The Founding of The Delta Chi Fraternity

Since at least 1929, Delta Chi has recognized the following eleven men as the Founders of The Delta Chi Fraternity: Albert Sullard Barnes, Myron McKee Crandall, John Milton Gorham, Peter Schermerhorn Johnson, Edward Richard O’Malley, Owen Lincoln Potter, Alphonse Derwin Stillman, Thomas A. J. Sullivan, Monroe Marsh Sweetland, Thomas David Watkins, Frederick Moore Whitney.

This list has not always been the accepted one.  Even those on the list had differing opinions as to who deserved such recognition.  To more fully understand the confusion, let us go back to the school year of 1889-90 and “set the stage” for the inception of the second law fraternity at Cornell.  The school year of 1889-90 began with conversations of starting a new law fraternity, but, as school work increased, the idea was put off until the spring semester.  Two incidents have been credited with providing the impetus for renewed interest in the founding of what was to become Delta Chi.  One was the election of a Phi  Delta Phi as the Law School Editor of the Cornell Daily Sun (the student  newspaper) and the second was the election of the law school junior class president.  in the case of the class presidency, Alphonse Derwin Stillman had done some campaigning for a student named Irving G. Hubbard and was unaware of any effort being made in anyone else’s behalf.  When the voting results were in, Charles Frenkel, a Phi Delta Phi, was declared the winner.  That caused Stillman to start “asking around.” It appears that what he found was a law school which was dominated by one small, closely knit group — Phi Delta Phi.

The question of who first conceived the idea of a new fraternity will probably never be answered.  According to Frederick Moore Whitney there were probably two or three groups working on the idea that spring.

Monroe Marsh Sweetland (who was also a member of Delta Tau Delta from Cornell) claimed the idea was his alone; Myron McKee Crandall claimed the  fraternity was started in his and Frank Edward Thomas’ apartment at 126 E. Seneca Street; Stillman remembered being approached by “one of the boys” after  the class election but couldn’t remember who.

In any case, there were meetings held in Crandall’s apartment as well as in Sweetland’s law office on Wilgus Street.  It is not clear how these two groups came together, or even in which month, though there seems to have been some  individuals who had attended both groups.  Crandall did remember approaching  Sweetland about the concept of the new fraternity and how excited he was, and how he had joined right in.  Sweetland said he always had considered the founding of Delta Chi to date back to when he had unfolded the whole idea to  Crandall.

While the class officer elections and the Law School Editorship incidents may  have provided the initial incentives for organization, it soon became clear that  those involved were looking for much more.  Realizing a common desire for  fellowship and intellectual association, they sought to enrich their college  experiences by creating among themselves a common bond; a bond that would  materially assist each in the acquisition of a sound education; a bond that  would provide each enduring value.  As with any important commitment, there must  be time for contemplation and planning.

Over the summer, many of the details of the organization were worked out by  Crandall, who had stayed in Ithaca until after school opened.  There was  additional work accomplished by Sweetland, John Milton Gorham and Stillman.

In regards to the adoption of the constitution, Albert Sullard Barnes wrote  the following in his 1907 Quarterly article:

“As I recall it, after refreshing my recollection from the original minutes  now in my possession, on the evening of October 13, 1890, six students in the  Law School, brothers John M.  Gorham, Thomas J.  Sullivan, F.  K.  Stephens, A.D.   Stillman and the writer, together with Myron Crandall and O.  L.  Potter, graduate  students, and Monroe Sweetland, a former student in the Law School, met in a  brother’s room and adopted the constitution and by-laws, and organized the Delta  Chi Fraternity.”

The minutes from that meeting state “Charter granted to Cornell Chapter”  (Note: While it is only supposition, it is believed that the Founders chose to  name their chapter and, therefore, all chapters to follow, after the school in  which they had so much pride in hopes that some of the prestige of the school  would “rub off” on their fraternity.  The naming of chapters varies from  fraternity to fraternity with school names, Greek alphabet, Greek alphabet  within state and Greek alphabet and numbers being the most common.) indicating  from the beginning the intent to start a national fraternity.  From the spring  semester of 1890 until October 13, 1890, there existed, in effect, a fraternity  which had no chapters.

In the fall of 1890 the names of Fred Kingsbury Stephens, Martin Joseph  Flannery and Frank Edward Thomas appeared on the agreement to share the cost of  purchasing a sample badge for the fraternity, and the signatures of both  Flannery and Stephens appeared on the pledge “…  to form a Greek letter  fraternity….” Since both Flannery and Stephens dropped out of the organization  early, they have not been included as Founders.

The inclusion of Thomas’ name as a Founder has been hotly debated since the  beginning, and Carl Peterson, Union ’22, who had researched the founding of  Delta Chi during the 20s and was largely responsible for the recognition of  Crandall as a Founder, maintained that Thomas was equally deserving.  This was  confirmed in conversations with Barnes, Crandall and Thomas, but met with  opposition from some of the remaining Founders.  The prime reason for denying his  recognition seems to be the fact that the did not return to Ithaca in the fall  of 1890, even though he was actively involved in the inception of the fraternity  during the 1889-90 school year when it, at least on an informal basis, actually  came into existence.  The possible role he played in the birth of Delta Chi is  re-counted in Peterson’s article “New Version of Our Founding,” in the September  1930 Quarterly.  The authenticity of this role was strongly supported by  Crandall.  It is interesting to note that Crandall also did not return to school  in the fall of 1890, although he did work in Ithaca until early in the fall  semester when he left for Utica, N.Y.  and Sweetland, having graduated the  previous spring, was practicing law in Ithaca.  Despite this, Crandall was listed  as an active charter member of the Cornell Chapter on October 13, 1890.  It was  at his insistence, with it is assumed, the support of the majority of the  members present, that Frank Thomas was listed as an honorary member.  Sweetland  was listed as an honorary charter member.  Several of the Founders were working  on their masters of Law degrees when the Fraternity was being organized.

Up until the publishing of the 1929 Directory the list of our Founders did  not include the name of Crandall.  The inclusion of his name at that time was  largely due to a replica of the original historical work of Peterson, even  though as early as August 14, 1924, Crandall’s name was recommended by Whitney  for such recognition.

In the same letter, Whitney recommended that Peter Schermerhorn Johnson not  be recognized as a Founder since he wasn’t initiated until December 1890 or  March 1891.  Johnson was, however, responsible for a large portion of the secrets  of the Fraternity, writing “Foven’s Mater” and drawing the first emblem for  Delta Chi.

In the hearts and minds of every Delta Chi, October 13, 1890 is a date to be  remembered.