Going Greek: Fraternity and Sorority Life at the University of Cincinnati


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History

1880-1900

The New Greeks

Sigma Chi announcement
The Academica announced the establishment of Sigma Chi on campus in the February 1882 edition. Click the image to read the entire piece.

In 1881, three alumni of the Sigma Chi fraternity then living in Cincinnati focused their efforts toward establishing an active Sigma Chi chapter at the University of Cincinnati. William Lofland Dudley, Isaac M. Jordan, and Judge Howard Ferris, all members of the newly formed Theta alumni chapter, saw their efforts become reality on January 23, 1882, when the Zeta Psi chapter was chartered. Sigma Chi was the first fraternity to be established at the University of Cincinnati since its formation as a city university in 1870 and it remains the longest running UC Greek organization to operate continuously under a single charter.

Rumors of a new "young ladies fraternity" first appeared in the Academica in January 1885. Co-eds tried to get into the fraternity game when the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority attempted organization in 1885, but the chapter, established with four members, did not last the year. The ladies would have to wait six more years to join their fellow students in fraternity. The next group to try fraternity life was more successful. Chi Zeta Sigma (some sources say Alpha Zeta Sigma) was established in 1887 as a local fraternity for the sole purpose of securing a chapter of the national fraternity Beta Theta Pi, which was realized in 1890. The Beta (second) chapter of Beta Theta Pi had been established in 1840, loosely affiliated with the Cincinnati College, and the UC group considered themselves descendents of their earlier brothers, taking the chapter designation Beta Nu. The original Beta chapter only lasted a couple of years, but during its life was instrumental in the expansion of the fraternity.

Having two fraternities on campus created some friction. Sigma Chi and Chi Zeta Sigma tended to butt heads when it came to competing for potential members. After all, the enrollment in 1888 was only 125 total students, 91 of them men. What brought them to an understanding with each other for the time being was the chartering of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 1889. At that time, the brothers of Sigma Chi held what would be the first interfraternity function, a banquet welcoming the new fraternity. For now tempers were cooled, but tensions would flare again.

With three chapters now in existence and fraternity activity on the rise, a frequent, though not regular, column in the student newspaper The McMicken Review alternatively titled "Fraternities," "Fraternity News," "Greek Gossip," and "ΟΊ 'ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ" began to appear in November, 1889. The Review editors charged the fraternities with submitting their own news to the column.

The ladies of UC broke the fraternity barrier in 1891 when local sorority V.C.P. was established by graduates of the University (and some sources say members of the ill-fated Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter from 1885). V.C.P.'s choice of Latin rather than Greek letters to designate their sorority challenged some students to attempt to guess their meaning. McMicken Review editors attempted guesses with "Very Clever People," and "Veritas Cum Pietate" (Truth together with Piety), and The Cincinnati Student tried "Vigines Captant Pueros" (roughly, virgins chase or long for boys), to which the sisters responded with a resounding, "you can guess, but we ain't gonna tell ya!" The meaning of the letters V.C.P. remain a mystery. What these curious students may not have realized is that all fraternity and sorority letters mean something - usually a motto. Delta Delta Delta sorority continued the co-ed quest for fraternity and was the first national sorority to be chartered at UC, establishing themselves here in 1892, and they remain the longest running UC sorority to operate continuously under a single charter.

Competition and unrest between the fraternities surfaced again in 1896 with issues concerning rush activities. Some felt that certain fraternities had an unfair advantage in their recruitment methods, specifically in recruiting freshman during the summer before they had even entered the university. The three fraternities met and a resolution was proposed to disallow any rush activities in the summer months or before freshman had begun classes. While Sigma Chi and Beta Theta Pi agreed, Sigma Alpha Epsilon was opposed to the resolution and did not pass it. Sigma Alpha Epsilon's reasoning was that while the resolution was put forward with the stated intention of protecting the freshmen, it was just "a lot of talk." They further pointed to other institutions that had tried to follow such rush policies and had failed. Further strife surfaced when Sigma Alpha Epsilon suggested that the minutes of the meeting where the failed resolution was drafted be destroyed. The secretary, a Beta Theta Pi member, did just that but retrieved them from the wastepaper basket, to which Sigma Alpha Epsilon, when discovering the turn around, took offense. Ultimately the minutes were restored.

One new fraternity and one new sorority were chartered late in the final years of the nineteenth century. Gamma Nu Sigma was established in 1897 as a local fraternity and became Phi Delta Theta the following year. In 1898, the Gamma Beta sorority was established on the local level. The new Greek groups were known as "literary" fraternities (both men and women's groups used the term "fraternity") to distinguish them from professional and honorary fraternities. For sororities, who presented plays and had literary programs, the description was not far from the mark. The McMicken Review reported that in 1896, 13 of the 37 colleges in Ohio had Greek chapters. A total of 55 fraternity chapters with 743 members and 10 sororities with 163 members existed. The proportion of frat members was 1/9. These numbers were low, however, as they did not include local chapters. Three Ohio schools had policies prohibiting the formation of Greek organizations on campus.

Sigma Chi Fraternity, 1896
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, 1895
Sigma Chi, 1896
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, 1895
Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, 1895
VCP Sorority, 1895
Beta Theta Pi, 1895
V.C.P., 1895
Tri-Delta
Gamma Nu Sigma Fraternity, 1898
Delta Delta Delta, 1894
Gamma Nu Sigma, 1898
Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, 1900
Gamma Beta Sorority, 1899
Phi Delta Theta, 1900
Gamma Beta, 1899

 

 

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