The Dawn of the Greek Age

In the 1800s, secret societies (including fraternities) were frowned upon. At the time of the founding of Beta Theta Pi, there were 5 Greek fraternities in existence: Kappa Alpha (society), Delta Phi, Sigma Phi, Psi Upsilon, and Alpha Delta Phi. Generally, fraternities had to be secretive at that time because they were thought to be subversive, and members risked expulsion from their respective academic institutions. At the same time, many colleges and universities featured literary societies, which were based in education rather than fraternalism, emphasizing writing and public speaking. It was commonplace at the time for two or more competing literary societies to exist on one campus at the same time.

The Founding of Beta Theta Pi

There were three such literary societies at Miami University, the largest being the Erodelphian Literary Society, then the Union Literary Society, followed by the Miami Hall Literary Society. The founding members of Beta Theta Pi were all members in these societies – four each in Erodelphian and Union.

“At nine o’clock in the evening of the eighth day of the eighth month of the year 1839, eight earnest young men, all students at Miami University, held the first meeting of Beta Theta Pi in the Hall of the Union Literary Society, an upper room in the old college building known as Old Main. The eight founders in the order in which their names appear in the minutes were:

John Reily Knox, 1839
Samuel Taylor Marshall, 1840
David Linton, 1839
James George Smith, 1840
Charles Henry Hardin, 1841
John Holt Duncan, 1840
Michael Clarkson Ryan, 1839
Thomas Boston Gordon, 1840

of ever honored memory.”

Beta's Sphere of Influence

Over the following years, representatives from what became known as Alpha chapter went out to establish new chapters at other academic institutions. The second chapter formed was at the University of Cincinnati. From almost the very beginning, it was decided that all chapters of Beta Theta Pi would have equal standing in relation to each other. Thus, Alpha would have no special authority just because it was the first chapter. Over the next 175 years, some chapters would fold and in some cases restart (Alpha was one such chapter), but many more would be added. There are currently 127 active chapters and colonies of Beta Theta Pi at academic institutions across the United States and Canada, including 83 Chapters in good standing adding another 27 colonies in the making. Beta Theta Pi is one of the few fraternities to be recognized as a General Fraternity, not National, because of our presence in several Canadian Universities.

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