History can be presented in many forms. It can be written or oral. This historical outlook on the trials and triumphs of our Brotherhood was taken from articles which have appeared in the Garnet & White, from personal letters in the Fraternity’s archives, and from personal discussions with Brothers who shared their stories with us.
The year was 1894. Grover Cleveland was the President of the United States. The country was starting to recover from the Economic Panic of 1893, which seriously jeopardized the monetary and fiscal policies of both the country and its individuals.
There were approximately 117 students attending Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Most of the students attending Trinity College were from preparatory schools located in New England. The college system of that day was much different than today’s system of higher education. Not every man went to college and those who did were expected to help shape the future of our country.
The Reverend Paul Ziegler had attended Trinity College and received his degree in 1872. While a student at Trinity, Rev. Ziegler was a member of the local Beta Beta Society. In today’s terms Beta Beta is a fraternity, but in that era it was a literary society. In the 1890s, Reverend Ziegler and his family lived in Detroit, Michigan, and he wanted to send his oldest son, Carl, to his alma mater. This made Carl a unique student at Trinity. Instead of an easterner who had attended a prep school in New England, he was a Midwesterner. He was attending an eastern school that associated itself with schools such as Yale and Brown in the state.
Upon entering Trinity, he became a friend with William Rouse and former pupil Herbert Sherriff. Both Carl and Herbert were not invited to join Reverend Ziegler’s fraternity, Beta Beta, which had now become the Beta Beta chapter of Psi Upsilon Fraternity. As a result, Reverend Ziegler wanted to found a Greek letter society on a basis that was distinct from that of existing societies. Reverend Ziegler wrote his beliefs about what the new brotherhood should stand for and portray in the “Exoteric Manual of Alpha Chi Rho.” This document, the first Exoteric Manual of Alpha Chi Rho, was a non-secret statement of the principles of the new Fraternity. The three men who accepted the first manual were Paul and Carl Ziegler, and Herbert Sherriff. Detroit could be considered the birthplace of Alpha Chi Rho.
When Ziegler and Sherriff returned to school, they interested four other men in joining them in their venture. All four had either refused or been refused membership in the existing fraternities at Trinity. Most all of the fraternities were part of some old and prestigious national organization. There were many doubts that such a new group had any hope of survival. Two of the four dropped out of the group, which left us with our five Revered Founders. On June 4, 1895, the first formal meeting was held. The four undergraduate men exchanged the vows of brotherhood in Ziegler’s room in Northam Towers on the Trinity campus.
A personal letter from Ziegler to Rouse relates that the name of the chapter, “PHI PSI”, came about because Ziegler thought it was a nice sounding name for a chapter. They needed a chapter name since it was planned from the very beginning that Alpha Chi Rho would spread to other campuses.
At the conclusion of the school year in 1897, Carl Ziegler and Herbert Sherriff finished their studies at Trinity. The Founders left the Brotherhood in the hands of 17 Brothers. They had become one of the largest fraternities on campus, having over one-sixth of the student body. They included the brightest scholars and athletes on the campus. The first Chapter hall was a rented room and the Chapter had an eating club, which cost $4.50 per week. At that time, the college did not provide meals, and it was left up to the students to form clubs, join fraternities or eat with a private family in town. In addition to our respected membership, Alpha Chi Rho was the first fraternity on the campus to accept local students or “townies” as members. At first Paul Ziegler was a businessman and pursued his ministry only after leaving the business field. He was a strong advocate of prohibition. William Rouse was the oldest student founder, while Carl Ziegler was the youngest. Rouse was the first President of the Phi Psi chapter and was considered to be quite intelligent. A sign in the Northam Tower room where our ritual was first performed stated “Chickens Roost High, But They Must Come Down” – obviously a statement which could be attributed to the attitudes of the existing fraternities on campus. William Rouse, first Phi Psi President, never met Paul Ziegler, even though Ziegler attended the Institutions of the Phi Chi and Phi Phi Chapters. Upon leaving Trinity, Carl Ziegler and William Eardeley were both living and working in New York. They became interested in expanding the Brotherhood to another campus and approached a man from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. After discussions with these two Founders and the acceptance by the Phi Psi Chapter (which had to approve all functions of each Chapter, especially chartering new groups), three men started the Phi Chi Chapter at Brooklyn Poly. The initiation fee was ten dollars, a considerable sum of money at that time. Spurred on by success, Eardeley, when in Philadelphia, approached a man of good standing at University of Pennsylvania. The man, Howard Long, class of 1900, thought that he was about