7 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.

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: Wikimedia Commons

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.

6. Alpha Delta Phi

Year Established: 1832
Founding College/University:  Hamilton College (Clinton, New York)
Type of Fraternity:  Secret, Social, and Literary
Chapters:  34

Alpha Delta Phiphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

5. Delta Phi

Year Established: 1827
Founding College/University:  Union College (Schenectady, New York)
Type of Fraternity:  Social
Chapters:  13

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.

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.

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.

2. Chi Phi

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

Chi Phiphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

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:  286

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. Due to this, it is technically 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.

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