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Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ, also SAE) is a North American Greek-letter social college fraternity. It was founded at the University of Alabama on March 9, 1856. Of all existing national social fraternities today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only one founded in the Antebellum South. Its national headquarters, the Levere Memorial Temple, were established on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1929. At the time the Levere Memorial Temple was built, the building cost $400,000; it is now said that the building is priceless due to its extensive collections of Tiffany stained-glass windows.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon has more than 304,000 initiated members and more than 11,900 undergraduates at 246 chapters and 19 colonies in 49 states and provinces at present. The creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, The True Gentleman, must be memorized and recited by all prospective members. New members receive a copy of The Phoenix, the manual of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, for educational development.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon was founded on March 9, 1856, at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Its founders were Noble Leslie DeVotie, Nathan Elams Cockrell, John Barratt Rudulph, John Webb Kerr, Samuel Marion Dennis, Wade Hampton Foster, Abner Edwin Patton, and Thomas Chappell Cook. Their leader was DeVotie, who wrote the ritual, created the grip, and chose the name. Rudulph designed the badge. Of all existing national social fraternities today, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only national fraternity founded in the antebellum South.
Founded in a time of intense sectional feeling, Sigma Alpha Epsilon confined its growth to the southern states. By the end of 1857, the fraternity numbered seven chapters. Its first national convention met in the summer of 1858 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with four of its eight chapters in attendance. By the time of the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, fifteen chapters had been established.
None of the founders of SAE were members of any other fraternity, although Noble Leslie DeVotie had been invited to join all of the other fraternities at the University of Alabama before founding Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
The fraternity had fewer than 400 members when the Civil War began. Of those, 369 went to war for the Confederate States and seven for the Union Army. Seventy-four members of the fraternity lost their lives in the war.
While many Sigma Alpha Epsilon Chapters today claim that Noble Leslie DeVotie was the first person to die in the Civil War, DeVotie is not recognized by reputable sources as the first death. DeVotie lost his footing while boarding a Steamer on February 12, 1861, purportedly becoming the first casualty of the war.
When a few of the young veterans returned to the Georgia Military Institute and found their college burned to the ground, they decided to enter the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. The founding of a chapter there at the end of 1865, along with the re-establishment of the chapter at the University of Virginia, led to the fraternity's revival. Soon, other chapters came back to life and, in 1867, the first post-war convention was held at Nashville, Tennessee, where a half-dozen revived chapters planned the fraternity's future growth.
In the 1870s and early 1880s, more than a score of new chapters were formed. Older chapters died as fast as new ones were established. By 1886, the fraternity had chartered 49 chapters, but few were active. The first northern chapter had been established at Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College), in 1883, and a second was placed at Mount Union College in Ohio two years later.
Soon after, 16-year-old Harry Bunting entered Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee, now known as Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He was initiated into the Tennessee Zeta Chapter, which had previously initiated two of his brothers. In just eight years, Harry Bunting and his younger brother, George, emboldened Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapters to increase their membership. They wrote encouraging articles in the fraternity's quarterly journal, The Record, promoting better chapter standards. Above all, they gave new life to old chapters in the South (including the mother chapter at Alabama) and founded new ones in the North and West. The Buntings were responsible for an explosion of growth, founding nearly 50 chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. When Harry Bunting founded the Northwestern University chapter in 1894, he initiated as a charter member William Collin "Billy" Levere. Bunting passed the torch of leadership to Levere, and for the next three decades, Levere's high spirits brought the fraternity to maturity.
When Levere died on February 22, 1927, the fraternity's Supreme Council decided to name the new national headquarters building The Levere Memorial Temple. Construction of the Temple, an immense German Gothic structure located near Lake Michigan and across from the Northwestern University campus, was started in 1929, and the building was dedicated in the winter of 1930.
When the Supreme Council met regularly in the early 1930s at the Temple, educator John O. Moseley, the fraternity's national president, lamented, "We have in the Temple a magnificent school-house. Why can we not have a school?" Accordingly, the economic depression notwithstanding, the fraternity's first Leadership School was held under the direction of Moseley in the summer of 1935. In the last years of Moseley's life, he served the fraternity as its executive secretary, capping an academic career that included two college presidencies.
