THETA CHI SOCIETY, as it was then known, was founded at Norwich University, Norwich, Vermont, at nine o’clock on Thursday evening, April 10, 1856.
At that time Frederick Norton Freeman ’57 (top left), and Arthur Chase ’56 (top right), met in Freeman’s room in the Old South Barracks of the University and, to quote from the minutes of the first meeting, “being called to order by Mr. Chase, Messrs. Chase and Freeman mutually took the oaths prescribed and declared each other true and accepted members of the Theta Chi Society.” From this humble beginning Theta Chi Fraternity has grown to its present status.
To quote again from the minutes of the first meeting we learn that “The Theta Chi Society was the idea and plan of Frederick Norton Freeman, and with the assistance of Arthur Chase, his plans were perfected and the society was organized.” Chase was elected president and Freeman was elected secretary. The next evening, April 11, the first initiation was conducted. One of the initiates was Edward Bancroft Williston of San Diego, California, and the other was Lorenzo Potter of Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
The historical facts of the founding of Theta Chi were taken from old minute books, old correspondence, and the personal recollections of Alpha Chapter members who related, many years later, what had been passed on to them.
In this early period of American college life, fraternities were being organized in institutions all over the country. Many were local societies which enjoyed brief existences, while others, planned along national lines, grew, flourished, and expanded and are the national fraternities which we know today.
Freeman and Chase, together with Egbert Phelps, ex-’56, had been planning the organization of the society for more than two years prior to the organizational meeting. Phelps left Norwich in 1854 and entered Union College where he joined Chi Psi Fraternity, but he kept in contact with Freeman and helped so much with his advice and suggestions that it is felt he should be credited, at least, with being the “assistant founder” of Theta Chi. It was Phelps who suggested the name of the Society and designed the first badge which was virtually the same as the official badge used today. Perhaps from his fraternity experience at Union College, he passed on to Freeman additional advice and suggestions which were helpful in writing our first ritual and constitution.
Theta Chi was the first Greek Letter society to make its appearance at Norwich. It was preceded in 1853 by a secret society known as the “Regulators.” Whether there was any connection between the Regulators and Theta Chi is open to conjecture. It is known that Freeman was a Regulator and that when the Regulators passed out of existence in 1856 practically all of the paraphernalia of this organization passed into the possession of Theta Chi Society.
The lives of the Founders of Theta Chi Fraternity should be interesting to us now as we turn back the pages of history for almost 150 years. How well they planned and with what ability, foresight, and wisdom they did their original organization work is attested by the fact that throughout the long years since our founding the fundamentals of the organization, as expressed in the original constitution, to this day remain unchanged. Our present ritual includes the original ritual used in 1856. The oaths taken by Freeman and Chase on that April evening long ago have since been shared by every man initiated into Theta Chi.
In the Spring of 1866 the Norwich University buildings burned. Old South Barracks, where Theta Chi was founded, was completely destroyed. It is reasonable to believe that some of the early records and relics of the Fraternity were lost at this time. The University moved after the fire to Northfield, Vermont, its present location. At the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Convention the Fraternity erected a granite monument with a bronze plaque at Norwich, Vermont, to commemorate the founding of the Fraternity.
In the first decade of the Fraternity’s existence a number of serious handicaps were experienced. The Civil War greatly depleted the student body of the University, for Norwich was a military school. After the fire in 1866 there was doubt for a while as to whether or not the University would continue. The war, the fire, and the uncertainty regarding the continuation of the University seriously lowered the attendance, and the school opened in the Fall of 1866 with only nineteen students. In spite of the low enrollment which continued for some years, we are told in “The History of Norwich University” by Dodge and Ellis that “The Theta Chi and Alpha Sigma Pi fraternities flourished in this period, 1866 to 1880.” Just what the word “flourished” meant is not known, but it is supposed that even with a small university enrollment, Theta Chi was able to get its share of new members.
In 1881 the student body of Norwich was reduced to a dozen men, and Theta Chi found itself with one active member. This critical situation was relieved when local alumni worked with the undergraduate member, James M. Holland, ’83, in pledging and initiating Phil S. Randall, ’86, and Henry B. Hersey, ’85, thus preserving the existence of the Fraternity.
After 1888 the affairs of the University took a decided turn for the better, and from then on there was never a question of Theta Chi leadership on the Norwich campus. From its very inception Theta Chi was planned as a national fraternity. Why it existed as a single chapter for nearly fifty years will probably never be definitely known. Expansion was no doubt delayed by two conditions, the unstable conditions of the University at first, and anti-expansion sentiment, which developed later within the chapter.
In 1888 Theta Chi Fraternity was incorporated under the laws of Vermont. From 1888 until the establishment of the Beta Chapter, fourteen years later, the history of the Fraternity is a history of steady growth of a chapter both in general strength and in members. Norwich University disbanded its fraternities in 1960, so Alpha Chapter no longer exists.
With the establishment of Beta Chapter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Boston Massachusetts, on December 13, 1902, a new era opened for Theta Chi, an era of country-wide expansion and national organization and administration. Although hindered by a serious depression and two world wars, Theta Chi has grown, and prospered beyond the dreams of the Founders to the position it now holds in the national fraternity scene.
excerpts from “Theta Chi Fraternity, A Brief Look at our History” – www.thetachi.org