and Delta Phi were two major components of the major expansion of the college fraternities in America. Throughout the 1800’s different branches of the fraternity were created in Hamilton College, Williams College, and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
The Civil War had a significant impact on the fraternities, because more brothers were put in the position to fight each other rather than embrace the beliefs of the fraternity. The fraternity however did have an effect on many aspects of the war. In many occasions, prisoners were often exchanged or given much better treatment when they were recognized to be part of a fraternity. During the Civil War, the Theta Xi at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was the only fraternity created.
Soon after the war ended, many fraternities in the north would not expand to the southern regions. This explains why this period saw the biggest growth of new southern fraternities being formed on their own. Even though more of the fraternities were created from 1865-1900, the majority of the chapters went on to be charted after 1900. From that point on, the fraternities growth exploded throughout all of Canada and the United States. Even despite two world wars and the Great Depression, the fraternity enjoyed a steady growth during all of the 1900’s.
During many difficult times, these fraternities were often accused of corrupting college students with alcohol abuse, hazing, and social indifference. The fraternities responded in stride by focusing more of their efforts on scholarship programs, coordinated social events, and community service. Colleges across the country have revealed amazing statistics that consistently show how fraternity brothers have a much higher graduation rate than students who do not join the fraternities. Fraternities continue to be organizations where brothers show pride in their alma mater, make more donations to the school, and are much more involved as undergraduates on campus.