History of the Florida Beta Chapter

Florida Beta, installed at Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fla., March 5, 1949, under a charter granted to the Phi Alpha Fraternity by a mail vote, will in all probability always occupy a unique place in the history of Sigma Alpha Epsilon: first, as having been organized and perpetuated by the largest group of transfers from other Chapters ever engaged in such an enterprise; and second, as having been one of seven Chapters of as many college fraternities installed at the same institution on the same day.

The opportunity to establish fraternity Chapters at Tallahassee came as the result of a bill passed by the Florida Legislature in May, 1947, making both the University of Florida at Gainesville and the Florida State College for Women at Tallahassee co-educational and changing the name of the latter institution to Florida State University. This legislation became effective May 15, 1947, but during the precedin college year approximately 700 male students had attended a branch of the University of Florida which had been established at Tallahassee as a temporary measure by the Governor of Florida and his Cabinet.

Among the men attending the temporary branch were members and pledges of SAE Chapters who sensed the opportunity to plant a Chapter of their fraternity in a promising field. In March, 1947, they organized the Phi Alpha Fraternity with nine members, five of them transfers from Florida Upsilon at the University of Florida, Fred O. Drake, Jr., ’47, Byron K. Godwin, ’47, William C. Henry, ’49, Richard P. Lamb, ’50, and Joseph M. Caswell, ’48; two transfers from North Carolina Nu at Duke University, John W. Sullenberger, ’46, and James Homer Turner, ’45; and James G. Diffenbaugh, a pledge of North Carolina Theta at Davidson College, both of whom were initiated by Florida Upsilon before Florida Beta was installed.

Phi Alpha was the first fraternity organized at Tallahassee. Its members quickly won the support of the local alumni and were especially fortunate in having as their adviser Roderick K. Shaw, Davidson ’22, business manager of Florida State University. The first information about the organization of Phi Alpha, received at the National Office, came in a letter from John. W. Sullenberger, written under date of May 24, 1947.

There were Chapters of 14 sororities at Florida State College for Women and when the institution became Florida State University the Administration proved itself hospitable to fraternities. A committee on fraternities was set up which adopted regulations governing the organization and operation of local fraternities. Only groups which could meet the established standards were permitted to operate. Finally, March 5, 1949, was set as the date on which Chapters of national fraternities could be installed.

In the meantime, the extension machinery of SAE had been set in motion and, after careful investigation, Florida State University was approved as a suitable domicile for a SAE chapter by the Permanent Extension Investigation Committee, the Supreme Council and Province Epsilon. Phi Alpha then petition was submitted to the electorate of the Fraternity for a vote by mail and was approved just in time to permit SAE to be one of the events fraternities installing Chapters on March 5, 1949.

In the meantime, other transfers from SAE Chapters had entered Florida State University and in the fall of 1947 Phi Alpha was successful in pledging 11 men to whom it had extended bids. The predominant part played in the establishment of Florida Beta by transfers is shown by the fact that of its 29 charter members, 17 are initiates of other Chapters, as follows:

Robert Lee Bannerman, Ga. Tech. ’50; William Mercer Bishop, Ala. ’50; Walter James Bryson, III, Emory ’51; Henry Turner Knight, Jr., Penn. ’50; John W. Sullenberger, Duke ’46; James Homer Turner, Duke ’45; and the following from Fla.: James Francis Cochran, III, ’51; Joel Walter Collins, ’49; James Guy Diffenbaugh, ’48; Fred O. Drake, Jr., ’49; Byron K. Godwin, ’47; William Lawson Hancock, ’48; William Cameron Henry, ’49; Richard Lawrence Hinsen, ’50; Leon George Kazanzas, ’50; Richard Pringle Lamb, ’50; and John Howell Patterson, ’48. John Water Drew, one of the initiates at the installation was a former pledge of Georgia Phi at Georgia Tech.

An interesting historical coincidence is that the original Florida Upsilon had a brief existence from February 11, 1884, to March 2, 1885, at the University of Florida when it was located at Tallahassee.

