Founding Chapters in New York City
When the fall semester of 1899 began at the College of the City of New York, several students who had graduated together from the city high school system found themselves renewing their friendships as college freshmen. They gathered daily between classes in a building at CCNY. They wanted a means to continue their special ties of camaraderie during college and throughout life, and they soon settled on fraternity as the solution. They realized, however, that none of the several fraternities on campus would accept them as members because the group included both Jewish and Christian students during a time in which groups of mixed religions were not socially acceptable either to the all-Jewish or the all-Christian fraternities, or for that matter, to other segments of a stratified society. Yet these young men had already demonstrated to their complete satisfaction that there was no reason for religious prejudice or other discrimination among men of quality.
To preserve their friendship and to establish that fundamental truth of life, these enlightened young men organized their own fraternity by December 10, 1899. Thus, a new fraternity named Delta Sigma Phi was founded in the new hope of the dawning of the twentieth century, based upon the highest ideals of mankind. The Fraternity has since grown in importance and reputation beyond even the most soaring imaginations of the founders. In 1901, a second chapter was established at Columbia University, only a short distance uptown. To distinguish between the two chapters and to proclaim the uniqueness of the organization, the Mother Chapter was called Insula, signifying its location on Manhattan Island. The second chapter was called Morningside for its location in Morningside Heights. Later these chapters were renamed as Alpha and Beta.
The Fraternity incorporated in New York State on December 15, 1902. At that time Delta Sigma Phi wrote into its laws the requirement of open membership to all college men of quality regardless of religion, race, or creed. The purpose of the Fraternity which was articulated in the 1902 Articles of Incorporation was ". . . to fulfill the desire of serious young college men for a fellowship and brotherhood, as near a practical working ideal as possible not fettered with too many traditional prejudices and artificial standards of membership, and accompanied by a clean, pure, and honorable chapter home life. "
A third chapter further uptown was organized at New York University in 1903. It was called University Chapter, and was later renamed Gamma. It is from these three founding chapters in New York City, working together, that Delta Sigma Phi has grown in size and strength to become one of the most important of collegiate fraternities.
Early Years of Struggle
The early years were times of extreme difficulty for the three fledgling chapters and their members. Most students shunned them because of their union of religions. The founding chapters found it difficult to recruit enough members for strong chapters and to establish lasting chapters outside of new York City, which despite its prejudices, was the most tolerant city in the United States at the time.
Among the organizers, two students proved over time to be the founders who kept alight the Delta Sigma Phi flame of idealism despite the heavy winds which buffeted the first chapters. One of them, Meyer Boskey, who was Jewish, was one of the original CCNY group from 1899. He became the stabilizing influence at Insula, and through it, a leading force in the New York City chapters. Boskey's steadiness and good sense was matched by the charisma and brilliance of Charles A. Tonsor, Jr., a Christian, of University Chapter.(pictured above) They first met when Boskey initiated the original University members. Tonsor was the president of the colony. The colony's initiation took place in December of 1903, and a charter was granted a few days later in 1904. Thereafter, for many years these two formed the major leadership of the new national fraternity.
A constitutional convention was held in August of 1905 at Insula's apartment. Charles Tonsor, then a 19-year-old junior at NYU, was elected temporary president. Meyer Boskey, then a first year student at Brooklyn Law School, was elected temporary secretary. The Convention adopted a constitution which created national offices and a council to govern between Conventions. New chapters which had been organized at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1904, called Technology (later Delta), and the Keystone Chapter (later Epsilon) at Pennsylvania State College, organized in 1905, were formally received into the Fraternity during the Convention.
In the fall of 1905, Tonsor and Boskey worked out the theme of the initiation ritual. They incorporated the sphinx as a major symbol of the Fraternity because it had been previously adopted as such by the members.
On December 28, 1905, the first of a long series of annual holiday Conventions was held in New York City. Tonsor was re-elected president and Boskey was re-elected secretary. This first regular Convention at a luxurious hotel resulted in a staggering financial loss, compelling Tonsor and other members of University to engage in months of fund-raising projects to pay the debt. The resulting ill will against those who neither paid nor worked caused many members to resign, but by 1906, Tonsor, Boskey and others had healed the wounds and reunited the chapters.
