Sigma Alpha Epsilon was founded March 9, 1856 at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Its eight founders
included five seniors. Noble Leslie DeVotie, John Barratt Rudulph, Nathan Elams Cockrell, John Webb Kerr, and Wade Foster, and three juniors, Samuel Marion Dennis, Abner Edwin Patton and Thomas Chappell Cook. Their leader was DeVotie who had written the ritual, devised the grip and chosen the name. The badge was designed by Rudulph. Of all existing fraternities today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only one founded in the ante-bellum South.
Founded in a time of growing and intense sectional feeling, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, although it determined at the outset to extend to other colleges, confined its growth to the southern states. Extension was vigorous, however, and by the end of 1857 the fraternity counted seven chapters. Its first national convention met in the summer of 1858 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with four of its eight chapters in attendance. By the time of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, fifteen chapters had been established.
The fraternity had fewer than four hundred members when the Civil War began. Of those, 369 went to war for the Confederacy and seven fought with the Union forces. Every member of the chapters at Hampden-Sydney, Georgia Military Institute, Kentucky Military Institute an d Oglethorpe University fought for the gray. Members from the Columbian College, William and Mary and Bethel (KY) were in both armies. Seventy members of the fraternity lost their lives in the War, including Noble Leslie DeVotie, who is officially recorded in the annals of the War as the first man on either side to give his live.
The miracle in the history of Sigma Alpha Epsilon is that it survived that great sectional conflict. when the smoke of the battle had cleared, only one chapter, at tiny Columbian College in Washington, D.C., survived, and it died soon thereafter.
When a few of the young veterans returned to the Georgia Military Institute and found their little college burned to the ground, they decided to go to Athens, Georgia, to enter the state university there. It vas the founding of the University of Georgia chapter at the end of 1865 that led to the fraternity's revival. Soon other chapters came back to life, and in 1867 the first post-war convention was held at Nashville, Tennessee, where a half dozen revived chapters planned the fraternity's future growth.
The Reconstruction years were cruel to the South, and southern colleges and their fraternities shared in the general malaise of the region. In the 1870s and early 1880s more than a score of new chapters were formed, some of them in exceedingly frail institutions. Older chapters died as fast as new ones were established. By 1886 the fraternity had charted 49 chapters, but scarcely a dozen could be called active. Two of the 49 were in the North. After much discussion and not a little dissent, the first northern chapter had been established at Pennsylvania College, now Gettysburg College, in 1883, and a second was placed at Mt. Union College in Ohio two years later.
It was in 1886 that things took a turn for the better. That autumn a 16-year-old youngster by the name of Harry Bunting entered Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee, and was initiated by the young Tennessee Zeta chapter there that had previously initiated two of his brothers. When Sigma Alpha Epsilon took in Harry Bunting, it caught a comet by the tail.
In just eight years, under the enthusiastic guidance of Harry Bunting and his younger brother, George, Sigma Alpha Epsilon experienced a renaissance. Together they prodded SAE chapters to enlarge their membership; they wrote encouraging articles in the fraternity's quarterly journal, The Record, promoting better chapter standards; and above all they undertook an almost incredible program of expansion of the fraternity, resurrecting old chapters in the South (including the mother chapter at Alabama) and founding new ones in the North and West. In an explosion of growth, the Buntings single-handedly were responsible for nearly fifty chapters of SAE.
When Harry Bunting founded the Northwestern University chapter in 1894, he initiated as a charter member William Collin Levere, a remarkable young man whose enthusiasm for the fraternity matched Bunting's. To Levere Bunting passed the torch of leadership, and for the next three decades it was the spirit of "Billy" Levere that dominated SAE and brought the fraternity to maturity.
"Billy" did everything. He was twice elected national president, served as the fraternity's first full-time executive secretary and chapter visitation officer (1912-27), edited its quarterly magazine and several editions of the catalog and directory of membership and published a monumental three volume history of the fraternity in 1911. It is small wonder than when Levere died February 22, 1927, the fraternity's supreme council decided to name their new national headquarters building the Levere Memorial Temple. Construction of the Temple, an immense Gothic structure located a stone's throw from Lake Michigan and across from the Northwestern University campus, was started in 1929, and the building was dedicated at Christmastime, 1930.
