June 23, 2022
Greeks came to Irvington in 1875. No, not those from the classic lands of Socrates and Plato, but the collective secret societies of Northwestern Christian University (Butler University) when that school moved to Irvington from its nearby campus north of Indianapolis. The oldest of these societies was Gamma Γ a branch of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity founded in 1859. Two other Greek societies, Rho Chapter of Sigma Chi chartered in 1865, and Gamma branch of Kappa Alpha Theta ΚΑΘ, a sorority organized the previous year For university transfer, join Phi Delts in Irvington.
American collegiate societies written in Greek letters began during the American Revolution when five students at the College of William and Mary Phi Beta Kappa formed a secret to discuss the question of independence. Motivated by the necessity to protect its members in those turbulent times, the society developed an oath of secrecy, a badge or key, emblems in Greek, initiation, and a handshake. It is believed that Greek was chosen because it was a more prestigious language than Latin. In most cases, some knowledge of Latin was a requirement for admission to a university while one had to go to university to learn Greek. Society classes were given a Greek letter as they were formed starting with alpha Α.
For nearly fifty years, Phi Delts have been without a permanent home. The brothers met in her brothers’ homes and in college classrooms Engaged in the social activities of the age and from time to time indulged in oyster dinners. Finally, after years of meeting from place to place, Phi Delts built his own house in 1908 on the northwest corner of East Washington St and Emerson Av. In 1915, the bungalow-style house, with a distinctive limestone cross embedded in the chimney, was moved across the creek to the northwest corner of East Washington Street and Pleasant Run Pkwy.
In the early 1890s, Sigma Chi began meeting in rooms on the third floor of Moore’s Hall, a modern brick and stone building at 130 S. Audubon Rd. The space included the entire facade of the building and a private property room. In 1899, Phi Delts sought to rent rooms by offering the owner more money. When the owner threw Sig’s upholstery out, put a new lock on the door, and handed the room to Phis, the Sigs vehemently rejected the effort by removing the door from the hinges, getting rid of the Phi’s furniture, and replacing it with theirs. Own and publish a guard and file a lawsuit in Marion County Superior Court. Judge James M. Lathers, a Butler alumnus and brother of Sigma Chi, granted an injunction allowing the Sigs to continue using their rooms in Moore’s Hall.
The Sigma Chi quarters in Moore Hall were modest. A small fireplace provides heat by using coal drawn along adjacent railroad tracks. A room known as the Moorish Room, its ceiling and walls covered to simulate an oriental tent and lit by a 25-watt blue lamp, made space for sorority girls to “wipe their noses” when attending dances. On meeting nights, a guard was posted at the door to alert if the landlord would come to collect the late rent so the cashier could hide behind the piano. In 1921, Indianapolis Sig graduates obtained an “unspecified voluntary lease” of Arthur Johnson’s brother’s family home, 209 S. Downey Av, for a detached house that could accommodate fifteen men in five upstairs rooms. There were several study rooms and “a large reception hall and a living room in the front and a sitting room, and a dining room in the back.”
When the Kappa Alpha Theta club class was licensed, Catherine Merrill, Demia Butler Professor of English Literature, was the only female faculty member and advisor. Although it disapproved of secret societies, this opposition was overcome and the chapter flourished until the mid-1980s when it was dissolved. In 1906, the Gamma Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta was re-licensed and Thetas became an influential sorority on the Irvington campus. For several years, a log cabin on a wooded lot at 327 N. Irvington Av served as the chapter home of a sorority. After leaving Theta Cabin, the organization eventually built a spin-off at 215 S. Butler Av.
Although few enrollees, Butler attracted other communities written in Greek letters before the turn of the century. An nascent chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity appeared on the Irvington campus for about two years around 1880 and the Beta Chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was chartered in 1891. The Delta Δ branch of the Theta Nu Epsilon ΘNE fraternity came on campus in 1903, its members swearing an oath of allegiance For “Rituals of the Skull and Bones of the Cross”. Within three years of Thetas coming to Irvington, he joined the sorority Mu Μ Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma ΚΚΓ. A third organization appeared on the Butler social scene in 1897 when the Gamma Chapter of Pi Beta Phi ΠΒΦ was licensed.
Servant men and women were given two other options for society written in Greek letters in their mid-teens when the Alpha Alpha Zeta AAZ branch of Lambda Chi Alpha was leased from the Lambda Chi Alpha-fraternity and the Lambda-Delta-Delta-sorority branch. However, by the beginning of the 1920s, the increase in enrollment at Butler exceeded the capacity of these five established fraternities and four sororities to accommodate all the new incoming students who wanted to join.
Several Greek letter organizations were formed on the Irvington campus to accept students who could not join one of Butler’s nationally accredited fraternities or sororities. These organizations petitioned several national Greek letter societies and before Butler moved to the Fairview campus three new fraternal chapters – Epsilon no N chapter of Sigma no ΣΝ; Epsilon chapter E of Delta Alpha Pi ΑΔΠ; Omicron O Chapter of Kappa Delta Rho ΚΔΡ – and seven new chapters on sorority – Alpha Delta AΔ Chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha ΖΤΑ; Epsilon II ch of alpha delta theta ΑΔΘ; Alpha Nu AN separated from Delta Zeta ΔΖ; The Alpha Chi AX chapter of the Alpha Chi Omega; Alpha Phi AΦ is a branch of Alpha Delta Pi ΑΔΠ; Alpha Tau AT branch of Delta Gamma ΔΓ; Beta Theta Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi AOΠ has been installed.
One group of Butler’s students who were excluded from Greek life due to segregation policies at the time was the small number of African Americans. Two fraternities in Indianapolis that recognized black butler men were No In Chapters of Kappa Alpha PsiΚΑΨ and Iota Lambda IΛ branch of Alpha B AlphaΑΠA. In 1920, Kappa Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha A was founded for black female servants, and in 1922 seven African American women founded Alpha A Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho on the Butler campus. Next month, Beautiful Blue and Gold Poodles will celebrate the Society’s centenary at Butler Fairview Campus and at the former Irvington Campus.