In 1906 Tonsor and Boskey chartered the Washington & Lee Chapter as Stonewall, later named Zeta. That same year, the first alumni group was chartered as the New York Alumni Chapter. The 1906 Convention changed the manner of naming chapters to the present Greek alphabet designations. Eta Chapter was installed in 1907 at the University of Texas, as was Theta at Cornell.
In April 1907, Boskey, having conceived the idea of a national magazine to bind the chapters together, published the first issue of the Carnation with his own funds. Thereafter, he produced the magazine at irregular intervals as a small pamphlet of only a few pages until the Convention of 1915 authorized its regular publication as the official magazine of the Fraternity. Upon the opening of his law firm in Manhattan in 1907, and until 1913, Boskey used his office, without compensation, as the communication center of the national organization, and he was annually re-elected secretary of the Fraternity.
Starting in 1906, disagreements arose between members and between chapters over the mixing of religions within the close bonds of fraternity. As a result of these differences, the entire Epsilon chapter withdrew in 1907, as did Delta in 1908 and Theta in 1909. Many of the members of Beta resigned in 1909, and it became dormant a few years later.
Tonsor and Boskey, determined to keep the idealism of the Fraternity alive despite the desertion and defections, installed Iota at the University of Pennsylvania in 1908. At the 1908 convention, they and others sought to bridge the gap between the two disputing sides by a preamble to the constitution that expressed the philosophy of tolerance to opposing viewpoints. In 1909 Tonsor and Boskey attended the meeting of fraternities at the University Club in New York City at which the National Interfraternity Conference was formed. Delta Sigma Phi is a founding member of the NIC.
Despite the critical loss of important chapters in the early years, several new ones almost simultaneously sprang up in the South and in the Midwest, ultimately assuring the continuity of the Fraternity. Kappa Chapter was installed at Alabama Polytechnic Institute at Auburn, in 1908. It was followed by the installation of Lambda chapter at Trinity University in Texas in 1909 (transferred to Southern Methodist University in 1915); Mu, at the University of Chicago, in 1910; Nu, at Waynesburg College, in 1910; and Omicron at Cumberland University, in 1912 (becoming dormant in 1918, this chapter was transferred to the University of Tennessee in 1931). The first alumni chapter outside of the East was founded in Chicago in 1912. Zeta Chapter became dormant in 1909 as a result of a typhoid fever epidemic.
It became apparent that the 1907 compromise had not resolved the problem when Kappa Chapter withdrew in 1910. The addition of new chapters came to a halt while a lasting solution was sought, once again under the leadership of Tonsor with the assistance of Boskey. Finally at the 1914 Convention in Philadelphia, the constitution was amended to restrict membership to members of the Christian faith. For an interim, therefore, Delta Sigma Phi, like other fraternities of the time, restricted its membership. This unfortunate decision was overturned in later years, and for many years Delta Sigma Phi has sought members from all religions, races, and creeds in full honor of the pioneering philosophy upon which it was created.
Years of Establishment
The 1914 Convention took other steps to assure the growth of the Fraternity, including significant financial contributions by the national leaders. The Convention created the position of general secretary and appointed A. W. (Dutch) Defenderfer, Omicron, to this part-time professional staff position. Brother Defenderfer managed Fraternity business out of his insurance office in Washington, D.C., until his retirement in 1939. Following the 1914 Convention, there was a period of continuous expansion. Thereafter, the Carnation was published on a regular basis, and in 1915, six new chapters were installed. In 1916, four more chapters were installed, and a district deputy system was instituted to provide additional assistance to the chapters.
World War I
The years 1917 and 1918 were times of trial and worries for both chapter and national organization in all fraternities as World War I embroiled the United States in its fiery morass. As members were drawn into military service, several chapters had to suspend operations entirely for lack of members, and the remaining chapters were greatly weakened. Many of our Brothers passed into the Bond Eternal as a result of the Great War.
