The History of SAE
Sigma Alpha Epsilon was founded March 9, 1856
at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. The first eight
members included five seniors: Noble Leslie DeVotie, John Barratt
Rudulph, Nathan Elams Cockrell, John Webb Kerr, and Wade Foster,
and three juniors: Samuel Marion Dennis, Abner Edwin Patton and
Thomas Chappell Cook. Their leader was DeVotie who wrote the
ritual, implemented the grip, and chose the name. Rudulph
designed the badge.
Of all existing fraternities, Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the only one founded in the ante-bellum South. Founded while the United States was deviding, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, although it determined to extend to other colleges, was confined to the southern states. Extension was vigorous, however, and by the end of 1857 the Fraternity counted seven chapters. In the summer of 1858 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, four chapters meet to hold the fraternity's first national convention.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, fifteen chapters had been established and Sigma Alpha Epsilon had less than four hundred members. Of those members, 369 went to war for the Confederacy and seven fought with the Union forces. Several whole chapter fought for the Confederacy while members other chapters had brothers fighting on both sides. Seventy members of the Fraternity lost their lives in the War, including Noble Leslie DeVotie, who is officially recorded in the annals of the War as the first man on either side to give his life. It is a miracle that Sigma Alpha Epsilon survived the conflict. When the smoke of the battle had cleared, only the chapter at tiny Columbian College in Washington D.C. survived; only to die out soon afterwards.
Upon returning to Georgia Military Institute, a few young veterans found their little college burned to the ground. They decided to go to Athens, Georgia, to enter the state university there. They founded a chapter there at the University of Georgia at the end of 1865, leading to the Fraternity's revival. Soon other chapters rose from the ashes, and in 1867 the first post-war convention was held in Nashville, Tennessee. The reconstruction years were cruel to the South and southern colleges and their fraternities shared in the general malaise of the region. In the 1870s and early 1880s new chapters were frail and old chapters died as fast as new ones were established. In 1886 the Fraternity had charted 49 chapters, but scarcely a dozen could be called active. Still only two of them where in the Northern states the first the first at Pennsylvania College, now Gettysburg College, and a second at Mt. Union College in Ohio.
In 1886 that things took a turn for the better. That autumn a 16-year-old youngster by the name of Harry Bunting entered Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee, and was initiated by the young Tennessee Zeta chapter there that had nitiated two of his biological brothers. When Sigma Alpha Epsilon took in Harry Bunting, it caught a comet by the tail. In just eight years, under the enthusiastic guidance of Harry Bunting and his younger brother, George, Sigma Alpha Epsilon experienced a renaissance. Together they prodded Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapters to enlarge their membership; they wrote encouraging articles in the Fraternity's quarterly journal, The Record, promoting better chapter standards; and above all they undertook an almost incredible program of expansion of the Fraternity, resurrecting old chapters in the South (including Mother Mu at Alabama) and founding new ones in the North and West. In an explosion of growth, the Buntings single-handedly were responsible for nearly fifty chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
When Harry Bunting founded the Northwestern University chapter in 1894, he initiated William Collin Levere, a remarkable young man whose enthusiasm for the Fraternity matched Bunting's. Bunting passed the torch of leadership to Levere, and for the next three decades it was the spirit of "Billy" Levere that dominated Sigma Alpha Epsilon and brought the Fraternity to maturity. "Billy" did everything. He was elected national president twice, he served as the Fraternity's first full-time executive secretary and chapter visitation officer 1912-27, edited its quarterly magazine and several editions of the catalog and directory of membership and published a monumental three volume history of the Fraternity in 1911. In honor of his dedication, the Fraternity's Supreme Council decided to name their new national headquarters building at the Levere Memorial Temple. Construction of the Temple, an immense Gothic structure located a stone's throw from Lake Michigan and across from the Northwestern University campus, was started in 1929, and the building was dedicated at Christmas-time 1930.
When the Supreme Council met regularly in the early 1930s at the Temple, educator John O. Moseley, the Fraternity's national president, lamented that "we have in the Temple a magnificent school-house. Why can we not have a school?" During the summer of 1935 the Fraternity's first leadership school was held under the direction of Dr. Moseley. The first such workshop in the Fraternity world was immensely successful; today nearly every Fraternity holds such a school. The leadership is unquestionably the best service Sigma Alpha Epsilon provides to its undergraduates who came to Evanston in regimental numbers each year. John Moseley is credited more than any other for the leadership that carried Sigma Alpha Epsilon forward during the next twenty years. In the last years of his life he served the Fraternity as its executive secretary, capping a distinguished academic career that had included two college presidencies.
Since the Second World War the Fraternity has grown much larger and had undergone some changes. Sigma Alpha Epsilon's chapter growth and membership has been quite spectacular. Its total number of initiates continues to be the high in the Fraternity world. More than a hundred chapter have charters 45 years. A few chapters have died or have been suspended, but older chapters have been revived, including some pre-Civil War chapters.
Qualitative changes in recent decades have been profound. Alongside their colleges, chapters have democratized. Membership today is for more diverse, with men from varied religious, ethnic and racial minorities, enriching chapters. Simply peruse the roster of the 600 or so delegates at the annual John O. Moseley Leadership School to confirm the dimensions of change. The Fraternity enjoyed the "happy days" of the 1950s, survived the campus revolt of the 1960s and 1970s, and tried to steer an even coarse in the turbulence that marked the late 1970s and the 1980s. Together with its fellow collegiate Greek-letter societies it wrestles today with new problems attendant upon risk management, the war against hazing, alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct rife on our campuses. Never before have the challenges been so great or the opportunities so rich. Accordingly Sigma Alpha Epsilon has undertaken a thorough program of reform and rejuvenation, seeking to assist its undergraduate members to make a reaffirmation of faith in their best, most wholesome traditions while seeking to adapt creatively to a new and invigorating college climate. Sigma Alpha Epsilon looks to a future full of promise.
Special thanks to our brothers in Colorado Lambda for this history!