History

Thomas Fielders Bowie, of Upper Marlboro, Md., one of four founding brothers of Sigma Phi Society at Union College in 1827.

Thomas Fielders Bowie, of Upper Marlboro, Md., one of four founding brothers of Sigma Phi Society at Union College in 1827.

Esto Perpetua!

Sigma Phi is the second oldest Greek-letter fraternity in the country and the oldest in continual existence, founded at Union College on the Fourth of March in 1827 by Thomas F. and John T. Bowie (from Upper Marlboro, Md.), T.S. Witherspoon (from Greensboro, Ala.), and Charles T. Cromwell (from Mosquito Cove, N.Y.). Shortly thereafter, these founders widened their circle and admitted a select group of their fellow students who had similar qualities of good mind, lofty character, and cordial manners. They determined to make themselves not just a short-lived group of happy young men, but a Society dedicated to relationships that would last beyond college and throughout life. Over the last two centuries, 10,000 men have followed their example of fraternal leadership.

Sigma Phi has been a pioneer among Greek-letter societies. Upon expanding to Hamilton College in 1831 and Williams College in 1834, it became the first “national” fraternity. It was the first fraternity whose members wore a pin as a badge. It was the first to issue a Catalogue and Thesaurus of members. At Williams College, it built the first chapter house. It is also believed the first to establish a Society Fund for the benefit of its members. Our national organization currently operates an educational foundation and scholarship trust as additional resources for Sigma Phi brothers.

Our Society is also one of the most selective. Since 1834, new chapters have been founded at Hobart College, the University of Vermont, the University of Michigan, Cornell University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Many of our chapter houses are architectural classics; two have been recognized as national historic landmarks and each is rich with its own local history. Although three of the four founding members were southern, the chapter at the University of Virginia was the first to lie below the Mason-Dixon Line.

SigmaPhi-Composite-1958_350wThe petition for the chapter at U.Va. was granted in 1953 to the members of a local fraternity, The Serpentine Club, so named for Mr. Jefferson’s serpentine walls that surround the Lawn’s gardens. Since then the Virginia chapter has graduated over 600 alumni. Many still visit our house at 163 Rugby Road each year. The Alpha of Virginia celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding on February 27, 2004. Sigs marked the occasion with the S-50 Capital Campaign, which concluded with a banquet at Alumni Hall and gala at Sigma Phi Place that welcomed over 300 Sigs and guests back to Rugby Road.