The Founding of DKE

The Founding of Delta Kappa Epsilon:

On Saturday, June 22nd, 1844 15 Yale College undergraduates met in No. 12 Old South Hall and established a new society they called DELTA KAPPA EPSILON

The Fraternity’s open motto, “Kerothen Philoi Aei” or “Friends from the Heart, Forever” was adopted, as was the DKE pin and the secret grip.

The founding of the Fraternity, as recalled by one of the Founders:

Edward Griffin Bartlett, Phi 1846, from The Delta Kappa Epsilon Quarterly, Vol.1, No.1.; January, 1883.

It is a worn little book which lies before me; the cover marred and scratched, the paper yellow with age and the ink faded to a dull brown. The first page is half-filled with my handwriting, and below are signed, beside my own, fourteen names–each marking sharply the individuality of the writer, and recalling the face of an old friend, each turning my thoughts to the end of the earth where he who bore it lives in active usefulness or rests in honored grave–all carrying me back to the day, a full generation ago, when we, fifteen boy classmates at Yale, formally avowed the bonds of mutual friendship which has long held us.

The spring of 1844 seems a queer old time, as I recall it now. Yale was to us the great seat of learning of the world. Rivalry with Harvard had not been thought of, and in fact we knew too little and heard too rarely of the Cambridge school, to take even a languid interest in its welfare.

Boating there was none. Baseball had not been invented. We played football with each other, and not according to Rugby. “The College Press” had then no existence. The great honors of the college were the commencement appointments, each of graded importance, all allotted among the twenty “oration men,” who led their class in general standing.

Scarcely secondary to these were the honors of the great literary societies, the “Brothers in Unity,” and “Linonia.” The membership in these societies extended throughout the four years course, and the rivalry between them was so intense that committees of each went as far as New York to interview probable freshmen, and impress them with the merits of the societies respectively.

The most of the upper classmen lived in the college dormitories, where the seniors had the first choice of rooms, the juniors the second, and so on down to the freshmen. Our bitterest grievance was the iron rule which compelled attendance at five o’clock-in-the-morning prayer, on which occasion cloak and boots at least were expected to be worn.

Our most favored recreation was the “Beethoven” club with its orchestra and fifty trained voices. But the time was close to the line between the old and the new. Our class of ’46 received the last diplomas signed by President Day, and our class instituted the first gymnasium, bringing Sheridan from New York to instruct us for the first few months.

There were then two so-called Junior societies at Yale, Psi Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi. Their main object was to associate groups of students high in college standing, skillful in college politics, who should mutually co-operate to increase the share of honors which should fall to each, while another scarcely secondary aim was in secret meeting to enjoy private drill in oratory and composition–preparatory to the exercises of the open literary societies. Their aims were practical, their methods business-like. They claimed, too, to make their elections strictly in consideration of the character, as scholars and gentlemen, of the members of the class from which they were made, and that such elections, therefore, were a tribute to the high scholarship and character of the best men in such class.

And, while others might have differed with them as to their application of their avowed rule, it came to be considered in each sophomore class that the leaders in scholarship and gentlemanly qualities had a right to, and might expect, an election. Such elections were made from the sophomore class in the spring term, and as, from the basis of the selection, the choice was practically anticipated, it was natural that those who considered themselves at the head of the class should associate together, and that, by the time such elections were announced, they were little more than formal invitations to those already considered to be entitled to them.

For purposes of college exercises there were two divisions of our class of ’46, as there had been of preceding classes. But “division” feeling was peculiarly strong in our class. Hence it was, doubtless, that in each division there was a group of classmates whose opinion of each other was such that they confidently expected the most of the elections to Psi Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi to be made from their number. Such at least was the case in the division of the class to which we belonged, and among those with whom I was intimately associated.

There were quite a number, each of whom considered himself and was considered by his friends as entitled to the elections. But those of the other division had the most “friends at court,” and when the elections were announced they were mainly from the rival division. So marked was the partiality with which the selection had been made, so prominent were the instances where merit had been slighted–as the event in College honors afterwards showed, that Psi Upsilon elections were rejected by several who had actually received them -and they were the most active in asking the cooperation of others, who had been slighted, to form a new Junior society.

If to any one more than others is due the founding of Delta Kappa Epsilon, George Foote Chester is that man, though brother Sherwood was prominent in such respect. To be sure, I recall, as brother Chester’s letter – now before me – states, that we found, on talking over matters with each other, that several among us had independently conceived the idea of a new Junior society.

But Chester was at least one of the first who had planned such an association. And when we discussed the pros and cons, it was he who most strongly urged the new departure. It was peculiarly his zeal and arguments that did most to hasten our conclusion, and no one more than he was influential in deciding our plans in such regard.

It was at a preliminary meeting held on June 22, 1844, that it was resolved to found a new society, and during the first week in July, 1844, the written articles now before me were drawn and signed, which bound us in preliminary organization.

At this meeting our Greek motto was adopted, and the name Delta Kappa Epsilon definitely assumed. The matter of badges was then discussed, and a draft made by me, showing Delta Kappa Epsilon on a scroll, upon a diamond bearing a star in each corner, was handed to Inman the artist, who sketched it in its present shape, and suggested the addition of the word “Yale,” which, being accepted, the pin was adopted as now used by the Phi chapter. Details of the permanent working plan of the organization were largely postponed until we had passed through, as we thought, quite successfully, the crisis of selecting a membership from the next class.