When the supreme council met regularly in the early 1930s at the Temple, educator John O. Moseley, the fraternity's national president, lamented that "we have in the Temple a magnificent school-house. Why can we not have a school?" Accordingly, the economic depression notwithstanding, in the summer of 1935 the fraternity's first leadership school was held under the direction of Dr. Moseley. The first such workshop in the fraternity world, it was immensely successful, and today nearly every fraternity holds such a school. The leadership is unquestionably the best service SAE provides to its undergraduates who come to Evanston in regimental numbers each year.
It was probably John Moseley more than any other whose leadership carried Sigma Alpha Epsilon forward during the next twenty years until his untimely death in 1955. The last years of his life he served the fraternity as its executive secretary, capping a distinguished academic career that had included two college presidencies.
Since the Second World War the fraternity has grown much larger, and it has changed in a number of ways, some quite obvious and others quite subtle Its growth in chapters and membership has been quite spectacular, and its total number of initiates continues to be the higher in the fraternity world. More than a hundred chapter charters have been granted in 45 years. A few chapters have died or have been suspended, but a number of older ones have been revived, including two pre-Civil War chapters (Baylor and Oglethorpe) The number of undergraduate members in each chapter has remained remarkably steady, averaging approximately seventy men each.
Qualitative changes in recent decades have been profound. Alongside their colleges chapters have democratized. Membership today is for more heterogeneous than it was a generation ago as chapters have welcomed increasing numbers of men from religious, ethnic and racial minorities, enriching chapters with an unprecedented cultural diversity. One has but to peruse the roster of the 600 or so delegates at the annual Leadership School to confirm the dimensions of change.
The fraternity enjoyed the "happy days" of the 1950s, endured to survive the campus revolt of the 1960s and early 1970s, and it tried to steer an even coarse in the turbulence that marked the late 1970s and the 198Os. Together with its fellow collegiate Greek-letter societies it wrestles today with problems attendant upon risk management, the war against hazing, alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct rife on our campuses. Never before have the challenges been so great or the opportunities so rich. Accordingly the fraternity has undertaken a thorough program of reform and rejuvenation, seeking to assist its undergraduate members to make a reaffirmation of faith in their best, most wholesome traditions while seeking to adapt creatively to a new and invigorating college climate. Sigma Alpha Epsilon looks to a future full of promise.
In its early days the government of the fraternity was vested in one chapter, designated the Grand Chapter, which was responsible only to the general convention. In 1886 this plan was replaced by government by a Supreme Council of six members, later reduced to five, and the creation of regional units called provinces, each presided over by an Archon. After 1920 a Board of Trustees was created to manage the fraternity's endowment funds. For many years national conventions were held annually, but since 1894 they have met biennially In alternate years province conventions meet, and at the present time there are twenty-eight provinces in the United States and Canada. Employment of a full-time executive secretary was authorized by the Nashville national convention in 1912.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon's chapters are on the whole well housed. One hundred sixteen of the undergraduate chapters own their own homes, and a number of others are housed in college-owned buildings.
The first chapter of the fraternity to have a house of its own was at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. In order to get the funds to start this project the members contracted to carry the university mail all through one winter. The money earned helped build their house.
In 1904 the fraternity erected a building at Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as a memorial to Noble Leslie DeVotie and the other seven founders. Later a chapter house was attached to it, and the entire structure served for many years as a home for the original chapter This was replaced in 1953 by a larger structure on a new site and was dedicated at the fraternity's centennial celebration on March 9, 1956.
The fraternity's national headquarters is maintained at the Levere Memorial Temple in Evanston Illinois. Honoring all the members of the fraternity who have served their countries on land or sea or in the air since 1856, it was dedicated on December 28, 1930. The temple also contains what is considered the most complete library pertaining to Greek-letter fraternities and sororities. The museum on the second floor is devoted to a collection of interesting historical photographs, pictures and collections from private sources. The walls of the building are hung with oil portraits of distinguished members. The basement contains the Panhellenic Room, in the ceiling of which are the coats-of-arms of forty college fraternities and seventeen sororities, while the niches on the north side contain large murals showing the founding of Phi Beta Kappa in 1776 and that of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 1856, together with other murals depicting episodes in the history of the fraternity. The most outstanding mural in the Panhellenic Room is the reproduction of Raphael's "School of Athens," painted by Johannes Waller in the 1930s.