After World War I, the returning veterans and alumni joined to rebuild the chapters. The time of Convention meetings was changed to every second year. The 1919 convention centered around plans for internal chapter development and cooperative work between districts. Three geographical provinces were established. Only one new chapter was installed in 1919, but nine new chapters were added and Epsilon was revived in 1920.
The Twenties: Years of Expansion
During the twenties growth was rapid, so much so that the Administrative Council denied petitions from several locals to form chapters. The Fraternity's government was improved by a new Constitution, adopted at the 1921 Convention. The present coat-of-arms also was endorsed.
At the 1923 Convention in Dallas, the Fraternity was recovering strongly from the ravages of World War I. The Convention adopted a ceremony for the dedication of new chapter houses and instituted the Pilgrim Degree, a special ritual for those making the pilgrimage to a National Convention. the convention also authorized the publication of The Sphinx, which has been issued since 1924 to convey confidential information to members.
In 1923, the first and only honorary member of the Fraternity was initiated. He was the Honorable. James J. Davis, Secretary of Labor in the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover Cabinets. Initiated at the request of Omega Chapter, Brother Davis became an enthusiastic and loyal member.
Expansion continued during 1925, as the Fraternity issued the first edition of the Pledge Manual, one of the earliest publications of its kind in the fraternity world. In 1926, Alpha Chi Chapter originated the Sailors Ball, which has become traditional throughout the Fraternity. that year also saw the adoption of an official Fraternity flag by the Board of Governors.
In 1928, the Fraternity issued the first edition of the Fraternity Manual, one of the most complete publications of its kind ever produced by any fraternity. In 1929 the Fraternity was re-incorporated in the District of Columbia where the offices of General Secretary Defenderfer were located.
Although the 1929 was held shortly after the stock market crash that signaled the beginning of the Depression of the Thirties, the meetings were conducted in an atmosphere of optimism and with few forebodings of the difficulties which lay ahead. The delegates voted to employ a traveling secretary, the Fraternity's first such paid employee.
The Depression Years
In the Depression years, financial worries weighed down not only the shoulders of student members, but of alumni control boards and national officers as well. Numerous chapters went under, and many others lost their equities in handsome chapter properties. Among the chapters dealt a death blow by the Depression were the two remaining of the original triad, Alpha and Gamma.
In spite of great difficulties, there were notable developments in the early thirties. A new chapter was added in both 1930 and 1931. In 1931, the Harvey Hebert Award for distinguished service to the Fraternity was first awarded. Two new chapters were added in 1932, and one in 1933, during the deepest depths of the Great Depression. The economic circumstances were so dire that no convention could be held in 1933, but one was held again in 1935. In the spring of 1936, the Fraternity's first district training school for officers was conducted in Chicago. Another new chapter, the first since 1933, was installed in 1938.
Early in 1938, the Board of Governors banned Hell Week practices throughout the Fraternity.
World War II
By the later years of the thirties, several of the Depression-dormant chapters had been revived, but now the Fraternity was threatened by a new catastrophe - - the gathering clouds of World War II. Several of the chapters were weakened by loss of men to military service. Only 22 chapters were represented at the 1940 Convention, though some 43 were active at the time. Several major changes grew out of the resignation of A. W. Defenderfer, Omicron, who had served the Fraternity as general secretary since the historic days of 1914. The national headquarters was shifted from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Ohio, the home city of the new national treasurer, Arthur H. Sprague, Beta Iota. Marcus E. Sharpe, Tau, was appointed general secretary.
A national Convention scheduled for 1942 was canceled at the request of the government. In the same year, General Secretary Sharpe resigned to enter F. B. I service, and Arthur H. Sprague assumed duties as acting general secretary for the duration of the war. National officers directed the chapters to organize a committee of five men on each campus to preserve chapter records and effects and to make plans to resume operations after the war. By the end of 1943, 24 chapters had been closed for the duration, and more were closed by early 1944. Only a handful remained active throughout the war years, and those operated under adverse conditions. In mid-1944 the Board of Governors gave chapter alumni unusual authority to initiate undergraduates and carry on chapter functions.
