History does repeat itself, it’s called tradition. - Joel Silver
Phi Kappa Psi is marked by a rich history full of brotherhood, unity, and service.
The founding of Phi Kappa Psi was in distinct contrast to the beginning of most other fraternities. Most of them formed from local clubs, without any idea of expansion. Phi Kappa Psi was founded as a national fraternity which would assemble outstanding students at well-established colleges throughout the country.
150 years ago, two college students, William Henry Letterman and Charles Page Thomas Moore, students at Jefferson College in the little town of Canonsburg, in the hills of Western Pennsylvania, were nursing and watching over their stricken friends during an epidemic of influenza at the college. Through the long night vigils, they began to appreciate the great joy they received from selflessly helping others. On February 19, 1852, Letterman and Moore invited their friends to a meeting. They wanted to discuss creating a brotherhood based on the great joy of serving others.
Travel was impossible that harsh winter night, however, so with no one else present, the two men alone founded Phi Kappa Psi. throughout the spring, their new Fraternity grew, gradually expanding to include other upperclassmen at Jefferson College. Idealists all, these initial members of Phi Kappa Psi were creating a new kind of fraternity— a brotherhood, one that would supplement the university’s goal of improving student’s intellect by cultivating its members’ humanity.
District of Columbia Alpha was organized at Columbian University, Washington, D.C., in 1868, and for over thirty years maintained a prosperous and successful career. In 1899 the entire active membership enlisted in the Spanish-American War, and the Executive Council, finding no active members in attendance in the university, recalled the charter. Its total membership was 189. The university has since been reorganized under the discretion of Congress as The George Washington University.
In 1987, a new group of men was recruited and the chapter was reorganized. They received their charter in 1990. Today, Phi Kappa Psi is strong and successful as one of the top fraternities on campus.
19th Century Information
Founded: January 3, 1868
Withdrew: November 15, 1899. (No brothers to continue as the entire chapter enlisted
in the Spanish American War).
Founders: Summerfield E. Snively (a doctor), Herman S. Johnson (a reverend), and
James L. Norris (an attorney).
Total Members: 189
Re-chartered: October 20, 1990
19th Century History
by Charles Liggett Van Cleve
The Columbian University was inaugurated under its present title and form of government in 1873. It uses three buildings, has one hundred and forty-two members in its various faculties, has eleven hundred students, an endowment of $1,000,000, and an annual income of $70,000. It confers the following degrees: B. A., B. S., M. A., B. L., M. D., D. D. S., Ph. B., and LL. D. The institution has a very small undergraduate academic department, but very large and flourishing graduate schools. These schools are much patronized by clerks in the government departm
ents, and the hours for lectures are arranged with special reference to this sort of patronage.
The District of Columbia Alpha was founded in 1868 by James L. Norris, Herman S. Johnson, and Summerfield E. Snively. These were the charter members, but they soon added to their number from among the strongest men of their class and other classes. There was no rival fraternity at Columbian at the time of the founding of the chapter, but this did not seem to deter the new organization from making very rapid strides. At the beginning of its career the college was situated at the edge of the city, and there was some distinctive college life among the students. However, the professional departments developed so rapidly that the institution found it to its advantage to concentrate its departments at a convenient point in the city. At about this time, Johns Hopkins was established at Baltimore, and the rush of students to the new institution pretty nearly depopulated Columbian in its undergraduate department, which was never large.
The chapter then was compelled to turn to the law and other departments for its initiates. When it is remembered that Columbian is what they call in Washington a “sun-down” college, the cause of the decline in college life and spirit is easy to learn. The classes in the professional schools meet in the evening after the departments are closed, enabling the clerks in the departments to attend lectures and so secure their professional education. Small wonder that men who worked for their living during daylight hours had little inclination for social diversion.
The very noted success of Phi Kappa Psi in the days of Columbian’s power as a college had caused several rival fraternities to establish chapters in a field which had shown itself no longer capable of supporting one society. This action upon the part of rival fraternities compelled District of Columbia Alpha still further to withdraw from the collegiate department. The sequel is soon told. Driven from the only field in which Greek-letter societies can thrive, the chapter tried bravely for a few years to fuse into a homogeneous chapter lawyers and doctors, men pursuing lines of work so diverse and engaged at hours so conflicting that community of interest, however much striven for, was not capable of development.
Finally, the futility of further struggle against conditions which the fraternity could not prevent nor change being apparent, the Executive Council sent the present writer to Columbian to investigate the condition of things, and, upon hearing his report, the charter was reluctantly withdrawn from a chapter that had enrolled among its membership some of the bravest Phi Psis that ever wore the shield, and which at one time was the leading chapter in the fraternity, being for three years the Grand Chapter. This withdrawal of the chapter took place in April, 1809.
Among the several names that have been famous in Phi Psi annals from this chapter may be named the following: E. C. Carrington, Frank Hume, Robert J. Murray, James L. Norris, S. E. Snively, E. B. Hay, J. B. G. Custis, H. E. Davis, C. F. Whittlesey, F. D. McKenney, F. O. McCleary, Professor H. L. Hodgkins, J. E. Christy, C. W. D. Ashley, S. R. Church, F. H. Stephens, Professor J. G. Falck, Clinton Gage, A. J. Houghton.
Grand Chapter Period
The D.C. Alpha chapter had the distinct honor of serving as the national Grand
Chapter from 1881 to 1884. During this time period, Grand Chapters ran the
national fraternity’s structure and had a considerable degree of control over
other chapters. Only 9 chapters have held this powerful position.
General William Lendrum “Billy” Mitchell
He was an American Army general who is regarded as the father of the U.S. Air Force. He is one of the most famous and most controversial figures in the history of American airpower. Mitchell served in France during the First World War and, by the conflict’s end, commanded all American air combat units in that country. After the war, he was appointed deputy director of the Air Service and began advocating for increased investment in air power, believing that this would prove vital in future wars. He argued particularly for the ability of bombers to sink battleships and organized a series of bombing runs against stationary ships designed to test the idea. Mitchell received many honors following his death, including a commission by the President as a Major General. He is also the only individual after whom a type of American military aircraft, the B-25 Mitchell, is named.
Howard Lincoln Hodgkins
In 1878 he entered Columbian College in the fall of that year and graduated in the class of 1883. He received from the University successively the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, Doctor of Philosophy, and the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. For fortyeight years he served the University as tutor, professor, dean, and president, and every action of his was in aid of what he believed to be for the benefit of the student. From 1917-20, Dean Hodgkins served as president of the General Alumni Association, and upon the resignation of President Collier, in 1921, he was elected President of the University – the first alumnus thus to serve. Dean Hodgkins, who was first Dean of Engineering, was associated with the creation of both. In 1913, he became Dean of the Department of Arts and Sciences. His appointment to the Presidency in 1921, was viewed as an ad interim appointment, and on the election of a successor in 1923, he became Dean of the University, which office he held to the end of his life. To his colleagues in these later years, Dean Hodgkins was more than just a member of the faculty. He was a friend and confidant to many, and was greatly loved for his quiet simplicity and understanding. He was true to his vision of the University through nearly fifty years. In the classroom and elsewhere he was never spectacular but minimized himself in the presentation of his subject. He left the imprint of a great teacher in the hearts and lives of thousands of students.