The History of Sigma Alpha Epsilon


Sigma Alpha Epsilon was foundedMarch 9, 1856 at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Its eight foundersincluded five seniors. Noble Leslie DeVotie, John Barratt Rudulph, NathanElams Cockrell, John Webb Kerr, and Wade Foster, and three juniors, SamuelMarion Dennis, Abner Edwin Patton and Thomas Chappell Cook. Their leader wasDeVotie who had written the ritual, devised the grip and chosen the name. Thebadge was designed by Rudulph. Of all existing fraternities today, Sigma AlphaEpsilon is the only one founded in the ante-bellum South.

Founded in a time of growingand intense sectional feeling, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, although it determined atthe outset to extend to other colleges, confined its growth to the southernstates. Extension was vigorous, however, and by the end of 1857 the Fraternitycounted seven chapters. Its first national convention met in the summer of1858 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with four of its eight chapters inattendance. By the time of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, fifteenchapters had been established.

The Fraternity had fewer thanfour hundred members when the Civil War began. Of those, 369 went to war forthe Confederacy and seven fought with the Union forces. Every member of thechapters at Hampden-Sydney, Georgia Military Institute, Kentucky MilitaryInstitute an d Oglethorpe University fought for the gray. Members from theColumbian College, William and Mary and Bethel (KY) were in both armies.Seventy members of the Fraternity lost their lives in the War, including NobleLeslie DeVotie, who is officially recorded in the annals of the War as thefirst man on either side to give his life.

The miracle in the history ofSigma Alpha Epsilon is that it survived that great sectional conflict. whenthe smoke of the battle had cleared, only one chapter, at tiny ColumbianCollege in Washington, D.C., survived, and it died soon thereafter.

When a few of the youngveterans returned to the Georgia Military Institute and found their littlecollege burned to the ground, they decided to go to Athens, Georgia, to enterthe state university there. It vas the founding of the University of Georgiachapter at the end of 1865 that led to the Fraternity’s revival. Soon otherchapters came back to life, and in 1867 the first post-war convention was heldat Nashville, Tennessee, where a half dozen revived chapters planned theFraternity’s future growth.

The Reconstruction years werecruel to the South, and southern colleges and their fraternities shared in thegeneral malaise of the region. In the 1870s and early 1880s more than a scoreof new chapters were formed, some of them in exceedingly frail institutions.Older chapters died as fast as new ones were established. By 1886 theFraternity had charted 49 chapters, but scarcely a dozen could be calledactive. Two of the 49 were in the North. After much discussion and not alittle dissent, the first northern chapter had been established atPennsylvania College, now Gettysburg College, in 1883, and a second was placedat Mt. Union College in Ohio two years later.

It was in 1886 that things tooka turn for the better. That autumn a 16-year-old youngster by the name ofHarry Bunting entered Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville,Tennessee, and was initiated by the young Tennessee Zeta chapter there thathad previously initiated two of his brothers. When Sigma Alpha Epsilon took inHarry Bunting, it caught a comet by the tail.

In just eight years, under theenthusiastic guidance of Harry Bunting and his younger brother, George, SigmaAlpha Epsilon experienced a renaissance. Together they prodded Sigma AlphaEpsilon chapters to enlarge their membership; they wrote encouraging articlesin the Fraternity’s quarterly journal, The Record, promoting better chapterstandards; and above all they undertook an almost incredible program ofexpansion of the Fraternity, resurrecting old chapters in the South (includingthe mother chapter at Alabama) and founding new ones in the North and West. Inan explosion of growth, the Buntings single-handedly were responsible fornearly fifty chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

When Harry Bunting founded theNorthwestern University chapter in 1894, he initiated as a charter memberWilliam Collin Levere, a remarkable young man whose enthusiasm for theFraternity matched Bunting’s. To Levere Bunting passed the torch ofleadership, and for the next three decades it was the spirit of “Billy” Leverethat dominated Sigma Alpha Epsilon and brought the Fraternity to maturity.

“Billy” did everything. He wastwice elected national president, served as the Fraternity’s first full-timeexecutive secretary and chapter visitation officer (1912-27), edited itsquarterly magazine and several editions of the catalog and directory ofmembership and published a monumental three volume history of the Fraternityin 1911. It is small wonder than when Levere died February 22, 1927, theFraternity’s Supreme Council decided to name their new national headquartersbuilding the Levere Memorial Temple. Construction of the Temple, an immenseGothic structure located a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan and across fromthe Northwestern University campus, was started in 1929, and the building wasdedicated at Christmastime 1930.

