Early Fraternities at Georgia Tech

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The earliest fraternities were modeled after literary societies on college campuses. These societies started in the 1770’s and were successful until the Civil War. Almost every college student was a member of one of these societies and in some cases, students were assigned to a literary society. Members debated different issues at the time and generally became friends. When fraternities were first created, they were considered private versions of literary societies. The first Greek letter fraternity is known to be the Kappa Alpha Society. It was founded at Union college on November 26, 1825. In 1826, an event involving the Freemasons took place that caused strong sentiments against secret societies. Since the general public did not know much about fraternities at the time, many people thought fraternities should be banned altogether on college campuses. Some fraternity members faced expulsion from their university in some cases. However, some campuses thought fraternities promoted a strong sense of brotherhood and the fraternities spread to these locations. Many other fraternities were created, bringing together a group of young men who shared the same ideals. Competition fueled the early fraternities to attract better members and to become better than their counterparts. Fraternities at Georgia Tech are very similar to those in the past. They still are based on the same principles on which they were originally founded and form a group that will eventually become brothers for life[1]

KA Fraternity House at Georgia Tech

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Fraternities at Georgia Tech

When the Georgia Institute of Technology opened in 1888, many states believed that fraternities did not belong on public campuses and some even went as far as to ban Greek organizations at public universities altogether, as was stated earlier. Georgia Tech on the other hand, believed that fraternities could serve a worthy purpose and allowed Alpha Tau Omega to create a chapter (Beta Iota) on campus when Georgia Tech started[2] The President of Tech at the time, President Hopkins, became an honorary member of ATO during his time at Emory so he personally helped ATO gain entrance to Georgia Tech. After receiving word of President Hopkins’ attitude towards Greek Organizations, many other fraternities began to seek representation at Tech and by 1900, four other fraternities had established chapters on Georgia Tech’s campus: Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Kappa Sigma, Sigma Nu, and Kappa Alpha[3]

Gaining Entrance

Sigma Alpha Epsilon gained their charter to start a chapter at Georgia Tech in 1889 and officially established themselves in 1890. George Freeman, the younger brother of two SAE brothers at the University of Georgia, had worked frivolously to develop a good relationship with members of the Georgia Tech staff and to urge them to allow him to develop an SAE chapter on campus. With these relationships and help from members of the University of Georgia chapter, George Freeman, James W. Bridge, and Gilham H. Morrow were initiated and established SAE’s 59th chapter. Within a few days, six new members were initiated, giving the Georgia Phi chapter of SAE ten members. The early days of SAE at Georgia Tech, like many newly established fraternity chapters, were not its best. However, the chapter survived and began to prosper in its later years[4] With many other fraternities competing to establish themselves on the newly established campus, the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon played an important role in influencing what other fraternities were allowed charters. SAE favored the establishment of Kappa Sigma because they felt that they shared many of the same ideals. Therefore, several members of SAE at the time gathered a group of Georgia Tech students who were thought to be able to improve Greek life on campus and sent them to two of the Kappa Sigma chapters (Alpha Beta and Alpha Iota) on nearby campuses. The nearby Kappa Sigma chapters quickly initiated these men in order to establish themselves at Georgia Tech before other fraternities. Although Georgia Tech did not like the way these events took place, Kappa Sigma was allowed entrance to Tech in 1895 but had to wait until 1898 to receive an official charter[5]

Sigma Nu gained entrance to Georgia Tech in 1896, in a similar fashion as the other fraternities. Members from nearby Sigma Nu chapters came to Georgia Tech to initiate male students that were already enrolled at the institute. W.L. Kemp, a Sigma Nu brother at State University, led this process and the first initiation ceremony of the Gamma Alpha chapter on November 25, 1896[6]

Chapter Meetings

Fraternities at Georgia Tech first held chapter on Saturday nights on Spring Street (almost where I-75 and I-85 run today). All other students at the time were not permitted to leave campus at these hours. When fraternity brothers left for their meetings, someone in their dormitory had to record their time of departure and when they returned. This was done to make sure that the Greeks did not do other activities during this time. By 1903, Georgia Tech had a large increase in enrollment and needed to also increase the number of fraternities on campus to satisfy the new students. In 1904, three new chapters were created at Tech. Despite these chapters being new at Georgia Tech, they were still not in worse shape financially than the other fraternities. The fraternities at Tech did not have strong financial support. Since the chapters at Tech were new, the few alumni that they had were young and could not afford to donate money to their fraternity and the school itself did not offer the fraternities money. Also, many of the chapters had bought a house or were trying to buy a house. This gave them little money to work with to become financially stable. By 1905, Kappa Sigma, along with their house, owned $50.00 worth of furniture and only had $3.45 cash for other uses[7]

Social Events

When the fraternities became fairly well established at Georgia Tech, they started to become involved in social activities on campus. Like fraternities today, most of their social interest involved girls. Since Georgia Tech did not admit females at the time, the fraternity men had to look elsewhere to meet them. In this case, they set their sights on the young women at Washington Seminary and began holding social events for them. Another social aspect that fraternities began to become involved in was athletics. Many of the fraternity members around the turn of the century were also members of the Georgia Tech baseball and football teams and many of the other, more established fraternities on other campuses had already created athletics teams. With these two facts taken into account, it was only a matter of time before this Greek tradition had reached Georgia Tech. The fraternities originally began creating baseball teams that became quite competitive with one another. These games began to cause rivalries to start between the different fraternities that played against each other. This lead to several cases of vandalism but nothing incredibly serious took place[8]

Conclusion

Today, Georgia Tech is home to 33 Greek fraternities, both social and academic. The fraternities are designed to bring young men together that have the same set of ideals and values. Luckily, Georgia Tech allowed these organizations to become a part of the institute. These organizations have helped students adjust to the college life and become more well-rounded adults by learning things that they can not necessarily learn in a classroom.

References

  1. History of North American College Fraternities and Sororities. In "Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia". Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_North_American_college_fraternities_and_sororities
  2. Panhellenic Retreat. In "SmartTech". Retrieved from http://smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/11373/clough_105.pdf?sequence=1
  3. The Establishment of Fraternities on the Georgia Tech Campus Prior to 1905. In "SmartTech". Retrieved from http://smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/7296/est_of_fraternitities.pdf?sequence=1
  4. History of SAE. In "Sigma Alpha Epsilon". Retrieved from http://www.sae.gatech.edu/HistoryGeorgiaPhi.php
  5. The Establishment of Fraternities on the Georgia Tech Campus Prior to 1905. In "SmartTech". Retrieved from http://smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/7296/est_of_fraternitities.pdf?sequence=1
  6. The Establishment of Fraternities on the Georgia Tech Campus Prior to 1905. In "SmartTech". Retrieved from http://smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/7296/est_of_fraternitities.pdf?sequence=1
  7. The Establishment of Fraternities on the Georgia Tech Campus Prior to 1905. In "SmartTech". Retrieved from http://smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/7296/est_of_fraternitities.pdf?sequence=1
  8. The Establishment of Fraternities on the Georgia Tech Campus Prior to 1905. In "SmartTech". Retrieved from http://smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/7296/est_of_fraternitities.pdf?sequence=1
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