Chattanooga’s Oldest Fraternity

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The story of the Alpha-Iota chapter of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity began on February 15, 1882, at East Tennessee Wesleyan University, which was to become Grant Memorial University. The chapter’s history is slightly ambiguous, due to several false starts, but there is plenty of historical fodder. The original Upsilon chapter was established by Stephen Alonzo Jackson after having visited the college and determined the founding appropriate for conditions of the time. One of the founding members of Upsilon was S.W. McCallie who, later, became head of the geology department at Georgia Tech.

A letter to Kappa Sigma National Historian, Boutwell Dunlap, said:

 

Jackson “requested Mr. LaRue and myself to call at his room at the hotel, as he had some very important business to discuss with us. Upon our calling, he informed us that he was desirous of organizing a Kappa Sigma chapter at Grant University, and that he was informed Mr. LaRue and I were the most suitable persons to take up the work, After a rather long talk as to the objects of the Fraternity, etc., Bro. Jackson initiated us in his room at the hotel, which at that time was known as the McGill House.”

 

The roll of the new chapter contained the names the aforementioned McCallie, Samuel Bruce LaRue and George Hazlehurst Wingfield and, possibly, others. Nevertheless, due to what could be termed a “lack of suitable material” and despite Jackson’s “long talk”, nothing beyond that evening in 1882 was done. Jackson stated in a letter dated December 9 that the chapter “has not done badly, as it has done nothing at all since its foundation.” The chapter was dissolved, and the next year, Greek letter Upsilon was assigned to another chapter.

In 1891, at the request of a group of students comprising a local fraternity by the name of the “Secret Fraternity”, at the now, U.S. Grant University, the former Upsilon chapter, was revived under the name Alpha-Iota and the charter was reissued on April 28, 1892. Initiations took place on May 13, 1892 by a delegation from the Lambda chapter of the University of Tennessee. The Lambda delegation included: John Jay Bernard, Robert Wood Tate, William Andrew McCord, Thomas Jefferson Brown, and Alfred Young Bailey. Alpha-Iota continued until 1898 when the perceived moral decline of the university led to the chapter’s withdrawal. One of the charter members of this revival was a man by the name of Julius C. Zeller. Zeller was in the Mississippi state senate and “was author and chief promoter of the bill repealing, in 1926, that state’s prohibition of fraternities.”

Names on the 1892 charter are as follows:

William Radebaugh Julius C. Zeller J. Robert Westbrook C.S. Hicks Dan R. Bird

In 1949, a local fraternity at the University of Chattanooga, Phi Delta Sigma, along with several alumni petitioned another chapter, presumably Lambda or some other nearby chapter, to recommend the chapter for membership into Kappa Sigma. Dr. Earl Campbell was instrumental in bringing this strong local chapter to the attention of this other chapter. In a letter dated May 7, 1949, speaking of a committee sent to Chattanooga, by the aforementioned Kappa Sigma chapter, it is stated that “Such a favorable report was returned by the committee that the chapter feels perfectly justified in giving an unqualified recommendation in favor of Phi Delta Sigma.” On September 12, 1949, by order of the Supreme Executive Committee, the Alpha-Iota chapter was officially reactivated as the chapter that formerly existed at U.S. Grant University from 1892 to 1898. The chapter exists to this day.

Names on the 1949 charter are as follows:

Yarnell D. Barnes Harold H. Fennell Wilbur H. Hane Bingham H. Kilgore Billy J. Napier Joe H. Smith, Jr. Ernest E. Wallace
John R. Bracewell William M. Finley James S. Hankins John A. Kosik Harold G. Nelson Lawrence F. Spence, Jr. Carl G. Warren, Jr.
Howard B. Brooks Benjamin F. Foxworth John E. Harris Joseph D. Lynch Charles K. Peacock Dan A. Thomas John M. Welch, Jr.
Joseph S. Callaway Roger W. Frank John Hendricks, Jr. Earl K. Magrath, Jr. Beverly W. Powell James C. Thompson, Jr. Norman H. Williams
Thomas L. Clary, Jr. Vernon L. Fromang Jack L. Hoover James E. Mayfield Coyel V. Ricketts Mack Thompson Earl W. Winger
Meredith S. Dement, Jr. Leland B. Godfrey, Sr. Willard M. Keyser Beaura C. McCall Herman R. Robinson Urias D. Trowell, Jr. James C. Wyatt, Jr.
Irvine W. Grote Everett T. Murphy David F. Trundle

Sources

  • Dunlap, B. (1907). The Kappa Sigma Book. Nashville, Tennessee: The Cumberland Press.
  • Dunlap, B. (1922). Sources of the History of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. Cincinnati, Ohio: Monfort & Company.
  • Farr, F. (1929). Kappa Sigma – A History – 1869-1929. Spartanburg, South Carolina: The Reprint Company.
  • Kappa Sigma Fraternity (1970). Centennial History of Kappa Sigma – 1869-1969. Denver, Colorado: The Bradford-Robinson Printing Co.

