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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.

  • Click here to view a copy of the Original agreement.
  • Click here to view a copy of the Original Constitution.

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.

It is interesting to note that, in 1910, Whitney sent to the Cornell Chapter a composite of the nine men who he then believed to be the Founders of Delta Chi with an enlarged picture of Sweetland in its center.  He later had that composite removed when he determined that he had left out one or two men.

Frank Edward Thomas, early member of the fraternity and member of the Order of the White Carnation.

Frederick Bagley was the first person to go through the full initiation on December 3, 1890

Burial information for Albert T. Wilkinson who served as the first International Treasurer of Delta Chi

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