ZETA PSI HITORY
The Greek movement at the University of Cincinnati dates to the earliest years of the institution’s history. In the 1840s, three fraternities were founded at Cincinnati College. Parallel to the experience of Cincinnati College in those years, the fraternities flourished briefly but became inactive after a few years. Shortly after the 1877 rebirth of the institution as the University of Cincinnati, Greek life reemerged on the campus. The first continuous chapter—the Zeta Psi chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity—was founded in 1882. The chapter has been in continuous existence at the University of Cincinnati for almost 130 years.
As the university expanded in those early decades, so did the Greek system. Following Sigma Chi, other national fraternities and several sororities established chapters. In 1920, Alpha Phi Alpha was the first African-American Greek Fraternity to be organized at UC. When Sigma Chi celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1982, which also marked the centennial of the Greek system at UC; there were 21 fraternities and 15 sororities at that time. Membership numbered more than 1,700 students, representing approximately 10% of the university’s undergraduates, supported by a large community of Greek alumni in the Greater Cincinnati area.
The Zeta Psi chapter of Sigma Chi was established on January 23, 1882, with the following charter members: Leonard R. Freeman, John G. O’Connell, Howard Breen, Edward Muelberg, William C. Clarke, E. Ambler Harper, and Herman Schmidt. William Lofland Dudley, Isaac M. Jordan, and Hon. J. Howard Ferris helped to secure the charter. The city of Cincinnati had long been one of the strongholds of Sigma Chi; and a number of the members of the Theta Alumni Chapter had been making earnest endeavors to secure the consent of the fraternity to the establishment of an active chapter at the university. In this their efforts had been successful: and on the evening of the day already named, all of the charter members of the new chapter met at the parlors of the Gibson House, and from there adjourned to the law offices of Hon. J. Howard Ferris, where the ceremonies of initiation were performed. After the conclusion of the installation exercises, a sumptuous repast was hugely enjoyed, and amid the best of good cheer the firmest of friendships were cemented. The new chapter had the field entirely to itself, and was soon in admirable working order.
Among the students who came to the university from the city of Cincinnati and its neighborhoods, the chapter found itself able to select what it wanted—an average membership of a dozen excellent men. Its interest in the affairs of the general fraternity was unusually active from the beginning. Its attention to routine duties has always been prompt and businesslike; and the Fifteenth Biennial Convention, in 1884, the Zeta Psi shared with the Theta Alumni the honor and the credit of entertaining one of the most successful conventions ever held by the fraternity. In recognition of the active interest of the chapter, Mr. Oscar L. Kuhn was, in 1886, elected Grand Praetor of the Third Province.
At first the chapter rented three very pleasant rooms in the “downtown” district of the city; but in 1885 secured quarter in the old McMicken Homestead on the university grounds. These quarters were appropriately papered, frescoed, and furnished, and here the chapter remained until 1890, when it removed to pleasanter and more convenient rooms near the university. Owing to the large attendance of its best students from the city and its suburbs, it was thought that the chapterhouse system would never work, but as we can see today, they did not realize the power of their endeavors.
The establishment of the chapter was also salutary in its effect on the life of the university, creating a spirit of activity and vivacity previously unknown. Zeta Psi became the leader of all student enterprises, and carried them to a successful issue. Sigma Chi has always had a large representation on the various university publications, and for several years it has conducted a very credible college annual. The one recognized need of the chapter for many years was a sufficient rivalry. Quite a number of fraternities had made the attempt to enter the institution; but as they persisted in approaching men who preferred Sigma Chi, their plans had all miscarried; and it was not until 1889 that Beta Theta Pi succeeded in establishing a chapter.
SIGMA CHI INTERNATIONAL HISTORY
In the fall of 1854 a disagreement arose within the Kappa chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. This chapter consisted of 12 men. Six of them, led by Whitelaw Reid, supported one of the members for Poet in the Erodelphian Literary Society. Four of the other six members, James Parks Caldwell, Isaac M. Jordan, Benjamin Piatt Runkle and Franklin Howard Scobey, refused to vote for the brother because they knew him to lack poetic abilities. The man they did favor for that office was not a Deke. Thomas Cowan Bell and Daniel William Cooper were not members of Erodelphian, but their relation to the disagreement was unqualified endorsement of the four. Thus, they became six.
The chapter of 12 was evenly divided in a difference of opinion that ordinarily would have been decided one way or the other and immediately forgotten. But both sides considered it a matter of principle, and could not reach a compromise. During the ensuing months, the groups disagreed so much that their friendship grew distant.
Chapter meetings, or attempted chapter meetings, occurred for months with the breach constantly widening. In February 1855, at an Oxford restaurant, a dramatic dinner meeting between the dissenting groups set the stage for Sigma Chi's founding. Bell, Caldwell, Cooper, Jordan, Runkle and Scobey hosted the event, hoping to mend ways with the other six. They were on hand early, awaiting developments with anticipation. Of the meeting, Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle said, “With the kindest of intentions, we determined to give a dinner in their honor. I remember that the feast was prepared at the village restaurant, the guests invited, and on the appointed night we gathered and waited for the guests. They did not come for a long time, and then only Mr. Reid and with a stranger. He took into his confidence Minor Millikin (an alumnus of the fraternity from nearby Hamilton, Ohio) and the two decided on strenuous proceedings.”
Millikin lost no time. “My name is Minor Millikin,” he said. “I live in Hamilton. I am a man of few words.” He then passed judgment on all of the matters in dispute. Since he had heard only one side of the story, his verdict was against Runkle, Scobey and the others who had originally opposed election of the DKE as the Poet in the literary society. Millikin found them guilty.
Next, Millikin unfolded a plan he and Reid had concocted by which “justice” could be satisfied with the formal expulsion of the leaders in the rebellion (undoubtedly Runkle and Scobey), after which the others, having been properly chastised, could remain in the chapter.
At this dramatic moment Runkle stepped forward, pulled off his DKE pin, tossed it upon the table and said to Millikin, “I didn't join this Fraternity to be anyone's tool. And that, sir, is my answer!” Runkle stalked out of the room, and his five colleagues followed.
The final meeting of the 12 active members of Delta Kappa Epsilon was held in Reid's room in the “Old Southeast” building several days later. After a strenuous effort, led by Reid, for the expulsion of the six, with six against six on all vital issues, the meeting broke up in considerable disorder.
A rather prolonged correspondence ensued with the Delta Kappa Epsilon parent chapter at Yale, resulting in the April 1855 expulsion of Bell, Caldwell, Cooper, Jordan, Runkle and Scobey. It was at this time they began making plans to found their own fraternity.