Men and women for centuries have banded together into small social groups, seeking mutual pleasure and association from and with one another; and no two groups have been exactly alike in their aims and their idealism. The movement in America beginning shortly after the Civil War more than a century ago produced some of the longest-lived of such groups, Cornerstones of the fraternity and sorority system on college and university campuses. Phi Sigma Kappa was-and is-one of these.
Her idealism is different from that of all others-though similar to many. Her beginnings were different-though similar to many. Just as the humblest individual has his own character traits and physical appearance, so does Phi Sigma Kappa have many things that set her and her brothers apart from all others.
The heritage of Phi Sig is not cold lists of names and dates. It is not a recital of legislation and debates. It is not a financial balance sheet, nor an annual treasurer's report, nor the agenda and program for a convention. The heritage of Phi Sig is what transcends all of these things. When all of the lists and names and reports and speeches are gone-what is left is our heritage. It is more than 100 years old; but its principles are timeless.
Massachusetts Agricultural College in Amherst-now the University of Massachusetts-is the setting for our founding. Among its other students in the early 1870s it had attracted six men of varied backgrounds, ages, abilities and goals in life, who saw the need for a new and different kind of society on campus that was receptive to experimentation. These, our Founders, banded together in their sophomore year (1873) to form a "society to promote morality, learning and social culture."
Jabez William Clay, from whose fertile mind came the original suggestion for a new fraternity, was a giant both physically and mentally, and came from a hardy Green Mountain family.
Clay was joined by another Green Mountain boy, Frederick George Campbell, a practical youth who possessed the dynamic ability to put into operation the ideals that flowed from Clay's creative mind. Their contemporaries described them as natural partners.
Joseph Francis Barrett was the youngest of the six, likely the most brilliant, and destined to take an active part for more than 45 years in the affairs of the group he helped to found. He was always "Big Chief" to his friends, constantly amazing them with his feats of memory and mental acuity (he entered college at 16), and served as Grand President for a total of 10 years.
Xenos Young Clark was a Bostonian, a practical joker, an excellent writer and the founders' "local contact;" his father was on the faculty.
William Penn Brooks was a scientist, had a fine mathematical mind, and was responsible for most of the details of our symbolism.
Henry Hague was the oldest of the group, the most mature and sedate, with short careers as a factory hand, carpenter and apprentice seaman already behind him at 24.
The six were typically active college students, members of literary and academic societies and athletic groups, editors of campus publications. Hague and Brooks even ran the college store. On March 15, 1873, they met in secret. Brooks had already prepared a constitution and symbolism, and Hague had designed a ritual. The first meeting seemed destined to succeed, for the individuals all had done their work well. The ritual has been changed only six times since, and never drastically. The symbolism and esoteric structure have never been altered. Clay was elected president of the group-which for its first five years had no name. Its cryptic characters could not be pronounced, either, though Brooks recalled that outsiders referred to them as "T, double T, T upside-down."
Phi Sigma Epsilon and the Merger
The early years of Phi Sigma Epsilon were stormy ones, for there was much opposition to secret societies, and the fraternity had to exist as an underground organization until 1912. Phi Sigma Epsilon was considered an outlaw organization and frowned upon by many of the college authorities and citizens. However, the fraternity's willingness to cooperate, and its program of scholastic and social improvements, soon won support and admiration. Finally, in 1913, Phi Sigma Epsilon was officially recognized on campus, and Prof. C. R. Phipps became the sponsor. It is noteworthy, however, that even then, feelings against the fraternity were so strong that Professor Phipps was dropped from the membership of the Y.M.C.A.
The early meetings of Phi Sigma Epsilon were held in various places-in Fred Thompson's room at 810 Constitution Street, in a doctor's office downtown, and in Professor Phipps' basement, where members had to cover the windows to keep "peepers" from disturbing proceedings. The Cross home at 6th and Union became the group's first real fraternity house in 1912, and remained so until 1917 when the membership was reduced by the enlistment of the men in the armed forces of the United States. Because of the membership decline, it was thought best to find a smaller house. For one year, the operations resumed with the purchase of the house at 1119 Merchant Street, which served as the fraternity home of Alpha Chapter until 1943.
In 1926-1927, Phi Sigma Epsilon formed a union with Sigma Delta Tau of Kirksville State Teachers College in Kirksville, Missouri, and Pi Sigma Epsilon of Kansas State Teachers College in Pittsburg, Kansas. Phi Sigma Epsilon thus became a national fraternity, and a group of members, including Brother Fred Schwengel, authored the fraternity's new ritual. The fraternity expanded to many other campuses until every chapter ceased operations between 1941 and 1946 because of the lack of manpower caused by World War II. Under the leadership of National President Shannon Flowers, however, the fraternity was successfully revived after the war, and again entered a period of expansion, until, like other fraternities, Phi Sigma Epsilon suffered a decline during the 1970's.
In 1984, National President James Whitfield was approached by Grand President Anthony Fusaro of Phi Sigma Kappa with a suggestion that the two fraternities consider the possibility of a merger. The negotiations which followed resulted in the joining of the two fraternities at the 50th General Convention of Phi Sigma Kappa in Washington, D.C., on August 14, 1985.