About Phi Kappa Psi

Over 150 years ago, two college students, William H. Letterman and Charles P.T. Moore, in the little college town of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, in the hills of Western Pennsylvania, were nursing and watching their stricken friends during an epidemic of typhoid fever at the college. Through the long night vigils, an appreciation of the great joy of serving others came into their lives. Calling a number of others to join them, a Brotherhood was founded on February 19, 1852. It flourished ,and gradually extended to other colleges and universities throughout the country. Idealists all, these founders of Phi Kappa Psi taught a new fraternity - a fraternity which should complement the work of the university by cultivating those humanities without which the educated man fails of his greatest usefulness.

At the time of our founding, Jefferson College was considered one of the "Big Three" in what was known as the "Jeffersonian Cradle." The other two institutions comprising this group, Harvard and Princeton, were of very nearly equal size and equal high esteem. These institutions all graduated predominantly ministers, lawyers and physicians from an academic curricula based in classical literature, religious doctrine and basic sciences.

Phi Kappa Psi recognizes the need and value of the best and broadest education possible and encourages that goal within our membership. But unless actuated by a proper love for and service to mankind, the educated man may often waste his talents. It is to counteract this tendency that Phi Kappa Psi was founded to encourage the best in men, to inspire and assist them to reach their potential as students, brothers, men and citizens.

History of Phi Kappa Psi

Pennsylvania Alpha was no sooner established than Charles Page Thomas Moore left his college in search of other schools in which to spread the principles of Phi Kappa Psi. He first went to Union College (N.Y.), well-known birthplace to many fraternities. Finding the field already crowded, he abandoned the idea of establishing a chapter. From Union he went to the University of Virginia, where conditions where more to his liking, and there established the second chapter of the Fraternity in 1853. Pennsylvania Alpha, being the original chapter, claimed to have the final decision in all matters pertaining to the Fraternity although the presence of Charles Moore at Virginia gave that chapter considerable confidence in maintaining a position equal to the parent chapter.

The most active man in the Fraternity at this time was Thomas Chochran Campbell, an enthusiast born in India, of missionary parents and full of the mysticism of the East. To him, more than to the Founders, the Fraternity owes its peculiar character and strong foundation.

In 1855, the first Grand Arch council was held in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although little seems to have been accomplished, it is evident that the delegates from Virginia Alpha exerted a strong influence and were the dominant figures. The second Grand Arch Council was held the following year in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and at this meeting Virginia Alpha was formally elected to be the executive head of the Fraternity, succeeding Pennsylvania Alpha. Virginia Alpha continued as Grand Chapter until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, when it, together with the other southern Chapters, suspended operations.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Phi Kappa Psi claimed a membership of approximately 600, 452 of whom enlisted. By the end of the war, with a membership meantime of nearly 800, 552 had been in service, 254 in the Union Army and 298 in the Confederate Army. Of this total, 292 became commissioned officers, including three Major Generals, seven Brigadier Generals, 10 Colonels and 16 Lieutenant Colonels. More than 100 of these brave lads joined the eternal bivouac of the dead in this terrible conflict. The late C.F. "Dab" Williams donated to the Fraternity an unidentified, antique, handmade Phi Kappa Psi badge found on the Hagerstown pike near Gettysburg, Pa., the day after the decisive Civil War battle ended at that place.

Throughout the Fraternity’s third decade of existence there had been a growing demand for a change from the Grand Chapter method of government. In 1885, at the Grand Arch Council, sufficient strength was mustered to carry out a change. At this Council a special committee was appointed to draft an entirely new system, providing for a strong, centralized Executive Council, the officers of which should be graduates, with undergraduates elected to serve as the heads of each District of the Fraternity. A special Grand Arch Council was called, to meet at Indianapolis in April, 1886, to pass upon the report of the committee. The report was adopted and the system of Fraternity government was completely revolutionized. The plan is in force today, with only such amendments as the growth and development of the Fraternity have made advisable.

William Clayton Wilson, chief claim attorney of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company, planned the new form of government and drafted the new constitution. As a result of this farseeing development the Fraternity owes a debt of gratitude to Brother Wilson, second only to that which she owes to her illustrious Founders and Thomas Cochran Campbell.

After graduating from Jefferson College, William H. Letterman received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He served in the Union army during the Civil War as a civilian Contract Surgeon, and practiced medicine in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Texas before his death in 1881. Thomas P.T. Moore was admitted to the bar in Virginia following his graduation from the University of Virginia Law School in 1856. After the separation of West Virginia from Virginia, Moore practiced law in West Virginia, including service as a county prosecutor. He served on the West Virginia Supreme Court for more than ten years, before retiring to a farm in Mason County, West Virginia. He died in 1904, and was buried on his farm.

The First 100 Years

The centennial anniversary of the founding of Phi Kappa Psi was celebrated with a simple but impressive ceremony at the old home of the Widow Letterman in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, on February 19, 1952. Over 100 members of the Fraternity gathered together for this occasion including three of the grandsons of the Founders. A bronze tablet commemorating the centennial was moved to the Pennsylvania Alpha chapter house.

In the Fraternity’s first 100 years, Phi Kappa Psi had grown to 56 chapters, 40 Alumni Associations and 40,000 initiates.

Phi Kappa Psi Today

Phi Kappa Psi today has ninety-seven chapters in thirty-four states and the District of Columbia with 4,778 active student members. There have been nearly 113,000 men initiated. Unlike most national fraternities, the constitution of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity vests control over its affairs in the student members through the election of six of the ten members of the Executive Council and voting control at the GAC. The Endowment Fund of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity is a 501(c)(3) foundation that provides financial support for education programs of the Fraternity and financial support through scholarships and grants to its members. The Endowment Fund has approximately $50 million in assets, and ranks largest among the endowments established by other fraternity and sorority organizations.