In October 1904, Aaron Brown and eight of his friends founded Phi Delta Epsilon at Cornell University Medical College. During the first decade of this century there were many doors closed to Jewish medical students and physicians, doors which would not fully open until after World War II. In 1904, it was not uncommon for American medical schools to have quotas limiting admission of Jewish students, and medical fraternities. So Aaron Brown and his friends decided they would start their own fraternal organization, guided by the precepts of philanthropy, deity, and equity.
The success of the Cornell chapter soon led to the organization of other chapters in the East and Midwest. In 1918, Phi Delta Epsilon amalgamated with Alpha Phi Sigma, a medical fraternity organized in 1908, whose ideals and principles were similar to those of PhiDE. Its chapters were in the Midwest and West, making for an ideal union.
Following the amalgamation, the United States was divided into districts and, by 1930, enough members had graduated from medical schools allowing for the formation of graduate clubs. In 1926, an Endowment Fund was started giving the Fraternity long-term stability. In the 1940s the Aaron Brown Lectureship Program was begun and has remained a vital chapter event through the years.
In the late 1960s, the Fraternity opened its membership to women and encouraged recruitment of medical students of all races, nationalities and religious beliefs. The past 25 years have seen the Fraternity's membership become diverse, reflecting the diversity of the medical profession today. The addition of the premedical affiliation in 1994 at Binghamton University rounded out the Fraternity's membership, which now spans an entire lifetime of medical education and practice.
The pin, the emblem of Phi Delta Epsilon, is a three lettered one, forming the Greek letters Phi, Delta and Epsilon. Joining the Phi and the Epsilon is a bow, emblematic of friendship. In the center of the bow is a ruby in honor of Alpha, the mother Chapter organized at Cornell. The sides of the Delta are set with pearls and the angles with amethysts. These are the colors of the Phi Delta Epsilon - purple and ivory. These stones are identical in all Chapters. From the Delta to the bow is a torch, the torch of knowledge, with which ignorance is dispelled. The center of the Delta is empty but as occasion demands various stones be placed therein in order to designate successful completion of a term in a specific office.
The seal of the Fraternity consists of the scales of justice (with the hopes that the member will keep at an even balance) with the letters Phi, Delta and Epsilon on the sides and at the bottom. The scale is balanced upon a caduceus with a Delta as its base. Above the scale are the spread wings of the Phoenix, a bird which is said never to die, signifying an everlasting life for Phi Delta Epsilon. The letter Alpha appears beside the left wing and the letter Sigma beside the right. Above the center of the wings is a star containing the letter Phi. These letters, Alpha, Phi and Sigma represent the amalgamation with Alpha Phi Sigma Fraternity in 1918.