While eating some delicious Detroit-style pizza last night at Austin’s own Via 313 (please give me free pizza for this mention, Via 313), a random thought popped into my head: what is the oldest continually-running fraternity chapter in America? As in, which chapter of which national fraternity has gone the longest since foundation without ever getting its charter pulled, recognition revoked, etc.? So I finished up the rest of my delicious and perfectly crispy Via 313 Detroit-style pizza and took to the internet to investigate.
I started with looking at the earliest fraternities in America to see if any of them have been properly maintained.
1. Phi Beta Kappa – College of William & Mary, Founded December 5, 1776
Phi Beta Kappa is still around — as is its alpha chapter at W&M — but it is now an honor society rather than a fraternity. Tragic. NEXT.
2. Kappa Alpha Society – Union College, Founded November 26, 1825
Kappa Alpha Society — which is not the same thing as Kappa Alpha Order — came to Union College in 1825 and is still there today. Check out this quote from Union College’s IFC webpage:
The Kappa Alpha Society was originally founded in 1825 at Union College. Today, KA is an international community with a robust program and nine active chapters. KA is a literary society that focuses on the development of its undergraduate members and nurtures life-long friendships among its vibrant alumni network. The only fraternity that has maintained a continuous existence since its foundation, making it the oldest undergraduate fraternity that exists today
Is my investigation over? Was it really that easy?
Nope. After checking the tape, it appears Union College Kappa Alpha Society was not recognized between the years of 2003-2011 despite what that webpage says. Their former 178-year run is very impressive, but alas, it’s over. NEXT.
3. The Sigma Phi Society – Union College, Founded March 4, 1827
A year after KA Society came to town, Sig Phi opened up at Union. Sigma Phi Society is best known as the first national fraternity, as it was the first fraternity to open up a chapter at another university (Hamilton College in 1831). Sigma Phi Society is still at Union College today, but did they suffer the same fate as their Union brothers in facing a block of unrecognized years at some point? If not, we have our winner.
After some sleuthing, I stumbled across this August 25, 2003 article posted by Union College:
Sigma Phi fraternity had 37 members in 2002-2003, and the organization encourages leadership and friendship. Founded in 1827, it is the oldest surviving fraternity in the country. In recent years the Union chapter has participated in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, sponsored an annual golf tournament to benefit cancer research, and hosted a dinner/fundraiser for the Family and Child Services of Schenectady.
Remember that Union College Kappa Alpha Society was already off campus by the time this article came out, meaning that as long as Sigma Phi was open from 2004-2016 (admittedly the toughest stretch of time for fraternities to stay open), they are like they were in 2003: the “oldest surviving fraternity in the country.” And my research found that they were and are.
Here’s to 190 more years, Union College Sigma Phi..
Am I wrong? If so, correct me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org