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.