Sigma Alpha Epsilon

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Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Founded March 9, 1856; 158 years ago (1856-03-09)
University of Alabama
Type Social
Scope United States
Mission statement To promote the highest standards of friendship, scholarship, and service for our members based upon the ideals set forth by our Founders and as specifically enunciated in "The True Gentleman."
Motto Phi Alpha (ΦΑ)
Colors      Royal Purple
     Old Gold
Symbol Lion, Phoenix, Minerva, Fleur-de-lis
Flower Violet
Publication The Phi Alpha, The Record
Chapters 317 Chartered,[citation needed] 219 Active[1]
Colonies 20[1]
Members 15,000[1] collegiate
325,000+[1] lifetime
Headquarters 1856 Sheridan Road
Evanston, Illinois, United States

Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ, also SAE) is the largest North American Greek-letter social college fraternity. It was founded at the University of Alabama on March 9, 1856. Of all existing national social fraternities today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only one founded in the Antebellum South. Its national headquarters, the Levere Memorial Temple, was established on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1929.

As of 2015, Sigma Alpha Epsilon has initiated more than 325,000 members since badge numbers were first issued and has approximately 15,000 active undergraduate members at 219 active chapters and 20 colonies.[1] The fraternity has chapters and colonies in 50 states and provinces as of 2011.[2] The creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, The True Gentleman, must be memorized and recited by all prospective members. New members receive a copy of The Phoenix, the manual of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, for educational development.[3] In March 2014, the fraternity announced that it was eliminating the tradition of pledging following several high-profile alcohol, drug, and hazing-related deaths.[4][5][6]


Sigma Alpha Epsilon was founded on March 9, 1856, at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Its founders were Noble Leslie DeVotie, Nathan Elams Cockrell, John Barratt Rudulph, John Webb Kerr, Samuel Marion Dennis, Wade Hampton Foster, Abner Edwin Patton, and Thomas Chappell Cook. Their leader was DeVotie, who wrote the ritual, created the grip, and chose the name. Rudulph designed the fraternity badge. Of all existing national social fraternities today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only national fraternity founded in the antebellum South.[citation needed]

Founded in a time of intense sectional feeling, Sigma Alpha Epsilon confined its growth to the southern states. By the end of 1857, the fraternity numbered seven chapters. Its first national convention met in the summer of 1858 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with four of its eight chapters in attendance. By the time of the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, fifteen chapters had been established.

None of the founders of SAE were members of any other fraternity, although Noble Leslie DeVotie had been invited to join all of the other fraternities at the University of Alabama before founding Sigma Alpha Epsilon.[7]

The Founders of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

The fraternity had fewer than 400 members when the Civil War began. Of those, 369 went to war for the Confederate States and seven for the Union Army. Seventy-four members of the fraternity lost their lives in the war.

While many Sigma Alpha Epsilon Chapters today claim that Noble Leslie DeVotie was the first person to die in the Civil War, this is in dispute. DeVotie lost his footing while boarding a steamer at Fort Morgan, Alabama, on February 12, 1861, hit his head and drowned. His body washed ashore three days later. Because Alabama had already seceded from the Union in January of that year, DeVotie is viewed by many to be the first casualty of the war. He is recognized as such by the state of Alabama.

After the Civil War, only one chapter survived – at tiny Columbian College (which is now George Washington University) in Washington, D.C..

When a few of the young veterans returned to the Georgia Military Institute and found their college burned to the ground, they decided to enter the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. The founding of a chapter there at the end of 1865, along with the re-establishment of the chapter at the University of Virginia, led to the fraternity's revival. Soon, other chapters came back to life and, in 1867, the first post-war convention was held at Nashville, Tennessee, where a half-dozen revived chapters planned the fraternity's future growth.

In the 1870s and early 1880s, more than a score of new chapters were formed. Older chapters died as fast as new ones were established. By 1886, the fraternity had chartered 49 chapters, but few were active. The first northern chapter had been established at Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College), in 1883, and a second was placed at Mount Union College in Ohio two years later.