to be attacked in the street when Eardeley first approached him. He rejected the proposal of starting a new fraternity on the Penn campus, especially one that was only in existence for less than one year and had only two chapters and no alumni of which to speak. However, Eardeley spoke to Long’s mother as well as to his Episcopalian minister. These discussions helped Long make his commitment to this new venture. Phi Phi was chartered with 18 members in 1896. As a side note, Eardeley’s full Christian name was William Appleby Eardeley-Thomas. When the Fraternity was founded, there were few rules or guidelines. Each chapter was left to develop their own rules. However, policies that were made had to be approved by the Brothers of the Phi Psi Chapter. This did not always make for easy times; it was not easy to get permission from Hartford when things happened in Philadelphia. Although the Brothers were able to travel to visit each other, transportation was neither quick nor cheap, and the communications were not always quick or secure enough for secrets of the Fraternity. Each chapter continued to grow and flourish, although some discontent was brewing among members who felt that the guidelines for membership were too stringent to live by. They also believed the Fraternity needed to associate itself with a larger, more prestigious fraternity. By this time, a newsletter for the Phi Psi Chapter was started that would later become the official Fraternity magazine, The Garnet & White. On June 23rd and 24th, the first convention was held in Hartford. Forty-one Brothers attended this first meeting. A President was elected, but to serve only for the duration of the Convention. This was Brother Eardeley. No new policies were adopted; all power remained with the mother chapter, Phi Psi. In 1899, Brother Burton S. Easton, Phi Phi 1898, interested two of his students at the University of Iowa in starting a chapter. Three students eventually were granted a Charter as the Phi Upsilon Chapter. This new Chapter was in a different region from the other three and had a different type of student. Communication across the country was difficult, but by the end of 1900 a fifth Chapter had been established by four men at Columbia College. Within our first five years, the Fraternity had held a convention and started a magazine (which was run by an editor from each chapter). Things looked promising for the Fraternity although many in the existing fraternity world looked upon them with disdain as upstarts and a group whose ideals were unattainable. Membership increased on all campuses and men, who were to lead Alpha Chi Rho through the next decades, pledged this new fraternity. As noted earlier, some of the first Brothers felt that the thoughts expressed in the original Exoteric Manual were too lofty, too constrictive and unattainable. They felt that the standards would hurt the future of the Fraternity by making it difficult to attract new men. They also wanted to more closely pattern the Fraternity after those in existence. This dissension led to discord among all Chapters in the Fraternity. A contingent of malcontents went about doing their best to destroy their Chapters and to foist their discontent onto the other Chapters. Upon hearing false news that Alpha Chi Rho no longer existed, the men who were known as the Phi Upsilon Chapter, abandoned their Charter since they felt that the Fraternity was dead. They immediately joined Kappa Sigma at the University of Iowa. The letter Upsilon has not been used in a Chapter name since that time, remembering the hard feelings created by the men of Phi Upsilon. News of this spread and seemed to confirm that Alpha Chi Rho was dead. During 1902, the only Chapter that really existed was Phi Psi, weakened by the turmoil, but determined not to die. Brothers such as Henry Blakeslee and James Wales, both of the Phi Psi Chapter, were two men bound and determined to make the Fraternity survive and prosper. It was decided that Alpha Chi Rho would stick to its principles and expel all those who were not willing to do so. This severely cut the membership of the Fraternity by almost one-half. Addressing the issue of our principles, Revered Founder Eardeley commented that: “Although benevolent men cannot do all the good they would, their duty is to do all the good they can.”
It was decided that more organization was needed to make the Fraternity work. The official duties of running the Fraternity as a whole had to be taken out of the hands of the undergraduates and put into the hands of graduates. A National Council was created to run the affairs of the Fraternity and to oversee expansion, although approval still had to come from each Chapter for a Charter to be granted. Fees were introduced. Brother Henry Blakeslee, Phi Phi 1898, was elected President of the Fraternity in 1903. We owe Brother Blakeslee much gratitude since he, along with Council member, Carlton Hayes, Phi Omega ’04, (later a United States Ambassador) created much of what is Alpha Chi Rho today. The Ritual was changed in 1903 when the Phi Alpha Chapter, formerly a member of the two-Chapter Fraternity of Psi Alpha Kappa, joined the ranks of Alpha Chi Rho. The Landmarks in the form we know today were introduced in 1905.
The chapters at Trinity, Brooklyn, Penn, Columbia and the new Lafayette Chapter, were once again all active and prospering in 1903. Under the guidance and self-examination of devoted Brothers, Alpha Chi Rho began to make an impact on their campuses.