We awaited anxiously, though confidently, the allotment of graduation honors in our class of ’46, since our avowed reason for founding a new fraternity had been our belief that the older Junior societies had not properly recognized in their elections, the scholarship of some of those who had joined in the new departure. And the result amply justified our claim. Honors fell, which among us, Case, Horton, Kinsley, Righter and Franklin each took an “Oration;” Conyngham and Jacobs received “first Colloquies” and Chester took “Second Dispute.”

In other regards we were peculiarly fortunate. Horton was admittedly the foremost of his class in oratory, especially in extempore debate. One of our members was the leading athlete of the gymnasium, I was the leader of the “Beethoven,” and the first who had ever held that office in his junior year, and every one was at least a fair scholar.

Founded as Delta Kappa Epsilon was, we naturally made our elections on the basis upon which we had come together, and the early members – not invariably the best, and never poor, students – were always a companionable crowd. Such was Delta Kappa Epsilon from the start, adopting, without formulating the principle, that he lived his life best, who, helpful to his fellows, enjoyed it most himself.

The new Fraternity had all the pleasure which came from self-confidence, and at once instituted itself as the rival of Psi Upsilon and the patronizing critic of Alpha Delta Phi – though it was doubtless some time before such status was recognized by these societies. Our numbers were so small that we were at first generally beaten when we contested elections. We were, however, fortunate in generally having just the men “wanted” when party spirit did not run high, were wide awake and decidedly workers. Our aim the first years was to make the Fraternity felt, and we were quick to see and improve every chance in this direction.

In chapter we had at first but few customs except as to initiations, which were elaborate, contained no buffoonery, and were, as we thought, very impressive. Our literary exercises were always a great feature and very spirited.

Most of what occurred in those days, much even connected with Delta Kappa Epsilon, has grown very dim in my memory; but our first meeting will never be forgotten. We had hired a front room in the second story of a building at the corner of Chapel and State Streets, the latter skirting the old canal, which, filled up, now forms the bed of the New York & New Hampshire Railroad. We came at the appointed time and found the room – without a chair, table, lamp, or other article of furniture. Our landlord was sent for, but he calmly expressed his surprise that college students should not know the difference between chairs and a room. So we held a standing “session,” nothing was tabled, and for dispatch of business the meeting was a model. I only hope it will afford now as much amusement to the Psi Upsilon’s as it would then, had they known it.

We had, at first, no idea of propagating chapters. Our body, however, became known and proved popular, and applications were received for charters for “branches.” These were granted to bodies of friends associated like ourselves, when some member of our chapter could personally vouch for the character of the applicants. Thus it was brother Shapleigh who was the sponsor for Theta, which we almost immediately established at Bowdoin. He lived at Elliott, Me., and I at Portsmouth, N.H., about six miles distant. We seized the opportunity when vacation at Yale coincided with term time at Bowdoin, and Shapleigh, taking his father’s horse and buggy, we drove to Brunswick.

On the first day we drove from Portsmouth to Portland, stopping for dinner at a famous old half-way hostelry, and passing through Old Orchard, Kennebunk, and other little hamlets now grown into famous summer resorts. We drove the next day from Portland to Brunswick, where we were received with decided coolness by the faculty, who knew our errand. Professor Packard, a cousin of Shapleigh, carried this so far that he declined to invite me to a commencement party which he was about to give, the consequence of which was that Shapleigh would not attend, and we used the evening to good advantage in canvassing the proposed charter members.

We were favorably impressed with the men, among whom was Shapleigh’s friend Fogg. But as they were not all Juniors, we advised that the fraternity be made to take in the three upper classes instead of one only. In accordance with the original idea, the number was to be limited to fifteen. We had several meetings for consultation, and arranged everything as completely as possible, so that Sherwood, when he came on the next fall, had nothing to do but perform the initiation and impart the mysteries.

So far as we discussed our aims they were mainly those of the societies already in existence – facilities for literary drill, co-operation in college politics, companionship in recreation. There was, however, one circumstance not counted upon by us at the time which fixed the determining characteristic of Delta Kappa Epsilon.

The little band of its founders had gathered without definite design on the part of those concerned, simply because mutual attraction had drawn together young men of congenial temperament. It was this that had proved stronger than the inducements of the junior societies, which would otherwise have severed us; it was this that, controlling our plans, made Delta Kappa Epsilon from its institution somewhat different from the other “societies” of Yale, and, beyond others, a “fraternity.”

We builded better than we knew, when we founded the brotherhood to which good fellowship has ever been a passport not less requisite than learning, where glees have been written as often as essays, and where the candidate most favored was he who combined in the most equal proportions the gentleman, the scholar, and the jolly good-fellow.

We took a deep interest in the Fraternity’s welfare, not because we had planned for it an elaborate future, but because it had been the nucleus within which were comprised, or about which were grouped, the dearest memories of Yale; and it is probably just that lack, in the selection of members, of all inflexible rules but one – that the candidate must be a gentleman in the best sense of the word, to which Delta Kappa Epsilon owed, by which, if at all, she deserved her success.

– Edward Griffin Bartlett