Soon after, 16-year-old Harry Bunting entered Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee, now known as Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He was initiated into the Tennessee Zeta Chapter, which had previously initiated two of his brothers. In just eight years, Harry Bunting and his younger brother, George, emboldened Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapters to increase their membership. They wrote encouraging articles in the fraternity's quarterly journal, The Record, promoting better chapter standards. Above all, they gave new life to old chapters in the South (including the mother chapter at Alabama) and founded new ones in the North and West. The Buntings were responsible for an explosion of growth, founding nearly 50 chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. When Harry Bunting founded the Northwestern University chapter in 1894, he initiated as a charter member William Collin "Billy" Levere. Bunting passed the torch of leadership to Levere, and for the next three decades, Levere's high spirits brought the fraternity to maturity.

When Levere died on February 22, 1927, the fraternity's Supreme Council decided to name the new national headquarters building The Levere Memorial Temple. Construction of the Temple, an immense German Gothic structure located near Lake Michigan and across from the Northwestern University campus, was started in 1929, and the building was dedicated in the winter of 1930.

When the Supreme Council met regularly in the early 1930s at the Temple, educator John O. Moseley, the fraternity's national president, lamented, "We have in the Temple a magnificent school-house. Why can we not have a school?" Accordingly, the economic depression notwithstanding, the fraternity's first Leadership School was held under the direction of Moseley in the summer of 1935. In the last years of Moseley's life, he served the fraternity as its executive secretary, capping an academic career that included two college presidencies.

The True Gentleman[edit]

The True Gentleman is the creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which was first informally adopted by the fraternity sometime in the 1920s. It was officially adopted as the fraternity's creed in 1963. The definition was introduced to the fraternity by Walter B. Jones, who came upon it in an Alabama Baptist quarterly of which he was the editor. Jones sent a copy of it to John O. Moseley, the leader of the annual Leadership Schools, who began using it at the schools. For many years, the author of it was thought by the fraternity to be anonymous until the 1970s when Joseph Walt, the editor of the pledge manual, discovered that the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis also used it in a manual. The author was denoted there as one John Walter Wayland. The True Gentleman had actually first appeared in The Baltimore Sun as the winning submission to a competition for the best definition of a true gentleman.[citation needed]

With his family's approval, Wayland was posthumously initiated into SAE during the fraternity's 66th annual Leadership School in Chicago. The Virginia Omicron chapter at the University of Virginia was selected as Wayland's chapter since he had completed his master's degree at that institution in 1901.

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

—John Walter Wayland, The Baltimore Sun, 1899

The Levere Memorial Temple[edit]

The Levere Memorial Temple in Evanston, IL.

The fraternity's international headquarters, known as the Fraternity Service Center, is maintained at the Levere Memorial Temple in Evanston, Illinois. Honoring all the members of the fraternity who have served their countries in the armed forces since 1856, it was dedicated on December 28, 1930. The museum on the first floor is devoted to a collection of interesting historical photographs, pictures, and collections from private sources. The walls of the building are hung with oil portraits of distinguished members. The basement contains the Panhellenic Room, on the ceiling of which are the coats-of-arms of 40 college fraternities and 17 sororities, while the niches on the north side contain large murals showing the founding of Phi Beta Kappa in 1776 and that of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 1856, together with other murals depicting episodes in the history of the fraternity. Perhaps the most outstanding mural in the Panhellenic Room is the reproduction of Raphael's The School of Athens, painted by Johannes Waller in the 1930s. Additionally, all brothers who visit are encouraged to sign the guest book, which amassed quite a collection over the years.

The building continues to be used for ceremonies and receptions by the various fraternities, sororities, and honor societies at Northwestern University. The impressive chapel of the Temple, with its soaring vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows by Tiffany is used regularly for religious services, and has been the scene of many weddings of Evanstonians and members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In fact, the entire building is open to the public for patriotic, religious, and educational purposes, while the library is also free to scholars seeking material pertaining to the history of any or all college fraternities and college organizations.


In its early days, the government of the Fraternity was vested in a single chapter, designated the Grand Chapter. The first such chapter was North Carolina Xi at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was responsible only to the general convention, the last was Tennessee Omega at the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Today Sigma Alpha Epsilon is governed by Fraternity Conventions which are held biennially. At Conventions, brothers from all over the country come together to consider modifications to the Fraternity Laws, to the Ritual and to elect national officers. Between Conventions, SAE is governed by an all-volunteer Supreme Council; composed of the Eminent Supreme Archon (President), Eminent Supreme Deputy Archon (VP), Eminent Supreme Warden (Treasurer), Eminent Supreme Herald, and Eminent Supreme Chronicler. An Honorary Eminent Supreme Archon is also selected by the Past ESAs. The Executive Director of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (a full-time paid staff position) holds the title of Eminent Supreme Recorder and serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the organization. He is supported by a 25+ person full-time staff based at the Levere Memorial Temple as well as in the field. The Fraternity Convention also elects members to serve on the SAE Foundation Board of Directors (11-members total) and the SAE Financial and Housing Board of Directors (7-members total).