 

International History

Modern day Kappa Sigma was founded one chilly evening in the fall of 1869, as five students attending the University of Virginia in Charlottesville gathered in the room of William Grigsby McCormick, at 46 East Lawn, and planted the seed of brotherhood. For many weeks the bonds of friendship had drawn these five together; now the need became clear for a formal structure to contain their feelings. Thus, not only did the Founders formalize their friendship, but they also created a fraternity steeped in the traditions of the past and dedicated to the pursuit of learning. The new brothers recorded their bond in a Constitution and in an Oath that set forth the ideals and principles to all Kappa Sigmas today.

THE FIVE FRIENDS AND BROTHERS

William Grigsby McCormick occupied the room at 46 East Lawn in the fall of 1869. It was there that he, with four friends, Frank Courtney Nicodemus, Edmund Law Rogers, John Covert Boyd and George Miles Arnold, founded the Kappa Sigma Fraternity on that cold December evening. Founder McCormick was in his second year at the University.

Both in their first year at the University, Founder Arnold lived at East Range and Founder Nicodemus at 9 West Range. Founders Boyd and Rogers lived off the Grounds. Early records of the founding of the first American chapter of Kappa Sigma at the University of Virginia, called Zeta Chapter, leave much of the detailed description of the early meetings untold. However, we know that a constitution was composed by the Founders and was recorded in the handwriting of Founder Arnold.

The original Constitution names the Fraternity “Kappa Sigma,” describes the Badge, and gives significance to the emblems appearing on it. The original Badge was designed by Edmund Law Rogers and during the Christmas holidays of 1869, an order of badges was placed with Sadtler & Sons of Baltimore, Maryland. Upon their return to campus in spring 1870, the Five Friends and Brothers proudly displayed the Star and Crescent of Kappa Sigma for the first time.

 

William Grigsby McCormick

William Grigsby McCormick came to Virginia from a celebrated family. He enrolled at the University of Virginia in October, 1868, returning again in the year of the founding, 1869.

At the 28th Biennial Grand Conclave in Los Angeles in 1929, McCormick, the only surviving founder at the time, was elected to the position of Most Worthy Grand Master – the only Kappa Sigma to hold such title.

He died November 29, 1941, and the era of the Founders came to an end.

George Miles Arnold

George Miles Arnold was born August 27, 1851, in Troy, New York and was raised in Mobile, Alabama. He entered the University of Virginia in 1869, his chief studies being Latin, French and mathematics

The first Grand Master of Zeta Chapter, he began a course in medicine at the University in 1870 but withdrew from Virginia in February 1871, to enter the Medical College of New York where he completed his medical education.

George Miles Arnold was very active in the Fraternity during its infancy and throughout his life. One of the other Founders said of Arnold, “He gave nearly his whole time to the society.”

Edmund Law Rogers, Jr.

Edmund Law Rogers was born July 1, 1850, in Baltimore, Maryland to a prominent Maryland family. Rogers studied architecture and also developed an interest in acting. His graphic talent is apparent in the Badge of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, which Rogers designed.

He was quick of wit and possessed enormous charm. Rogers died December 19, 1893; he was buried in Baltimore, Maryland in the Buchanan and Rogers burial ground in Druid Hill.

Frank Courtney Nicodemus

Frank Courtney Nicodemus, a lifelong resident of Baltimore, was born January 8, 1853.  In 1885, Nicodemus became the treasurer of the Baltimore post office, and in 1891, he accepted the general agency for Maryland of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company which he continued in until his death on May 25, 1919.

John Covert Boyd

John Covert Boyd was born December 24, 1850, near Bradford Springs, Sumter County, South Carolina. Throughout his career, he authored numerous reports on technical subjects. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Boyd to help incorporate the American National Red Cross. Venerated with McCormick in his final years, Boyd died July 7, 1927.

THE GOLDEN HEARTED VIRGINIAN

Stephen Alonzo Jackson (who also attended the University of Virginia) is regarded as possibly the most important man in Kappa Sigma’s history. Through his efforts, a struggling local fraternity became a strong national organization. He was the architect of our Ritual, writer of our Constitution, and was our first Worthy Grand Master. The following is an excerpt from the Bononia Docet, our pledge manual:

Stephen Alonzo Jackson was born September 22, 1851. He was left motherless in his infancy and was raised by his grandmother. A close associate and brother, Francis Nelson Barksdale, recalled him with these words:

“{A} perfect bundle of nervous energy. His love of the Fraternity knew no bounds, and his enthusiasm was so contagious that it influenced everybody who came within his reach. His one ambition was to make Kappa Sigma the leading college fraternity of the world, and to that end he thought and worked by day and night, until the end of his busy life.”

During the Fraternity’s second Grand Conclave in 1878 in Richmond, Virginia, Jackson was re-elected as Worthy Grand Master. In his speech, he expressed his ideal and goal of an enduring and expanding brotherhood as he addressed the Order:

“Why not, my Brothers, since we of today live and cherish the principles of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, throw such a halo around those principles that they may be handed down as a precious heirloom to ages yet unborn? Why not put our apples of gold in pictures of silver? May we not rest contentedly until the Star and Crescent is the pride of every college and university in the land!”

Jackson died on March 4, 1892. His legacy to the Fraternity included its Ritual, a revised Constitution, a precedent-setting Grand Conclave, the first southern fraternity to extend a chapter to the north, and above all else, a spirit for expansion.

 

 

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