Brother Blakeslee served as President from 1903 until 1908, which was the longest term of any Brother in the Fraternity. The “National Fraternity” was organized and prepared to spread the Brotherhood to campuses throughout the country. Looking back, it might be said that some of the Brothers who needed to approve all Charters were “school snobs”. They desired to have Alpha Chi Rho only at the best and most prestigious schools. This slowed expansion somewhat. “Slow but sure’, the original expansion policy, moved more surely than slowly and by 1909, Chapters were chartered at Dickinson College, Yale University (a sports rival of Trinity), Syracuse University, the University of Virginia, Washington & Lee and Cornell University, whose charter members included one Wilbur M. Walden. Alpha Chi Rho representatives attended a meeting of fraternities in New York City in 1909. At that time there were eleven Chapters, all in the East, that were still considered as “pie in the sky” idealists by some of the larger and older fraternities. At that meeting the National Interfraternity Conference (NIC) was founded and Alpha Chi Rho became a charter member. Alpha Chi Rho was one of the first fraternities to address such issues as hazing, alcohol abuse and scholarship. We have remained an active member of the NIC ever since, a record that not all fraternities, especially some of the largest, can claim.
The future looked very promising for Alpha Chi Rho. The country was flourishing while the storm clouds in Europe grew threatening. Expansion continued with Chapters chartered at Wesleyan and Allegheny, both schools with religious affiliations. We were growing regionally but not nationally; all of the Chapters only resided in four different states. With the acceptance of the Chi Delta local at the University of Illinois, expansion efforts were changed to focus on expanding to schools in the same athletic conferences or ones that were close by. Penn State was the next school to have an Alpha Chi Rho Chapter. By this time, U. S. President Woodrow Wilson could no longer keep us out of the war. The oldest Brother in the Fraternity was sixty years old and that was Reverend Ziegler. The majority of our Brothers were much younger and served in “the war to end all wars”, World War I. During the times following the war, expansion continued slowly with Chapters at Lehigh and Dartmouth. The year was 1920; good times were ahead for the country. The war was over; the Fraternity was twenty-five years old, which was a surprise to some in the fraternity world. The Fraternity had survived and could boast seventeen active Chapters with the only one lost being Phi Upsilon. By this time, although the hurt continued, Phi Upsilon stopped being discussed and became a footnote in Fraternity history. The name has been forgotten, but the Brothers vowed to remember the lesson they learned.
The “Roaring ’20’s” saw the first Chapter in Michigan, which was close to the home of Paul Ziegler at the University of Michigan. Revered Founder Paul Ziegler died during that same year, 1921. Carl and Howard from Phi Psi, Winfred from Phi Omega and Eustice from Phi Gamma were Paul Ziegler’s four sons that he left to carry on his legacy. Ziegler was always amazed that the little group he had helped foster and develop had grown so large. The Phi Omicron Chapter at the University of Wisconsin was chartered in 1922. Among the founding Brothers there was a married brother and a Phi Beta Kappa Brother who would become very important to the future of Alpha Chi Rho, Robert B. Stewart. Phi Pi at Ohio State, chartered in 1923, brought Alpha Chi Rho to four of the Big 10 schools.
Not all campuses were considered for expansion. Some schools were judged inferior, often based on reputations or the lack of an endowment. The National Council directed all expansion efforts, but all work was done on a volunteer basis. While we were growing, we were still small enough so that almost all Brothers in the Fraternity could know each other. New Chapters and even new fraternities were being created during this time. A significant step was taken in 1923 when the Phi Rho Chapter at Berkeley was chartered. We were finally “national” in scope, having Chapters on both coasts. Plans were made to undertake more vigorous expansion efforts in the west. This brought about the Chapter at Oregon State, chartered in 1927. However, it had been four years since Phi Rho had been chartered and some wind had gone out of the sails of expansion in the west and everywhere. One reason expansion lost momentum could be that the Brothers of Phi Rho thought many schools in the west inferior to their own. The west was still being settled in some sense, and few “old line” schools were there. There were also few Brothers living in the west except for Phi Rho Brothers. Another reason that expansion might have slowed down could be that this was the time many Chapters became serious about securing adequate housing, not only for then, but also for the future. Alumni money was spent on the local Chapters, not national efforts, and the Fraternity, using the Ritual as its guide, had never stressed monetary worth in the area of donations to the Fraternity. The Fraternity was run by volunteers who worked out of their homes and offices. The right to grant a charter was now in the hands of the National Council.