(Source: Lauren Foreman, ESR)

History of the National Fraternity

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity was founded March 9, 1856, at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Its founders were eight young men, five of them seniors at the university; the other three were juniors. The leader of the eight was Noble Leslie DeVotie, a young Alabamian of splendid promise. The original idea to found a new Greek-letter fraternity was clearly DeVotie’s, as he had written the Ritual, devised the grip, and chosen the name. His motive was simple: to perpetuate through the organization the warm friendships he and his friends had already formed on the campus of the university.

It is not recorded when DeVotie first conceived the idea of establishing a fraternity, but it is known that during the autumn days of 1855 he talked about it with a few of his closest friends as they walked along the banks of the Black Warrior River that edged the campus. In the months that followed, DeVotie revealed to the other seven his conception of a new fraternity. A few preliminary meetings were held at the Tuscaloosa home of one of them, John Webb Kerr. By late winter their plans matured. So it came about that, in the late hours of a stormy night, the friends met in an old schoolhouse and by the flicker of dripping candles organized SAE.

Eight men founded Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In addition to DeVotie there were John Barratt Rudulph, John Webb Kerr, Nathan Elams Cockrell, and Wade H. Foster of the Class of 1856, and Abner Edwin Patton, Samuel Marion Dennis, and Thomas Chappell Cook of the Class of 1857.

Founded in a time of intense sectional feeling, SAE confined its growth to the southern states. Extension was vigorous, however, and by the end of 1857, the fraternity numbered seven chapters. Its first national convention met in the summer of 1858 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with four of its eight chapters in attendance. By the time of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, 15 chapters had been established.

When a few of the young veterans of the Civil War returned to the Georgia Military Institute and found their little college burned to the ground, they decided to go to Athens, Georgia, to enter the state university there. It was the founding of the University of Georgia Chapter and the University of Virginia Chapter at the end of 1865 that led to the fraternity’s revival. Soon, other chapters came back to life and, in 1867, the first post-war convention was held at Nashville, Tennessee, where a half-dozen revived chapters planned the fraternity’s future growth.

In 1886, 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 into the Tennessee Zeta Chapter, which had previously initiated two of his brothers. In just eight years, under the enthusiastic guidance of Harry Bunting and his younger brother, George, SAE experienced a renaissance. Together they prodded SAE chapters to increase 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 the mother chapter at Alabama which had been dormant for over 30 years) and founding new ones in the North and West. In an explosion of growth, the Buntings were responsible for founding nearly 50 chapters of SAE. When Harry Bunting founded the Northwestern University chapter in 1894, he initiated as a charter member William Collin Levere, a remarkable young man whose enthusiasm for the fraternity matched Bunting’s. To Levere, Bunting passed the torch of leadership, and for the next three decades, it was the spirit of “Billy” Levere that dominated SAE and brought the fraternity to maturity.

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?” Accordingly, the economic depression notwithstanding, in the summer of 1935, the fraternity’s first Leadership School was held under the direction of Moseley. The first such workshop in the fraternity world, it was immensely successful, and today nearly every fraternity holds such a school. It was probably John Moseley more than any other whose leadership carried SAE forward during the next 20 years until his untimely death in 1955. 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 World War II, the fraternity has grown much larger, and it has changed in a number of ways, some quite obvious and others quite subtle. Its growth in chapters and membership has been quite spectacular, and its total number of initiates continues to be the highest in the fraternity world.

Qualitative changes in recent decades have been profound. Alongside their colleges, chapters have democratized. Membership today is more heterogeneous than it was a generation ago, as chapters have welcomed increasing numbers of men from religious, ethnic, and racial minorities, enriching chapters with an unprecedented cultural diversity. One has but to peruse the roster of the 600 or so delegates at the annual Leadership School to confirm the dimensions of change.

The fraternity enjoyed the “happy days” of the 1950s, endured to survive the campus revolts of the 1960s and early 1970s, and tried to steer an even course in the turbulence that marked the late 1970s and the 1980s. Accordingly, the fraternity 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. SAE looks to a future full of promise while it instills values in young men across North America.