National History

The Found­ing of Sigma Chi

A Dis­agree­ment

Fit­tingly, Sigma Chi was born out of a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple. In the fall of 1854, a dis­agree­ment arose within the Kappa chap­ter of Delta Kappa Epsilon (ΔΚΕ) 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 Miami University’s Erodel­phian Lit­er­ary Soci­ety. Four of the other six mem­bers, James Parks Cald­wellIsaac M. Jor­danBen­jamin 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.

A Schism at Dinner

Chap­ter meet­ings, or attempted chap­ter meet­ings, occurred for months with the breach con­stantly widen­ing. In Feb­ru­ary 1855, at an Oxford, Ohio, 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, 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 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.”

Minor Mil­likin Steps Up

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.

Next, Mil­likin unfolded a plan that 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.

This proved to be a turn­ing point for the Miami DKE chap­ter and a defin­ing moment in the his­tory of Sigma Chi. In response to Millikin’s harsh and unde­mo­c­ra­tic stance, Ben Run­kle dra­mat­i­cally pulled off his Deke badge and tossed it on the table where the con­cil­ia­tory meal was to have taken place. Look­ing Mil­likin in the eye, Run­kle told him, “I didn’t join this fra­ter­nity to be anyone’s tool. And that, sir, is my answer!” He stalked out of the room, fol­lowed res­olutely by his five col­leagues, leav­ing Reid and Mil­likin to pon­der their failed scheme to intim­i­date the defi­ant brothers.

Six Against Six

The final meet­ing of the 12 active mem­bers of Delta Kappa Epsilon was 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. How­ever, those six young men undoubt­edly had, by that time, already shifted their thoughts away from hop­ing that they would change the minds of those at DKE’s par­ent chap­ter and focused instead on the prospect of form­ing a new fraternity.

The Early Begin­nings of Sigma Chi

One of the best moves these six ever made was to asso­ciate them­selves with William Lewis Lock­wood. He had entered Miami early in 1855 but had not joined a fra­ter­nity. He was the “busi­ness­man” of the group and pos­sessed a remark­able orga­niz­ing abil­ity. More than any other Founder, he was respon­si­ble for set­ting up the gen­eral plan of the Fra­ter­nity, much of which endures to this day.

Dur­ing the lat­ter months of the 1854–55 aca­d­e­mic year, Run­kle and Cald­well lived in a second-floor room of a build­ing near Oxford’s pub­lic square on High Street—now known as the birth­place of Sigma Chi. The Founders held many of the ear­lier orga­ni­za­tional meet­ings of Sigma Chi in this room, and it was there that Run­kle and Lock­wood designed the badge. The White Cross was designed exactly as we know it today except for the let­ters ΣΦ in the black cen­ter which were later changed to ΣΧ.

Hav­ing been mem­bers of Delta Kappa Epsilon, six of the Founders were famil­iar with the gen­eral out­line of fra­ter­nity con­sti­tu­tion and rit­ual con­tent. They were con­sid­er­ably influ­enced by Lock­wood, who had known lit­tle of Delta Kappa Epsilon or its dif­fer­ences. With all of their plans for­mally com­pleted, the Seven Founders of the new Fra­ter­nity announced its estab­lish­ment by wear­ing their badges for the first time in pub­lic on Com­mence­ment Day at Miami Uni­ver­sity, June 28, 1855.

Sigma Chi Fra­ter­nity: Built to Last

The work­ing fra­ter­nal con­cep­tions of Sigma Chi Fra­ter­nity have long been iden­ti­fied with the words Friend­ship, Jus­tice and Learn­ing. These three ele­ments were the basic ideals our Founders used in form­ing the foun­da­tion of Sigma Chi. In their new fra­ter­nity, they held the qual­i­ties of con­ge­nial tastes, qual­ity fel­low­ship and gen­uine friend­ship to be indis­pens­able. The ele­ment of thor­ough fel­low­ship was regarded as a char­ac­ter­is­tic of all real fra­ter­nity endeav­ors, thus they sought true friendship.

In mat­ters of gen­eral col­lege inter­est, the Founders had refused to be lim­ited sim­ply by the ties of their DKE broth­er­hood. The Founders’ new asso­ci­a­tion was surely not planned to pre­vent laud­able mutual help­ful­ness. On the con­trary it was designed in every wor­thy way to enhance such help­ful­ness. The new fra­ter­nity stood for the “square deal” in all cam­pus rela­tions. It exalted justice.

More than 100 years ago, a Sigma Chi defined fra­ter­nity as “an oblig­a­tion, a neces­sity, an intro­duc­tion, a require­ment, a pass­port, a les­son, an influ­ence, an oppor­tu­nity, an invest­ment, a peace­maker and a plea­sure.

The Founders’ unfor­tu­nate expe­ri­ence in Delta Kappa Epsilon, which they saw as a group focused on con­for­mity for polit­i­cal gain, stirred their hearts and their spirit. They found it a neces­sity to allow and accept dif­fer­ences in points of views and opin­ions, real­iz­ing that doing so brought oppor­tu­ni­ties and plea­sures. This “spirit” became doc­u­mented as The Spirit of Sigma Chi. Though The Spirit calls for men who are inher­ently “dif­fer­ent,” it is expected that the mem­bers, in their dif­fer­ences, remain respon­si­ble, hon­or­able, gen­tle­manly, friendly—indeed all those char­ac­ter­is­tics that are also listed in The Jor­dan Stan­dard.

Almost 160 years later, Sigma Chi has grown to over 300,000 ini­ti­ates and 240 chap­ters encom­pass­ing North Amer­ica — one of the largest and old­est col­lege fra­ter­ni­ties in exis­tence. The legacy of the Friend­ship, Jus­tice, and Learn­ing that our Founders forged still holds as true today as it did so long ago at Old Miami.