After the war, however, the Fraternity demonstrated its underlying vitality by a rapid recovery, and its revival activity soon blossomed into one of the greatest expansions periods of its history. By June, 1946, 30 chapters out of 40 were again active. Harold Balback, Alpha Pi was appointed general secretary, and plans were made for a Convention to be held the following January.
Golden Anniversary Years
The Convention, held in Chicago, developed an expansionist sentiment in marked contrast to that of some 20 years earlier. A slogan, "50 Chapters for our Golden Anniversary Convention in 1949," was adopted. A compulsory life membership plan for all initiates was adopted and a liberalized method for the acceptance of charter petitions by the Board of Governors was accepted.
Francis "Pete" Wacker of Epsilon became general secretary in 1947, and the first new chapter after World War II was installed in that year. The year 1948 witnessed the largest number of chapters ever installed in the history of the Fraternity -- 12 -- plus two revivals.
The golden anniversary Convention was held in 1949. The goal of 50 chapters had been more than fulfilled. There were 63, and all were represented at the Convention. The delegates took momentous action. They adopted a new constitution that provided for major changes in the national government of the Fraternity, expanding the Board of Governors to 18 members representing 18 regions, and leaving the interim affairs of the Fraternity in the hands of an executive committee.
The Korean War
The Korean War broke out in the summer of 1950. While campus dislocations were by no means as severe as those of World War II, nevertheless the effects of the military draft were adverse, especially on smaller chapters. Also affected was the Fraternity's expansion program. Only one charter was granted in 1951.
Several notable steps were taken by the new board of Governors, meeting for the first time in a non-Convention year, 1950, in Chicago. The board voted to adopt a new Fraternity flag and to move the national headquarters to Denver, Colorado.
Years of Development
The 1951 Convention voted to create the Delta Sigma Phi Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation. The final step in universal life membership was taken, with a resolution authorizing such membership of every initiate at the time of initiation, the practice followed today. The loss of college men into military service lessened, and during the rest of the 1950's, the Fraternity's expansion continued strongly.
In 1961, the Fraternity adopted Engineered Leadership ® as its four-step method for chapter planning. This unique concept is based upon a successful chapter restructuring conducted by members of Beta Iota Chapter. Chapter expansion continued rapidly.
In recognition of the unwieldy nature of an 18-man governing body, a new constitution was submitted to the chapters in 1967 and passed by an overwhelming vote. The revised national government, under which our fraternity operates today, provides for a Grand Council of seven and a consulting body of district governors and deputy district governors. The Mr. Delta Sig award, the highest honor the Fraternity can bestow, was first conferred in 1969.
Years of Difficulty
Delta Sigma Phi experienced a difficult period from the late 1960's through 1977 as protests against the Vietnam War produced turmoil and unrest on college campuses across the country. The membership of many chapters declined and several weak chapters became dormant. Finally, with the end of the armed conflict, college students gradually returned to traditional ideals of brotherhood and group interaction.
Relocation and Growing success
Under the direction of Executive Director E. Allen James, Rho, who replaced Francis Wacker upon his retirement in 1978, the Fraternity made rapid improvements. Over several years, the professional staff was increased in size to provide more services to chapters. The national headquarters was relocated from Denver to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1981. This move was accomplished in order to place the headquarters in a more central location for a majority of our chapters, and to take advantage of certain favorable tax laws. In 1984, the national offices were moved into the Taggart Mansion, which had been restored to its original grandeur to serve as the Fraternity's permanent seat of operations. It was formally dedicated at the 1985 convention which was held in Indianapolis.
Throughout the 1980's chapter quality and average size has increased dramatically as undergraduate members realized the potential of their own greatness. Several dormant chapters have been revived, and many new chapters have been added as Delta Sigma Phi has grown increasingly important in the fraternity movement.
For almost a century we have stood strong in the fraternity world. Our reputation has been that of a group of committed brothers who believe in our principles and who care about our newly initiated members. We eagerly accept the challenge of the future.