The Founding of Sigma Chi
In the fall of 1854, a disagreement arose in the Kappa chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. This chapter consisted of 12 men. Six of them, led by Whitelaw Reid, supported one of the members for Poet in the Erodelphian Literary Society. Four of the other six members, James Parks Caldwell, Isaac M. Jordan, Benjamin Piatt Runkle & Franklin Howard Scobey, refused to vote for the brother because they knew him to lack poetic abilities. They favoured a man for that office who was not a Deke. Thomas Cowan Bell & Daniel William Cooper were not members of Erodelphian, but their relation to the disagreement was unqualified endorsement of the four. Thus, they became six.
The chapter of 12 was evenly divided in a difference of opinion that ordinarily would have been decided one way or the other & immediately forgotten. But both sides considered it a matter of principle, & could not reach a compromise. During the ensuring months, the group disagreed so much that their friendships grew distant.
Chapter meetings, or attempted chapter meetings, occurred for months with the breach constantly widening. A dramatic dinner meeting at a restaurant in Oxford in February 1855 involving the dissenting groups set the stage for Sigma Chi’s founding. Bell, Caldwell, Cooper, Jordan, Runkle & Scobey hosted the event, hoping to mend ways with the other six. They were on hand early, awaiting developments with anticipation. Of the meeting, Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle recalled: “With the kindest of intentions, we determined to give a dinner in their honour. I remember that the feast was prepared at the village restaurant, the guests invited, & on the appointed night we gathered & waited for the guests. They did not come for a long-time, & then only Mr. Reid & with a stranger. He took into his confidence Minor Millikin (an alumnus of the fraternity from nearby Hamilton, Ohio) & the two decided on strenuous proceedings.”
Millikin lost no time: “My name is Minor Millikin; I live in Hamilton. I am a man of few words.” He then passed judgement on all of the matters in dispute. Since he had heard only one side of the story, his verdict was against Runkle, Scobey & the others who had originally opposed election of the Deke as the Poet in the literary society. Millikin found them guilty.
Next, Millikin unfolded a plan he & Reid had concocted by which “justice” could be satisfied with the formal expulsion of the leaders in the rebellion (undoubtedly Runkle & Scobey), after which the others, having been properly chastised, could remain in the chapter.
At this dramatic moment, Runkle stepped forward, pulled off his Deke pin, tossed it upon the table & said, “I didn’t join this fraternity to be anyone’s tool. And that, sir,” addressing Millikin, “is my answer!” Runkle stalked out of the room, & his five colleagues followed.
The final meeting of the 12 active members of Delta Kappa Epsilon was held in Reid’s room in the “Old Southeast” building several days later. After a strenuous effort, led by Reid for the expulsion of the six, with six against six on all vital issues, the meeting broke up in considerable disorder.
A rather prolonged correspondence ensued with the parent chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Yale, resulting in “The Bull of Excommunication” in April 1855, expelling Bell, Caldwell, Cooper, Jordan, Runkle & Scobey. It was at this time they began making plans to found their own fraternity.
One of the best moves these six ever made was to associate with themselves William Lewis Lockwood. He had entered Miami early in 1855, but had not joined a fraternity. He was the “businessman” of the group & possessed a remarkable organizing ability. More than any other Founder, he was responsible for setting up the general plan of the Fraternity, much of which endures to this day.
During the later months of the 1854/1855 college year, Runkle & Caldwell lived in a second floor back room of a building at the southeast cornet of the public square on the north side of High Street in what is known as the birthplace of Sigma Chi (or Sigma Phi, as it was originally called). In this room were held many of the earlier organizational meetings of Sigma Chi, and it was there that Runkle & Lockwood designed the badge. The White Cross was designed exactly as we know it today except for the Greek letters “Sigma Phi” in the black centre which were changed to “Sigma Chi”.
Having been members of Delta Kappa Epsilon, six of the Founders were familiar with the general outline of fraternity constitution & ritual content. They were considerably influenced by Lockwood, who had known little of Delta Kappa Epsilon or its differences. With all of their plans formally completed, the seven Founders of the new Fraternity announced its establishment by wearing their badges for the first time in public on Commencement Day at Miami University, June 28, 1855.
Sigma Chi’s three great aims – friendship, justice & learning – reflect the break from Delta Kappa Epsilon & the ideals which were ultimately the most important for our Founders. The lessons of the founding of Sigma Chi are revealed in three other important pieces of the Founders’ legacy. The Spirit of Sigma Chi expresses the chief reason for their confrontation with Delta Kappa Epsilon, & it establishes a guide for our friendships & brotherhood in Sigma Chi. The Jordan Standard embodies the criteria by which men are found worthy of membership. Above all, the White Cross symbolizes the virtues & high ideals upon which the Founders based Sigma Chi & for which all initiated members constantly strive.