A History of Fraternities, Pt. II


Founders of Kappa Kappa Gamma, one of the first Greek letter women’s organizations.

In my last post, I discussed the history of the earliest beginnings of fraternities, through about the early 1800s with the founding of three fraternities at Union College. Now, we will move forward and go into more discussion about how today’s fraternities and sororities were founded and hit on some milestones.

In 1851, the women of Georgia Wesleyan created the first women’s secret society, “secret sisterhood.” Later in 1862, the Morrill Act made it possible for new western states to establish colleges for their citizens. The new land-grant institutions, which emphasized agriculture and mechanic arts, opened opportunities to many farmers and working people who were previously excluded from higher education. Faculty welcomed the founding of student governments and the U.S. population began diversifying and this was reflected in college populations as well.

“Sorosis” was founded in 1867 at Monmouth College in Illinois and began colonizing other chapters from the get-go. The organization was considered to be the first women’s fraternity. The Sorosis charter was relinquished in 1884 due to the prohibition of secret societies, but in 1888, they became Pi Beta Phi, a women’s fraternity still in existence today. 

In 1870, the first women’s fraternities with Greek letter names were formed. Kappa Alpha Theta was founded at DePauw University in Indiana and three months later, Kappa Kappa Gamma was founded at Monmouth College. Kappa Kappa Gamma and Pi Beta Phi are now referred to as the “Monmouth Duo.”

Today, there is a national group that acts as a governing board of sorts for all 26 sororities called the National Panhellenic Conference. It was founded in 1902 and began with 10 initial organizations. The first attempt at establishing such an organization is 1891 and earlier historical documents reference attempts at “rushing and pledging agreements” among organizations at different institutions.

Similarly, the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference (NIC) consists of 74 organizations. At its founding in 1910 they had 26 groups on board.

In addition to traditional fraternities and sororities, there are also Multi-Cultural Groups. Although racial and religious restrictions have been abolished in all NIC and NPC organizations, the new generation of “culture interest” organizations has arisen to serve the interests of communities whose number in the traditional Greek system are historically small and dispersed. These groups are mainly for racially, culturally, or religiously different groups that wanted to develop their own fraternities.

Alpha Phi Alpha Inc. was the first black Greek organization and was founded on December 4, 1906 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In January of 1908, Alpha Kappa Alpha became America’s first Greek-letter organization for African-American college women. The first Latino fraternity is Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity and was founded in 1931 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

Now we have a basic knowledge of the history of fraternities and sororities in the United States. In my next post, I will zero in a little more and focus on the history of Greek organizations at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A History of Fraternities, Pt. I

Most of the collegiate-based fraternities and sororities in existence today in the United States were founded in the mid-1800s to late-1800s. My sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, will celebrate 143 years this October. But, the history that led up to their Civil War-era founding dates is much further back in history than you might expect.

 Fraternities and sororities are secret societies. We have secret rituals, handshakes, door knocks, passwords and more. Secret societies find their beginnings in ancient Egyptian mystery cults. These cults, which would be popular during the Hellenistic Age (323-330 B.C.) were formed to provide emotional religion that later would be an important part of Greek and Roman life.

One popular festival during the Greek and Roman ages was the Eleusinian. This Athenian religious festival was held in honor of the grain and fertility goddess Demeter, whose Greek name means “spelt mother” (spelt is a variety of wheat). The cult held this important festival in the town of Eleusis.

Fraternal societies found a new home in American colleges with the Social and Benevolent Order of Freemasonry (Masons). Freemasons had already founded several chapters by 1776. They began as an outlet from an otherwise restrictive atmosphere and created an avenue for discussion, thought and social activities. Other fraternal groups that popped up were literary societies and then secret college fraternities.

In 1750, the Flat Hat Society was founded as the first secret society at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. FHC was very similar to literary societies but social activities were also included as part of their intended purpose. Thomas Jefferson is recorded as a member but since 1772 there has been no record of their existence.

In 1776, Phi Beta Kappa was founded, also at the College of William and Mary. Many of their traditions were similar to those of the Masons including an oath of secrecy, a badge, mottos in Greek and Latin, a code of laws, an elaborate form of initiation, a seal, and a special handshake. They had their members live together in a lodge and also had new chapters in other locations. In 1831 their secrets were published at Harvard so they then became solely an honor society. Phi Beta Kappa remains the most widely distributed Greek-letter society.

In 1825, eight years after Phi Beta Kappa hit Union College, nine students got together and formed the Kappa Alpha Society, which is now the oldest social fraternity. Two Years later, other Union students started two more of their own fraternities, Sigma Phi Society and Delta Phi. The three are known today as the Union Triad.

In my next post, we will discuss “Era II” fraternities and also discuss the founding of women’s fraternities and sororities. 

Social Media Final Project Editorial Calendar

For my final project, I am going to cover my sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma and will localize it by focusing in on my chapter at UNM, the Gamma Beta chapter.


Week One:

  • A History of Fraternities
  • History of Kappa Kappa Gamma
  • History of Gamma Beta chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma

Week Two:

  • Philanthropy
  • Programs
  • Chapter organization and member involvement

Week Three:

  • I will come up with more as I write the other posts and figure out how this project is going to work! 🙂