National History

The Place of Our Origin

Richmond CollegeRichmond College in the early 20th Century was attended by less than 300 students. Almost half this number belonged to five fraternities previously chartered on the campus. The little Baptist college, founded in 1830, became home to Sigma Phi Epsilon.

Sigma Phi Epsilon was founded because 12 young collegians hungered for a campus fellowship based on Judeo/Christian ideals that neither the college community nor the fraternity system at that time could offer. The desire for brotherhood was in the young men's souls. Sigma Phi Epsilon was needed.

Sigma Phi Epsilon Founded

Carter Ashton Jenkens, the 18-year-old son of a minister, had been a student at Rutgers University, New Jersey, where he joined Chi Phi Fraternity. When he transferred to Richmond College in the Fall of 1900, he sought companions to take the place of the Chi Phi brothers he had left behind. He found five men who had already been drawn into a bond of friendship and urged them to join him in applying for a charter of Chi Phi at Richmond College. The request for a charter was forwarded to Chi Phi only to meet with refusal. Chi Phi felt that Richmond College was too small for the establishment of a Chi Phi chapter. 

Wanting to maintain their fellowship, Carter Ashton Jenkens, Benjamin Gaw, William Carter, William Wallace, Thomas Wright, and William Phillips decided to form their own local fraternity.

The First Meeting

The six original members found six others also searching for a campus fellowship neither the college campus nor the existing fraternity system could offer. The six new members were Lucian Cox, Richard Owens, Edgar Allen, Robert McFarland, Franklin Kerfoot, and Thomas McCaul.

The 12 met in October, 1901, in Gaw and Wallace's room on the third floor of Ryland Hall. They discussed the organization of a fraternity they would call "Sigma Phi." The exact date of this meeting is not known. However, the meeting was probably held before the middle of the month, because the 12 Founders are named as members on November 1, 1901, in the first printed roster of the Fraternity. Jenkens is listed as the first member.

Fraternity Recognized

A committee of Jenkens, Gaw, and Phillips was appointed to discuss plans for recognition with the faculty at the college. These men met with a faculty committee, where they were requested to present their case. The faculty committee requested that the new group explain:

  • The need for a new fraternity since chapters of five national fraternities were on the campus and the enrollment at Richmond College was less than 300.
  • The wisdom of this attempt to organize a new fraternity, with 12 members, seven of whom were seniors.
  • The right to name the new fraternity Sigma Phi, the name of an already established national fraternity.

Jenkens, Gaw, and Phillips answered:

"This fraternity will be different, it will be based on the love of God and the principle of peace through brotherhood. The number of members will be increased from the undergraduate classes. We will change the name to Sigma Phi Epsilon."

Though the discussion lasted some time, permission was granted for the organization of the new fraternity to proceed.  The rest, as they say, his history.