The building continues to be used for ceremonies and receptions by the various fraternities and sororities and honor societies at Northwestern University. National fraternities frequently meet there in convention or conclave. The impressive chapel of the Temple, with its soaring vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows by Tiffany, is used regularly for religious services and is the scene of many weddings of Evanstonians and members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In fact, the entire building is open to the public for patriotic, religious and educational purposes, while the library is also free to scholars seeking material pertaining to the history of any or all college fraternities and college organizations.
The badge of the fraternity is diamond-shaped, a little less than an inch long and bears on a background of nazarene blue enamel the device of Minerva, with a lion crouching at her feet, above which are the letters SAE in gold. Below are the letters FA on a white ground in a wreath The colors are royal purple and old gold. The flower is the violet. The colors of the pledge pin are nazarene blue, white and gold with FA in letters surrounded by a wreath.
The flag is royal purple with a corner of old gold, the size and shape of the corner being the same as the blue field in the flag of the United States. Upon the gold field appear the letters FA in royal purple In the center of the purple field which constitutes the rest of the flag are the letters SAE in gold. Immediately beneath the gold corner are the eight golden stars in a circle, one for each founder.
The catalogue of the fraternity has been published twelve times: in 1859, compiled by the North Carolina chapter and printed in Washington; in 1870, 1872, 1877, with a supplement in 1880, 1886, 1893, 1904, 1918, 1929, 1981, 1986 and 1991. In 1906 was begun the publication annually of letters from the chapters accompanied by chapter lists forming a catalogue. A manual of the fraternity, edited by Dr. George H. Kress was published at Los Angeles in 1904. A songbook, originally published in 1891, has passed through nine editions, the latest issued in 1991. In 1911 a detailed history of the fraternity was published in three large octavo volumes with many illustrations, The work of William C. Levere, it sold out in less than a month. Research for a centennial history of the fraternity, carrying Levere's history forward from 1910 to 1956, was undertaken in 1956 by archivist Lauren Foreman. In 1972 the fraternity's historian, Joseph W. Walt., completed and saw to the publication of The Era of Levere, a history of SAE from 1910 to 1930, covering the two decades when fraternities were at their zenith. A second volume by Walt is in preparation, covering the years from 1930 to 1956.
In 1912 William C. Levere brought out Who's Who in Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a series of biographical sketches of living men prominent in the fraternity. Among other books are A Paragraph History of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which passed through eleven editions between 1912 and 1946, The Original Minutes of Alabama Mu, The Memory Book of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, William C. Levere's lengthy account of the First World War, Sigma Alpha Epsilon in the World War, The Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pledge Manual, edited by 0. K. Quivey, and The Phoenix, the fraternity's present pledge manual, the most recent edition of which was published in 1988, edited by Joseph W. Walt.
The fraternity's magazine, The Record, was founded in 1880 by Major Robert H. Wildberger of Kentucky Military Institute chapter. It is published quarterly, and at least one issue per year is sent to all living initiates of the fraternity. Its circulation of more than 140,000 is thought to be the largest among fraternity publications.
In 1891 Harry and George Bunting started a publication they called The Hustler, a secret, or at least private, magazine. In 1894 its name was changed to Phi Alpha, and it is a regularly issued secondary magazine of the fraternity. Today The Hustler is a publication of the annual Leadership School. Every chapter in the fraternity publishes a regular newspaper for its alumni and friends.
1856 Sheridan Road, P.O. Box 1856, Evanston, Illinois 60204-1856. Phone: (847) 475-1856. Email: SAENational@msn. com
Reported deceased membership 38,536. Active chapters 212. Inactive chapters 44. Colonies 9. Active alumni associations 175. Total number of initiates 249,762. Chapter Undergraduates 9,700.