When the Supreme Council metregularly in the early 1930s at the Temple, educator John O. Moseley, theFraternity’s national president, lamented that “we have in the Temple amagnificent school-house. Why can we not have a school?” Accordingly, theeconomic depression notwithstanding, in the summer of 1935 the Fraternity’sfirst leadership school was held under the direction of Dr. Moseley. The firstsuch workshop in the Fraternity world, it was immensely successful, and todaynearly every Fraternity holds such a school. The leadership is unquestionablythe best service Sigma Alpha Epsilon provides to its undergraduates who cometo Evanston in regimental numbers each year.

It was probably John Moseleymore than any other whose leadership carried Sigma Alpha Epsilon forwardduring the next twenty years until his untimely death in 1955. The last yearsof his life he served the Fraternity as its executive secretary, capping adistinguished academic career that had included two college presidencies.

Since the Second World War theFraternity has grown much larger, and it has changed in a number of ways, somequite obvious and others quite subtle Its growth in chapters and membershiphas been quite spectacular, and its total number of initiates continues to bethe higher in the Fraternity world. More than a hundred chapter charters havebeen granted in 45 years. A few chapters have died or have been suspended, buta number of older ones have been revived, including two pre-Civil War chapters(Baylor and Oglethorpe) The number of undergraduate members in each chapterhas remained remarkably steady, averaging approximately seventy men each.

Qualitative changes in recentdecades have been profound. Alongside their colleges chapters havedemocratized. Membership today is for more heterogeneous than it was ageneration ago as chapters have welcomed increasing numbers of men fromreligious, ethnic and racial minorities, enriching chapters with anunprecedented cultural diversity. One has but to peruse the roster of the 600or so delegates at the annual Leadership School to confirm the dimensions ofchange.

The Fraternity enjoyed the”happy days” of the 1950s, endured to survive the campus revolt of the 1960sand early 1970s, and it tried to steer an even coarse in the turbulence thatmarked the late 1970s and the 198Os. Together with its fellow collegiateGreek-letter societies it wrestles today with problems attendant upon riskmanagement, the war against hazing, alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct rifeon our campuses. Never before have the challenges been so great or theopportunities so rich. Accordingly the Fraternity has undertaken a thoroughprogram of reform and rejuvenation, seeking to assist its undergraduatemembers to make a reaffirmation of faith in their best, most wholesometraditions while seeking to adapt creatively to a new and invigorating collegeclimate. Sigma Alpha Epsilon looks to a future full of promise. (Backto Top)


In its early days thegovernment of the Fraternity was vested in one chapter, designated the GrandChapter, which was responsible only to the general convention. In 1886 thisplan was replaced by government by a Supreme Council of six members, laterreduced to five, and the creation of regional units called provinces, eachpresided over by an Archon. After 1920 a Board of Trustees was created tomanage the Fraternity’s endowment funds. For many years national conventionswere held annually, but since 1894 they have met biennially In alternate yearsprovince conventions meet, and at the present time there are twenty-nineprovinces in the United States and Canada. Employment of a full-time executivesecretary was authorized by the Nashville national convention in 1912. (Backto Top)


Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s chaptersare on the whole well housed. One hundred sixteen of the undergraduatechapters own their own homes, and a number of others are housed incollege-owned buildings.

The first chapter of theFraternity to have a house of its own was at the University of the South inSewanee, Tennessee. In order to get the funds to start this project themembers contracted to carry the university mail all through one winter. Themoney earned helped build their house.

In 1904 the Fraternity erecteda building at Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as a memorial to Noble Leslie DeVotie andthe other seven founders. Later a chapter house was attached to it, and theentire structure served for many years as a home for the original chapter Thiswas replaced in 1953 by a larger structure on a new site and was dedicated atthe Fraternity’s centennial celebration on March 9, 1956.

The Fraternity’s Internationalheadquarters is maintained at the Levere Memorial Temple in Evanston Illinois.Honoring all the members of the Fraternity who have served their countries onland or sea or in the air since 1856, it was dedicated on December 28, 1930.The Temple also contains what is considered the most complete librarypertaining to Greek-letter fraternities and sororities. The museum on thefirst floor is devoted to a collection of interesting historical photographs,pictures and collections from private sources. The walls of the building arehung with oil portraits of distinguished members. The basement contains thePanhellenic Room, on the ceiling of which are the coats-of-arms of fortycollege fraternities and seventeen sororities, while the niches on the northside contain large murals showing the founding of Phi Beta Kappa in 1776 andthat of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 1856, together with other murals depictingepisodes in the history of the Fraternity. The most outstanding mural in thePanhellenic Room is the reproduction of Raphael’s “School of Athens,” paintedby Johannes Waller in the 1930s.

