The following remarks were given at the bicentennial celebration of the American college fraternity at the 1976 NIC Annual Meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Fraternities are uniquely American. Although European schools have clubs and societies, nothing parallel to the American fraternity system exists elsewhere.
The first fraternity was begun at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on December 5, 1776, when a group of members formed a secret society which they called Phi Beta Kappa, after the first initials of their Fraternity/Sorority motto: "Love of wisdom, the guide of life." Phi Beta Kappa existed as a social group for the first 50 years of its life, and chapters were established at other schools, including Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. It did not become the scholastic honor society we know today until after the anti-Masonic and anti- secret-society agitation of the 1820s.
But Phi Beta Kappa set the tone and instituted many of the characteristics which are considered "typical" of fraternities: a Greek-letter name, a Fraternity/Sorority motto, an oath of secrecy, a badge, a ritual, a seal and a secret grip or handshake. (Undoubtedly the Fraternity/Sorority motto and Fraternity/Sorority name arose from the fact that all these members studied Fraternity/Sorority as an academic requirement.)
Other groups that were founded shortly thereafter emulated the characteristics of Phi Beta Kappa in most respects, and fraternity chapters were established at many of our early colleges. Of the 63 men's fraternities that are now members of the National Interfraternity Conference, 36 were founded in the 19th century.
Education in the 18th and 19th centuries was rigid, structured and dogmatic. Fraternities filled a need in the lives of these young members by providing friendships and recreation. Although clubs, particularly literary societies, flourished at this time, most of them were too large and too specialized to provide variety and to foster close friendships.
When young women were finally admitted to what had previously been all-male colleges, they too wanted "something of their own." Consequently, after the Civil War several women's fraternities appeared within a few months of each other. I.C. Sorosis (coined from the Latin word "soror" meaning "sister) was patterned after the men's groups and was established at Monmouth College in Illinois on April 28, 1867. It later took the name Pi Beta Phi, after the initials of its secret motto. Kappa Kappa Gamma followed I.C. Sorosis at Monmouth in March 1870, but Kappa Alpha Theta was founded as the first Greek-lettered woman's fraternity on January 27, 1870, at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. At about the same time and without any prior knowledge of the existence of the others, Alpha Phi was founded at Syracuse University in New York in September 1872, and Delta Gamma was founded at Lewis School in Mississippi in December 1873. All of these groups were incorporated as "women's fraternities," because at that time the word "sorority" did not exist. This term was created for Gamma Phi Beta in 1874 because their advisor, a professor of Latin at Syracuse University, thought the term "fraternity" ill-advised for a group of young ladies.
By the turn of the century, ten women's fraternities had established themselves as national groups, and in 1902 they organized what is now called the National Panhellenic Conference. Today the conference has 26 member groups.
In 1909, 26 men's groups founded the National Interfraternity Conference, and it now has a membership of 63 general fraternities. Not all of these fraternities are designated by Fraternity/Sorority names, exceptions being Acacia, Farm House and Triangle.
In 1930, eight national Greek-letter sororities and fraternities united to form the National Pan- Hellenic Council. Five of these traditionally black groups were founded at Howard University: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority in 1908, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1913, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority in 1913, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity in 1914 and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity in 1911. The remaining sorority in the council, Sigma Gamma Rho, was founded in Indianapolis in 1922 and granted its first collegiate charter at Butler University in 1929. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity was founded at Indiana University in 1911, and the oldest NPHC fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, was founded at Cornell in 1906.
American fraternities were created as social organizations, and they retain this characteristic to the present day. Even the so-called "professional" societies, which select their members from a particular discipline, have a distinct social function.
As you arrive at Monmouth, there are many uncertainties about what you want from your college experience. It is likely you will have many questions and perhaps even some hesitations about taking part in the Greek system at Monmouth College. The questions and answers below will provide you a better understanding of Greek life. Recruitment is also a great time to learn about Greek life without any obligation to join a Greek organization.
These links are provided by the Greek Life office at Monmouth College for your assistance:
Should I go through Greek recruitment if I'm not sure I want to be Greek?
This is a standard question we hear all the time. You don't have to be sure of your plans to go through recruitment. This is a period set aside to help you make an informed choice about Greek affiliation. You'll have the opportunity to visit each fraternity and compare what each has to offer in relation to your needs and personality. Each group sets itself apart and recruitment is the time to find your niche. If nothing else, give yourself the opportunity to meet new people and experience the tangible benefits of Greek Life and its possible outcomes for you.
Can Greek life help students thrive academically?
A primary purpose of Greek organizations is to encourage and develop high scholastic achievement among its members. Scholastic success is made easier with help from other members, study with brothers who are majors or have taken classes in the discipline, workshops on study skills, test-taking strategies, time management and class registration suggestions and assistance. Example: Consistently, Sigma Phi Epsilon at Monmouth has a rich tradition of being the top fraternity on campus attaining a grade-point average above the all-male and all-campus GPA.
Are there leadership opportunities in Greek life?
Members of Greek life, and SigEp in particular, are well represented and hold numerous leadership positions in every facet of college life, including student activities, academic honor societies and special-interest groups. In addition, every member is a leader within his or her Greek chapter, whether serving as an officer, on a committee or as a participant. The valuable leadership skills learned will assist members well beyond their college years. Examples: Sigma Phi Epsilon is the only fraternity or sorority to directly fund leadership and speaker programs for Greek Life through our Mini-Grants program. The Sigma Phi Epsilon Alumni Association is a proud believer that this financial support helps to strengthen the experiences of Greek members, irrespective of their chapter affiliations. AND; John Kaiser, SigEp in the above video served as President of the Student Body in 2009-10 and named MC's Lincoln Laureate last spring. Each year, an outstanding senior who exhibits overall excellence in curricular and extracurricular programs is selected from each of the four-year, degree-granting institutions of higher learning in Illinois! Jack Clifford also appears in the video!
Do Greeks participate in community service?
Through the support of local and national philanthropies, fraternities promote ideals that will enhance a member's college experience. Charities and service organizations, both local and national, have long depended on the dedication and generous time contributed to the community by fraternities. SigEp remains an active community caregiver in various projects and concerns. Example: Service hours by each of the Greek organizations runs into hundreds of hours annually. If we aren't engaged in an activity which interests you, become our leader in this important enterprise.
What types of social activities do Greeks sponsor?
Greeks sponsor a number of member-only activities such as after-game parties, date parties, formals, Greek Week, mixers with other student organizations and other special events and activities. One of the benefits of Greek affiliation is the opportunity to meet and interact with members of other student organizations.
What is the time commitment involved in belonging to a Greek organization?
There is no minimum or maximum time a student must contribute to the fraternity experience other than attendance at the weekly chapter meeting and programs sponsored by the fraternity (you'll know in advance when events are happening). Through involvement with the chapter, you will learn to manage your time and balance academics, work and other commitments.
Does a student's Greek experience end at graduation?
No. When moving to a new city, changing jobs, or returning to campus, a student's Greek affiliation will provide a lifelong bond with many individuals. Alumni members assist students in their careers. As a student prepares for entry into the working world, alumni can assist in job placement.