All Chapters had housing by this time, although some of the newest had difficulties in obtaining houses. While the Fraternity was thirty years old, other fraternities had been around more than ninety years and had endowments and alumni who could make significant donations. This is not to say that Alpha Chi Rho had no supportive alumni. Brothers had already distinguished themselves in politics, the ministry, law and the arts. However, 1929 proved a shock to the entire world and to Alpha Chi Rho. The stock market crash and eventual depression shook the country’s very foundations. Men could no longer afford college let alone join a fraternity. Things grew more desperate in 1930 and 1931. Money was severely tight and it looked poorly for the Fraternity. The Phi Zeta chapter, who claims among its Brothers former Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania and former Senator John Stennis from Mississippi, was unable to remain fiscally sound. Despite efforts and monetary support by the National Fraternity, the Chapter surrendered its charter in 1931. The Depression continued and the Phi Xi and Phi Eta Chapters at Michigan and Washington & Lee surrendered their charters as well. In 1932 one bright spot was the chartering of the Phi Tau Chapter at Iowa State.
Things started to improve for the country; it appeared that Alpha Chi Rho would once again survive. A new factor in the Fraternity was that for the first time, the Fraternity had a full time National Secretary/Executive Director. He was Wilbur M. “Curly” Walden, Phi Theta ’11. He was to become one of the most important men in the Fraternity as well as the Interfraternity world. He was a charter member of the Fraternity Executives Association and well regarded for his opinions. He also worked well with the young men in the Fraternity. As the Depression gave way, some fraternities had to merge with stronger fraternities to survive. Others had completely disappeared. The Chapters at Yale and Ohio State were the last losses, which could be attributed to the Depression. The Chapter house at Yale, known for the stage on the first floor where the Brothers put on plays, was sold to the University and is still used today by the Theater Department. The Ohio State alumni Brothers vowed that they would reappear after things had become better.
By 1937, Brother Stewart, Phi Omicron 1922, was working at Purdue University. The Pirathon Club at Purdue petitioned and was granted a charter as Alpha Phi. Rutgers was considered for expansion as early as 1896 but it took over forty years for a Chapter of Alpha Chi Rho to appear there. The last chapter chartered in the 1930′s was at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Forty men were initiated although most of them were alumni of the local fraternity, Omicron Kappa Omicron. Things looked bright as the Fraternity prepared for the 1940′s. A few chapters were having problems with numbers, especially Lafayette and the new Gamma Phi Chapter at Johns Hopkins. Five chapters had succumbed to the Depression, but the Fraternity had resolved that they would return. Elaborate and extensive plans were made to further build the Fraternity. Plans were made to rebuild what was lost during the Depression and to prepare for the 50th anniversary of the Fraternity that was only five years away.
As the war dragged on, finances continued to cause great problems for the Fraternity. Most was spent on Liberty Bonds, but the Fraternity, which just barely recovered from the Depression, faced possible death. Serious negotiations were held with several national fraternities during the war years, including Sigma Chi, Tau Kappa Epsilon, and Lambda Chi Alpha. All fraternities were known to accept smaller fraternities in mergers. However, it was decided that we would lose much of our distinction as Alpha Chi Rho if we merged, and no final merger plans ever resulted. This was not the case for some other fraternities, even ones larger than our own. No National Conventions were held from 1943 to 46. The Fraternity was kept alive through the guidance of “Curly”, the National Council and Garnet & White. Each issue listed Brothers missing in action or killed. However, Brothers in the war were able to meet each other and reported (though censored) of meeting Brothers in Europe and in Asia. Robert B. Stewart had sold the idea to the government of using college campuses for training troops and housing them in fraternity houses. This saved many Chapter houses, not only for Alpha Chi Rho, but also for the entire fraternal world.
Curly continued to run the Fraternity as the National Secretary/Executive Director. Each year the issue of Christian-only membership came up at the National Convention. There were articles in the Garnet & White, which also addressed the point. Colleges were pressing for all groups on campus to be nondiscriminatory. It was an issue of the day and an issue within the Fraternity. In 1959, in poor health and after serving for twenty-five years, Curly Walden stepped down as Executive Director. His length of service is the longest in our history, only seven other men have taken his place since that time.
During the mid 1960′s, the issue of religious discrimination had come to a crisis level. Schools were demanding the Fraternity drop its Christian-only requirement and Chapters felt they were losing too many good, potential members. It was first agreed that membership would not be based on religion. But many segments, especially the Ritual, contained references to Jesus Christ. It was explained that we looked up to Christ as our example but any Christian reference did not require theological connotation. Not until the 1971 edition of the Exoteric Manual do we see the first Landmark in its wording today. The Ritual took longer to revise. It required the approval of all Chapters, and was finally completed in 1972. This crisis was over, but another one loomed ahead.