The building continues to beused for ceremonies and receptions by the various fraternities and sororitiesand honor societies at Northwestern University. National fraternitiesfrequently meet there in convention or conclave. The impressive chapel of theTemple, with its soaring vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows by Tiffany,is used regularly for religious services and is the scene of many weddings ofEvanstonians and members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In fact, the entire buildingis open to the public for patriotic, religious and educational purposes, whilethe library is also free to scholars seeking material pertaining to thehistory of any or all college fraternities and college organizations (Backto Top)


The badge of the Fraternity isdiamond-shaped, a little less than an inch long and bears on a background ofnazarene blue enamel the device of Minerva, with a lion crouching at her feet,above which are the letters Sigma Alpha Epsilon in gold. Below are the lettersPhi Alpha on a white ground in a wreath The colors are royal purple and oldgold. The flower is the violet. The colors of the pledge pin are nazareneblue, white and gold with Phi Alpha in letters surrounded by a wreath.

The flag is royal purple with acorner of old gold, the size and shape of the corner being the same as theblue field in the flag of the United States. Upon the gold field appear theletters Phi Alpha in royal purple In the center of the purple field whichconstitutes the rest of the flag are the letters Sigma Alpha Epsilon in gold.Immediately beneath the gold corner are the eight golden stars in a circle,one for each founder. (Back to Top)


The catalogue of the Fraternityhas been published twelve times: in 1859, compiled by the North Carolinachapter and printed in Washington; in 1870, 1872, 1877, with a supplement in1880, 1886, 1893, 1904, 1918, 1929, 1981, 1986 and 1991. In 1906 was begun thepublication annually of letters from the chapters accompanied by chapter listsforming a catalogue. A manual of the Fraternity, edited by Dr. George H. Kresswas published at Los Angeles in 1904. A songbook, originally published in1891, has passed through nine editions, the latest issued in 1991. In 1911 adetailed history of the Fraternity was published in three large octavo volumeswith many illustrations. This was the work of William C. Levere; it sold outin less than a month. Research for a centennial history of the Fraternity,carrying Levere’s history forward from 1910 to 1956, was undertaken in 1956 byarchivist Lauren Foreman. In 1972, the Fraternity’s historian, Joseph W.Walt., completed and saw to the publication of The Era of Levere, a history ofSigma Alpha Epsilon from 1910 to 1930, covering the two decades whenfraternities were at their zenith. A second volume by Walt is in preparation,covering the years from 1930 to 1956.

In 1912, William C. Leverebrought out Who’s Who in Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a series of biographicalsketches of living men prominent in the Fraternity. Among other books are AParagraph History of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which passed through eleven editionsbetween 1912 and 1946, The Original Minutes of Alabama Mu, The Memory Book ofSigma Alpha Epsilon, William C. Levere’s lengthy account of the First WorldWar, Sigma Alpha Epsilon in the World War, The Sigma Alpha Epsilon PledgeManual, edited by 0. K. Quivey, and The Phoenix, the Fraternity’s presentpledge manual, the most recent edition of which was published in 1995, editedby Joseph W. Walt.

The Fraternity’s magazine, TheRecord, was founded in 1880 by Major Robert H. Wildberger of Kentucky MilitaryInstitute chapter. It is published quarterly, and at least one issue per yearis sent to all living initiates of the Fraternity. Its circulation of morethan 389,000 is thought to be the largest among Fraternity publications.

In 1891 Harry and GeorgeBunting started a publication they called The Hustler, a secret, or at leastprivate, magazine. In 1894 its name was changed to Phi Alpha, and it is aregularly issued secondary magazine of the Fraternity. Today The Hustler is apublication of the annual Leadership School. Every chapter in the Fraternitypublishes a regular newspaper for its alumni and friends. (Backto Top)

Headquarters (at the LevereMemorial Temple)
1856 Sheridan Road, P.O. Box 1856
Evanston, Illinois 60204-1856

Phone: (847) 475-1856
Email: [email protected]

Membership Reported deceasedmembership 38,536
Active chapters 212
Inactive chapters 44
Colonies 9
Activealumni associations 175
Total number of initiates 254,000
ChapterUndergraduates 9,700
(Back to Top)

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