In addition, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is governed more locally through Province Conventions. A province is a section of the Realm which is composed of nearby chapters. These provinces meet regularly to discuss issues concerning its individual chapters. Each of the 30 provinces are led by a Province Archon supported by a Province Council.

The Record[edit]

The fraternity communicates through The Record magazine. It is published three times a year and has been continuously in publication since 1880. The fall issue of The Record contains additional sections, such as Chapter Eternal and the annual report. All three issues are provided to active members and current donors to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Foundation - at a circulation of approximately 30,000.

The Diomedians[edit]

At one point, the fraternity had an alumni affiliate called the Diomedians. This organization was founded in 1918 in New York city, and its ritual was first "exemplified" in May 1919 and a National Council with the power to grant charters was established that June. A convention in St. Louis a year and a half later incorporated the Diomedians into the organizational structure of the fraternity and created the "Diomedian degree". By 1923 Diomedian chapters were established in Michigan and Pittsburgh and a Diomedian club-house "designed to furnish a modest home for young men just out of college" was established at 51 West 48th Street in New York.[8]

Hazing and alcohol related deaths[edit]

Sigma Alpha Epsilon has had nine deaths linked to drinking, drugs and hazing since 2006, more than any other Greek organization, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.[4] More than 100 chapters have been disciplined since 2007, with at least fifteen suspended or closed since 2010. A potential initiate to the SAE chapter at Salisbury University in Maryland alleged that he was beaten with a paddle, forced to drink alcohol to the point of losing consciousness and confined in a basement for nine hours without access to food, water or a bathroom while being subjected to music torture, an experience described as being "almost like Guantanamo Bay". The allegations were verified by a university investigation that lead to the suspension of the chapter on the grounds that it had violated Salisbury policies on alcohol, hazing, and threats or acts of violence.[4]

As a result of these incidents, student members pay among the highest rates for liability insurance of any fraternity.[4] In March 2014 JPMorgan Chase stopped managing an investment account of SAE's charitable foundation, with bad publicity from hazing as the likely cause.[9]

Elimination of pledging process[edit]

The national fraternity organization has responded to these allegations, stating that it has "zero tolerance for hazing," and that the reported infractions represent a low percentage of its more than 219 chapters and 15,000 college members.[4] Following the 2011 hazing-related death of a Cornell University sophomore, a constitutional amendment to ban alcohol at all chapter houses was proposed at the 155th national conference, but the measure failed to reach the 2/3rd majority needed.[10] In March 2014 the fraternity revised its membership process to eliminate pledging entirely. The SAE national president cited efforts to combat hazing, treat all members of the fraternity equally, and to protect the reputation of the fraternity as primary reasons for the change.[5][9] The fraternity will now be following the True Gentleman Intiative, which will require all members to continue their education of the fraternity throughout all 4 years.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Facts & Figures". Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Retrieved February 3, 2015. 
  2. ^ "155 Founder's Day Announcement". 155 2011 Founder's Day Announcement. 
  3. ^ SAE Facts
  4. ^ a b c d e "Deadliest Frat's Icy 'Torture' of Pledges Evokes Tarantino Films". Bloomberg. 
  5. ^ a b Dave, Paresh (9 March 2014). "Sigma Alpha Epsilon ends pledging process, citing hazing deaths". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Sigma Alpha Epsilon: We're Banning Pledging - NBC News
  7. ^
  8. ^ Preuss, Arthur A Dictionary of Secret and other Societies St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co. 1924; republished Detroit: Gale Reference Company 1966; pp.110-1
  9. ^ a b John Hechinger; David Glovin (26 March 2014). "Fraternity Chief Feared for Son as Hazings Spurred JPMorgan Snub". Bloomberg. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  10. ^ Winerip, Michael (12 April 2012). "When a Hazing Goes Very Wrong". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 

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