of this history were taken from the October 2000 issue of
'Town & Gown' in an article written by Lee Stout, University
1870's 1920's 1960's Present
The Greek community can trace its roots back to
the 1870's. While the university, then called a college, was founded
in only 1855, the first fraternity to be chartered sprung up in 1872.
The international fraternity of Delta Tau Delta chartered the group.
However, because the faculty at the time felt that fraternities were
generally bad and would not promote the proper atmosphere at the
university, the chapter was soon closed.
Things began to change though in the late 1800's. A new president had arrived
by the name of George Atherton, who is buried next to the Schwab Auditorium,
who helped make major changes in student development at the university. He,
along with a growing number of faculty who were themselves members of fraternities
as undergraduates at different institutions, felt that a fraternity influence
would provide students with new opportunities for friendship, and help alleviate
the growing housing problem on campus.
At this time, there were a number of fraternities operating secretly on campus,
with secret greek, german, or latin letter combinations. The reason for this
is that faculty mainly supressed the wants of students to gather and socialize
and most of the students lived in cramped quarters in the old 'Old Main' where
the lived, ate, slept, and worked.
One of the most prominent secret organizations at the time that would have
a direct impact on the Greek community at Penn State was the QTV secret latin
letter society. At the time, QTV existed as a national organization, but most
of the chapters had no direct affiliation. Eventually QTV broke up and their
chapters affiliated with other national organizations. However, before that
could happen, in 1888 President George Atherton lifted the ban on fraternities.
The first fraternity officially allowed by the university was Phi Gamma Delta
fraternity, because they were the first fraternity to have their national convention
and chartered the fraternity. QTV locally however was being racked with internal
dissent. Some of the members wanted to break away and affiliate with Beta Theta
Pi, while other members wanted to affiliate with another chapter. Some of the
members left and in 1888, were chartered by Beta Theta Pi. The remaining members,
however, didn't merge with another fraternity until 1896, when they were chartered
by Phi Kappa Sigma.
Fraternities needed homes to live in and the school was quickly running out
of room for all students. The first fraternity to purchase a home off-campus
was Phi Gamma Delta. They were the first Phi Gamm chapter with a fraternity
home and it was set up on the corner of present day Beaver Avenue and Allen
Street. The house still stands, but has been moved back a few houses and is
now an apartment.
By 1920, fraternities at Penn State grew almost
fivefold to 29 nationals and 10 locals. This was due to the support
of President Sparks, a Chi Phi himself, and Dean of Men Arthur Warnock.
Both believed in the importance of extracurricular life in rounding
out the education of the student, but also recognized fraternities
tended to have problems with social behavior, house management and
finances, and indifference to academics. They created the Interfraternity
Council (IFC) to address those issues.
House construction boomed in three general areas. First, along West College
Avenue, particularly between Barnard and Gill; second, within two blocks of
South Allen Street between Foster and Fairmount; and third, on campus where
four of the six houses there were built during that era. The West College houses
were fairly sizable some even had three stories while the Allen Street houses
tended to be smaller. Some survive today, having made transitions from fraternities
to rooming houses to apartments.
However, it was during the 1920s and '30s that those houses we most often call
mansions were built. These came primarily in a new section of town surrounding
Locust Lane and Garner Street, from East Beaver south to Hamilton.
In the University Archives is an advertising map of the new fraternity
district, developed by Eugene H. Lederer, in the April 1926 edition
of his Real Estate
News. Fifteen houses were built at that point and 15 lots were sold, with
additional spaces still available. The News reported, "In a few years' time this
section will be one of the most beautiful in the state. We venture this statement
because there will be grouped together homes of fraternities costing from $40,000
to $75,000 with spacious lawns and property landscaped." Translated
to the dollar's current value, those figures would be $370,000 to $695,000.
On March 15, 1921, the first NPHC fraternity, Omega Psi Phi was founded at
Penn State. Omega Psi Phi operated a chapter home on Allen Street and was the
lone NPHC fraternity until the late 1950's. There was rapid expansion of NPHC
fraternities and sororities during the 1980's and 90's. The NPHC nationally
took shape in 1989 at Indiana University at Bloomington.
architect-designed, Classical Revival-style homes were the biggest
fraternity houses yet in fact, the biggest houses in town. They
symbolized the continuing success of the Greek community of that
era. By 1923, there were 47 national and local chapters, housing
almost 50 percent of the male student body. Fraternities dominated
the campus social scene with House Party weekends and special
dances. Greeks also dominated student government and leadership
positions in other activities.
In 1926, the first women's sorority arrived on campus in the form of Chi Omega
sorority. Other sororities started to spring up on campus with Pi Beta Phi,
Phi Mu, and Kappa Alpha Theta joining Chi Omega. Sororities occupied the cottages
still found on campus to this day. Some of the homes have been torn down, like
Stone House on the HUB lawn, which for a long time was the home for Kappa Alpha
Theta. Around this time, the Panhellenic Council was formed and continues to
represent the over 20 Penn State sororities.
was hard on fraternities, and during World War II, the college
took them over to house Army and Navy officer cadets here for
special training. The chapters rebounded after the war, and eight
new nationals established chapters. By 1966, the 56 Penn State
chapters of national fraternities had more than 2,800 men in
residence the second-largest system in the country.
Fraternities during the late 1960's faced student
uprisings on campus all over the nation. Protestors felt that fraternities
were part of the 'administration-establishment' and many fraternities
say thier numbers drop to record lows.
In 1968, Greek Sing was started as performance opportunity for fraternities
and sororities to show off their musical talents. The event was restarted in
1983 and in 1985, it was decided that all profits from Greek Sing would go
to the Gayle Beyers scholarship fund, named after a Penn State advisor who
gave hours of dedication to helping the fraternity and sorority community.
It is still held annually every fall.
Sororities at Penn State worked out a provision with the admistration that
gauranteed them housing in the residence halls. Many sororities moved into
Pollock Halls and South Halls, while some reside in East Halls. It was and
still is difficult for sororities to move off-campus, becuase of housing codes,
security, and financial concerns.
At the time, an IFC President named Bill Lear felt that the Greek community
could use some public relations help. He decided to plan and start a dance
marathon that would benefit a local philanthropy. The dance marathon was a
significant success. They raised almost $2,000 for the Pennsylvania Association
for Retarded Children. Two years later a little known charity became the recipient
of the dance marathon fundraiser - The Four Diamonds Fund. Bleachers lined
the walls of the HUB Ballroom as a record 62 couples took the floor. The philanthropy
continues to give the Greek community a great name and raise funding for an
amazing philanthropy. Last year alone, the Penn State Dance Marathon, or as
it's simply called now, THON, raised over $3,600,000.
In the Fall of 2002, a new governing organization
was founded to represent the numerous diverse, multi-cultural greek
organizations at Penn State that until this time had no representation.
The Multicultural Greek Council, or MGC, is now the governing body
for those fraternities and sororities.
The Greek community at Penn State continues to grow into the future with new
and exciting programs, the rebuilding and relocation of fraternity houses,
and new fraternities and sororities growing and becoming members of the IFC,
PHC, MGC, and NPHC. The future looks bright for Penn State's fraternities and