Mr. Alpha Chi Rho, Curly Walden, died during the early 1970′s. His spirit and love for Alpha Chi Rho is hard to match. In honor of his devotion to the Brotherhood, a fund-raising effort was held to create the Walden Scholarship. This was the first scholarship from the Educational Foundation.
Any wounds the Fraternity had were healed by the start of the 1980′s. At the National Convention in Montreal, Brother Stewart addressed the Convention on the need to have a permanent home for National Headquarters. The Fraternity had left New York in the ’60s for New Brunswick and moved to Red Bank, New Jersey. He proposed a fund-raising effort never before attempted in Alpha Chi Rho and started it with a large donation. It took several years of looking at plans, phone calls and letters, but within a few years, the Robert B. Stewart National Headquarters was proudly established in Neptune, New Jersey. Without the persistence of R.B., Alpha Chi Rho still may not have a national headquarters. Chapters were started at SUNY/Geneseo, Stockton State, Longwood College and Central Michigan. By this time, in addition to Wes, the Fraternity established two new staff positions. They took care of the existing Chapters and always looked for expansion at new institutions. The National Headquarters was dedicated on August 20, 1983. The national staff had grown once again to include a Director of Chapter Services. New Chapters had started at Temple/Ambler, SUNY/Plattsburgh, Kent State, Lock Haven and West Chester. We were growing and not losing Chapters! It was determined that we needed to pace our expansion efforts and make sure that existing Chapters received as much attention and direction as possible. Expansion slowed somewhat with only two new chapters at Towson State and Fairleigh Dickinson at Rutherford. Crow Bowl East was started by the Brothers at Epsilon Phi. The Foundation continued to grant more scholarships and granted loans up to $2,000. Sadly, the Phi Alpha Chapter at Lafayette returned its charter after several disappointing years of trying to survive.
The Fraternity’s centennial was observed when the National Convention, traditionally held in August, was held in early June of 1995. A record number of Brothers and sweethearts were in attendance. All living past presidents in attendance were honored with medals to recognize their service to the Fraternity. June 4th, the Alpha Chi Rho founding date, was observed with a nondenominational service held in the Trinity College campus chapel. The National Chaplain conducted the service and various Brothers of different generations participated. It was a fitting way to end the Centennial Convention and to observe the day on which the Founders first gathered to share their oaths of Brotherhood.
The Fraternity made it to its 100th anniversary. Despite wars, depression, rush recessions and anti-fraternity movements, the Brotherhood founded upon the four Landmarks remains. Brother James J. Spencer, Mu Phi 1981 stepped down as Executive Director/National Secretary in 1996 after ten years of dedicated service. “Spence” had navigated the Fraternity through an adjustment period, from the party atmosphere of the mid 1980s to the academically geared 1990s. Brother D. Matthew Jenkins, Phi Kappa Lambda ’92, a former Chapter Consultant/Expansion Director, was empowered by the National Council to lead the Fraternity into the next millennium. There were charterings at two new schools that same year: Shepherd College, Alpha Phi Epsilon and California University PA, Sigma Chi Phi. The following year, 1997, saw the birth of a symbiotic relationship with Habitat for Humanity of Baltimore, MD, and the Eta Phi Chapter. This was a challenging year for the Fraternity due to the fact that there were no longer any leadership consultants visiting the Chapters. Convention 1997, the first bi-annual Convention, was held in Washington, D.C. The hot issues were assessment fees and Chapter-size policies. 1998 began with the chartering of the Tau Chi Phi Chapter at Monmouth University in March. 1998 saw the return of staff to the National Office in the positions: Director of Marketing & Expansion and Director of Programs & Services. These two positions served as traveling consultants as well.
In May, the Phi Psi Chapter was re-colonized by the National Council from a group that had called themselves The Raven’s Club. In June, at the 95th Convention of the National Fraternity, Jeff Turco was elected as President of the National Council. One of his initiatives was to return to the two letter Chapters that we had left over the years, rather than expand to new campuses. This would reestablish our prominence in the North East at the prestigious Universities and Colleges we were once at. Not only was Turco elected the new president but also a new strategy for fundraising was undertaken. The Fraternity and the Educational Foundation would be raising money in a joint effort in order to increase productivity and income.
From July 23rd to 25th, 2009, the National Fraternity of Alpha Chi Rho celebrated its 100th National Convention in Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL. This memorable event was attended by undergraduate as well as graduate Brothers. Brothers had the opportunity to attend workshops, enjoy time with their families at the theme parks and attend business sessions of the National Convention.