The History of Sigma Chi By William Lewis Lockwood

Sigma Chi was founded on June 28, 1855, by seven undergraduate men at Miami University. They felt that the principles of “fraternity” were crucial to the overall college experience, but were dissatisfied with the unbalance of loyalties and ideals within the fraternities which existed at their university. Six of the Sigma Chi founders were members of the 12-man Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Miami University; when a controversy arose involving a member of the fraternity which could not be resolved, the membership was divided equally. The actions from this controversy led to the founding of Sigma Chi.

In December, 1855, William Lewis Lockwood wrote his feelings about the fraternity he had helped create. He was the only “outsider”; he had not been a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity as the other six had been. On January 5, 1856, he spoke to his six brothers:

The Cornell chapter conducted the ceremony. At its conclusion the banquet was held in the new chapter house of Alpha Phi, and the big clock on the Cornell campus chimed for three o’clock before the good time ended. A few hours later the seven new Sigma Chis, perhaps somewhat the worse for the ordeal but exceedingly happy, returned to Hobart College to labor for the success of their new chapter and of Sigma Chi.

“I look back over the few short months since our union of kindred hearts and minds was brought forth. The offspring of love and good intent!. . .Many difficulties will beset our path, but like David we must go forth alone to fight the Philistines, and like him we will conquer and shall be the best of old Miami’s sons.

But in order to become so, we each and every one must struggle upward and onward. Let us strive to be rich and great, not in lands and money, not with the vulgar throng, but rich in mental worth, great among the intellectual. . .and good, that ‘thy spirit shall come at times to the dreams of men to settle peace within their souls.’ Let us spare no labor, nor be sparing of toil. Let us give our whole strength to the work, and endeavor to fill with honor the place where we are.”

Lockwood concluded his thoughts on that January evening with these prophetic words:

“And when the green on our graves has mouldered away, some gray warrior sitting by night at the blazing fire will tell thy deeds to his sons, and they shall bless and admire the men of old.”

THE CONTROVERSY: In the mid-19th century, an important aspect of college life was participation in student scholastic and debating societies. One of the most prominent at Miami was the Erodelphian Literary Society. When time came to elect Poet (President) for this prestigious society, a dispute arose in Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity (Dekes) over who should hold this position. Several members of this society were also members of the Dekes and one of its members had been nominated for Poet. However, four of the 12-man Deke fraternity would not support the nomination of a fellow member because they knew he had no poetic abilities. These four supported another man who was not a Deke. James Caldwell, Isaac Jordan, Benjamin Runkle, and Franklin Scobey refused to vote for their fraternity brother simply because he was a brother; Thomas Bell and Daniel Cooper agreed with these four and thus split the fraternity in half on the issue.

THE BREAK: Neither side would “give in,” resulting in pressure from alumni. These “recalcitrant six,” as they were called, would not be maneuvered by alumni; thus, the alumni judged the six guilty of violating “brotherly unity,” and the decision was made to expel two of the rebels. The alumni were amazed that the six stuck together. When confronted by an alumnus, Runkle, speaking for the other five, stepped forward, removed his Deke pin, threw it on the table, and shouted, “I didn’t join this fraternity to be anyone’s tool. And that, sir, is my answer.” The six abruptly left and were later expelled from the fraternity. But they were already making plans to create a fraternity of their own, based on noble principles and ideals.

THE FOUNDING OF SIGMA CHI: These six men wisely associated themselves with William Lockwood, a highly intelligent student with valuable business sense; he became the individual who set up the plan for the new fraternity. They formulated the first constitution and initiation. Because they believed that the existing fraternities did not emulate the true feeling of “fraternity” and that the other fraternities’ ideals apparently meant little, they established a new fraternity, whose ideals and foundations were symbolized by the badge they designed—the distinctive White Cross. Sigma Chi’s ideals of friendship, justice and learning would be loftier and would evoke standards by which a man could improve his life while working closely with others from different backgrounds, with divergent ambitions and diverse abilities. The founders themselves, it is felt, personified these ideals. Sigma Chi was officially founded on June 28, 1855.