10 Oldest Fraternities in North America

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Fraternities are a staple of college life in America and their practices are often referenced in today’s popular culture. While the earliest fraternities may not exactly resemble their modern counterparts, their core beliefs have been passed down. The very first Greek-letter society was formed in 1775 and influenced what are considered the first modern college fraternities that popped up in the early 19th century. These first fraternities established the model for the fraternities that came after and they are still active nearly 200 years later.

10. Chi Psi

Year Established: 1841
Founding College/University: Union College (Schenectady, New York)
Type of Fraternity: Social
Chapters: 32 Active

Chi Psiphoto source: Wikipedia

 

Chi Psi was founded at Union College in 1841 with the idea of emphasizing the fraternal and social principles of a brotherhood. This was the first fraternity to emphasize these qualities over literary and scholastic characteristics of other earlier fraternities. It was the fifth ever fraternity started at Union College and the four older fraternities from Union College are also on this list.

Like many fraternities, Chi Psi has had its fair share of controversies over the years. In 2004, a pledge died from alcohol poisoning and members of the chapter had drawn slurs all over his lifeless body. The chapter was only temporarily suspended. The pledge’s death received national media coverage, which highlighted how fraternities continue to operate like nothing happened even after a death.

Did You Know?
 In 1846, Chi Psi was the first fraternity in the nation to establish a fraternity house.


9. Beta Theta Pi

Year Established: 1839
Founding College/University: Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
Type of Fraternity: Social
Chapters: 141

Beta Theta Piphoto source: Wikipedia

Beta Theta Pi was formed in 1839 when two rival literary societies, The Erodelphian and Union Literary Society, came together. The five core values espoused by Beta Theta Pi are cultivation of intellect, responsible conduct, mutual assistance, integrity, and trust.

The fraternity has produced many notable alumni, including a Vice President of the United States, a Prime Minister of Canada, 200 members of U.S. Congress, eight U.S. Supreme Court Justices (more than any other fraternity), and 12 Pulitzer Prize winners. Additionally, Beta Theta Pi has made many firsts, including the first fraternity to achieve 85 Rhodes Scholars in 2016.

Did You Know?
In 2019, Beta Theta Pi’s average GPA rose to 3.251 – an all-time high.


8. Delta Upsilon

Year Established: 1834
Founding College/University: Williams College (Williamstown, Massachusetts)
Type of Fraternity: Social
Chapters: 68

Delta Upsilonphoto source: Wikipedia

Delta Upsilon was founded on November 4, 1834 at Williams College. The fraternity was founded to combat the nepotism of the only two fraternities operating at Williams College at the time. The founding group was led by Stephen Field, Lewis Lockwood, and Francis Tappan, and consisted of 30 men. Additionally, Delta Upsilon’s early goal was anti-secrecy society, meaning that it wouldn’t hide behind secretive practices and rituals like other fraternities.

Over the years, Delta Upsilon has become one of the most popular fraternities in the country and has produced numerous notable alumni. Notable members include President of the United States James A. Garfield, president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos, Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson, Linus Pauling, Joseph P. Kennedy, Lou Holtz, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Evans Hughes, and Les Aspin.

Did You Know?
In 2018, to avoid any scandals and preserve an upstanding reputation, Delta Upsilon hard alcohol was banned from all chapter houses.


7. Psi Upsilon

Year Established: 1833
Founding College/University: Union College (Schenectady, New York)
Type of Fraternity: Secret, Social, and Literary
Chapters: 49 (27 active)

Psi Upsilonphoto source: Wikipedia

Like many of the first modern college fraternities, Psi Upsilon was established at Union College in the early 19th century. Psi Upsilon claims that it was the first fraternity to do such things as, hold a fraternity convention (1841); print a membership catalog (1842); print its history (1843); print a fraternity song book (1849); and issue a fraternity magazine (1850). The fraternity has had several members who eventually became famous, including, President William Howard Taft, President Chester A. Arthur, and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

In recent years, a few chapters have drawn negative media attention, including the Cornell University chapter of Psi Upsilon. The chapter was indefinitely shut down in 2017 after several incidents involving sexual assault and racially charged assault.

Did You Know?

The first expansion chapter of Psi Upsilon was started in 1837, when a member of Psi Upsilon at Union transferred to New York University.


6. Alpha Delta Phi

Year Established: 1832
Founding College/University: Hamilton College (Clinton, New York)
Type of Fraternity: Secret, Social, and Literary
Chapters: 32 Active

Alpha Delta Phiphoto source: Wikipedia

 

Alpha Delta Phi started out as a literary society founded by Samuel Eells (a 19th century American philosopher, essayist, and orator)  in 1832 at Hamilton College. It was the first fraternity to start a chapter west of the Appalachian Mountains when a Miami University chapter was founded in 1835. The house used by the Cornell University Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi in 1877, was the first house built in America specifically for use by a fraternity.