The True Gentleman
The True Gentleman is the creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which was first adopted by the fraternity sometime in the 1930s. However, it wasn't until the 2001 Fraternity Convention in Orlando, Florida that it was officially adopted as the organization's creed. The definition was discovered by Judge Walter B. Jones, who first came upon it in an Alabama Baptist quarterly of which he was the editor. He sent a copy of it to John O. Moseley, the leader of the annual Leadership Schools, who was quite taken with it. Moseley began using it at the schools. For many years, the author of it was thought to be anonymous until the 1970s when the editor of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge manual, The Phoenix, Joseph Walt, discovered that the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis also used it in a manual. The author was denoted there as one John Walter Wayland. "The True Gentleman" had actually first appeared in The Baltimore Sun as part of a competition for the best definition of a true gentleman with Wayland's submission being crowned the winner.
With his family's approval, John Walter Wayland was posthumously initiated into SAE during the Fraternity's 66th annual Leadership School in Chicago. The Virginia Omicron chapter at the University of Virginia was selected as Wayland's chapter since he had completed his master's degree at that institution in 1901.
"The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe."
- John Walter Wayland. Virginia, 1899
The Levere Memorial Temple
The fraternity's international headquarters, known as the Fraternity Service Center, is maintained at the Levere Memorial Temple in Evanston, Illinois. Honoring all the members of the fraternity who have served their countries in the armed forces since 1856, it was dedicated on December 28, 1930. The museum on the first floor is devoted to a collection of interesting historical photographs, pictures, and collections from private sources. The walls of the building are hung with oil portraits of distinguished members. The basement contains the Panhellenic Room, on the ceiling of which are the coats-of-arms of 40 college fraternities and 17 sororities, while the niches on the north side contain large murals showing the founding of Phi Beta Kappa in 1776 and that of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 1856, together with other murals depicting episodes in the history of the fraternity. Perhaps the most outstanding mural in the Panhellenic Room is the reproduction of Raphael's The School of Athens, painted by Johannes Waller in the 1930s. Additionally, all brothers who visit are encouraged to sign the guest book, which amassed quite a collection over the years.
The building continues to be used for ceremonies and receptions by the various fraternities, sororities, and honor societies at Northwestern University. The impressive chapel of the Temple, with its soaring vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows by Tiffany is used regularly for religious services, and has been the scene of many weddings of Evanstonians and members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In fact, the entire building is open to the public for patriotic, religious, and educational purposes, while the library is also free to scholars seeking material pertaining to the history of any or all college fraternities and college organizations.
In its early days, the government of the Fraternity was vested in a single chapter, designated the Grand Chapter. The first such chapter was North Carolina Xi at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was responsible only to the general convention, the last was Tennessee Omega at the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee.
Today Sigma Alpha Epsilon is governed by Fraternity Conventions which are held biennially. At Conventions, brothers from all over the country come together to consider modifications to the Fraternity Laws, to the Ritual and to elect national officers. Between Conventions, SAE is governed by an all-volunteer Supreme Council; composed of the Eminent Supreme Archon (President), Eminent Supreme Deputy Archon (VP), Eminent Supreme Warden (Treasurer), Eminent Supreme Herald, and Eminent Supreme Chronicler. An Honorary Eminent Supreme Archon is also selected by the Past ESAs. The Executive Director of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (a full-time paid staff position) holds the title of Eminent Supreme Recorder and serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the organization. He is supported by a 25+ person full-time staff based at the Levere Memorial Temple as well as in the field. The Fraternity Convention also elects members to serve on the SAE Foundation Board of Directors (11-members total) and the SAE Financial and Housing Board of Directors (7-members total).
In addition, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is governed more locally through Province Conventions. A province is a section of the Realm which is composed of nearby chapters. These provinces meet regularly to discuss issues concerning its individual chapters. Each of the 30 provinces are led by a Province Archon supported by a Province Council.
The fraternity communicates through The Record magazine. It is published three times a year and has been continuously in publication since 1880. The magazine has become popular in social groups throughout the country. The fall issue of The Record contains additional sections, such as Chapter Eternal and the annual report. All three issues are provided to active members and current donors to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Foundation - at a circulation of approximately 30,000.
As of May 5, 2009, The Record can be read online at saerecord.net.
- Official website
- Website of The True Gentleman Initiative, an official program of SAE
- Online version of THE RECORD