Alpha Delta Phi has over 50,000 alumni which include justices of the Supreme Court as well as former presidents and senators. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt are among the fraternity’s most famous members.

Did You Know?

Alpha Delta Phi has another organization, the gender-inclusive Alpha Delta Phi Society. To avoid any confusion, Alpha Delta Phi is used to refer to the fraternity, while The Society is used for Alpha Delta Phi Society.


5. Delta Phi

Year Established: 1827
Founding College/University: Union College (Schenectady, New York)
Type of Fraternity: Social
Chapters: 10 Active

Delta Phiphoto source: Wikipedia

Delta Phi was the third fraternity established at Union College and is the final member of the Union Triad. Since Union College is the home of the first three official modern fraternities in America, the school has been called the “Mother of Fraternities.”

Along with the other members of the Union Triad (Kappa Alpha Society and Sigma Phi Society), Delta Phi was established during a time of anti-Masonic sentiment in the United States. People felt they could not trust these organizations because they were secretive societies at the time. In the 1830s, the president of Union College wanted to shut down all of the schools fraternities, but a member of Delta Phi convinced the school to let them continue.

Did You Know?

Delta Phi also uses the names “St. Elmo,” “St. Elmo Hall,” or merely “Elmo” because of its relation to Erasmus of Formia (St. Elmo) with some chapters known almost exclusively by one of these monikers on their respective campuses.


4. Sigma Phi Society

Year Established: 1827
Founding College/University: Union College (Schenectady, New York)
Type of Fraternity: Social
Chapters: 9

Sigma Phi Societyphoto source: sigmaphi.org

Two years after the first official fraternity was established at Union College, four undergraduates decided to form their own group called the Sigma Phi Society. It is the second fraternity that makes up the Union Triad, which are the three founding fraternities of North America.

Sigma Phi was the first fraternity to establish a chapter at another school. This second chapter was founded in 1831 at nearby Hamilton College, which makes Sigma Phi the first national fraternity.

Despite being one of the oldest fraternities, Sigma Phi’s growth has been selective and conservative. Today, there are only nine chapters in the organization.

Did You Know?

The practices and rituals of the Sigma Phi Society are relatively unknown due to its establishment, and continued consideration, as a secret society.


3. Kappa Alpha Society

Year Established: 1825
Founding College/University: Union College (Schenectady, New York)
Type of Fraternity: Literary and Social
Chapters: 15 (9 active)

Kappa Alpha Societyphoto source: Wikipedia

Kappa Alpha Society is the oldest continuously existing fraternity in North America. The fraternity is credited as the forefather of the modern fraternity system in North America. It is one of the three oldest fraternities in America that form what is known as the Union Triad. These three fraternities all started at Union College and influenced the formation of other similar groups at colleges around the country.

According to the group’s history, the fraternity was formed as the middle link between secret societies, literary societies, and Greek-letter organizations. Although Kappa Alpha Society is nearly 200 years old, today, there are only nine chapters still active.

Did You Know?

Kappa Alpha Society still maintains its traditional scholarly atmosphere and says that it is not like many other modern fraternities that prioritize partying.


2. Chi Phi

Year Established: 1824
Founding College/University: Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey)
Type of Fraternity: Social
Chapters: 57 Active

Chi Phiphoto source: Wikipedia

The Chi Phi fraternity was established when three separate organizations that were known as Chi Phi came together. Since the Chi Phi organization from Princeton University was founded in 1824, Chi Phi fraternity is one of the oldest fraternities in North America.

Although the fraternity says that the original 1824 organization is a part of its history, the modern line of the fraternity was not founded until 1854. This group was inspired to re-establish the Chi Phi fraternity at Princeton after its founder discovered the the records of the original 1824 organization. They decided to keep some aspects of the 1824 fraternity while adding their own values.

Did You Know?

Today, Chi Phi has over 47,000 living alumni members from over 100 active and inactive chapters and un-chartered colonies.


1. Phi Beta Kappa Society

Year Established: 1776
Founding College/University: The College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, Virginia)
Type of Fraternity: Honor Society
Chapters: 290

Phi Beta Kappa Societyphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

 

While Phi Beta Kappa Society is more of an honor society than a traditional fraternity, it was the first collegiate Greek-letter organization in the United States. The first Phi Betat Kappa Society meeting took place on December 5, 1776, making it the oldest fraternity in North America. Phi Beta Kapa influenced several of the first modern college fraternities, which decided to also use Greek letters to form their names.

Phi Beta Kappa is a large nationwide organization and is recognized as one of the most prestigious honor societies in the country. The society’s goal is to promote and advocate excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. The group has chapters in about 10% of American colleges/universities and typically, about 10% of the Arts and Sciences graduates are invited to join Phi Beta Kappa.

Did You Know?

Because Phi Beta Kappa Society is an honor society, its membership is limited  to undergraduates with very high GPAs, typically at least 3.8 out of a 4.0 scale


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