Seven Original Founders of Sigma Chi
The Founding of Sigma Chi
In the fall of 1854, a disagreement arose within the Kappa chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. This chapter consisted of 12 men; six of them, led by Whitelaw Reid, supported one of the members for Poet in the Erodelphian Literary Society. Four of the other six members, James Parks Caldwell, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; Isaac M. Jordan, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; and Franklin Howard Scobey, MIAMI (OHIO) 1858; refused to vote for the brother because they knew him to lack poetic abilities. The man they did favor for that office was not a Deke. Thomas Cowan Bell, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; and Daniel William Cooper, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; were not members of Erodelphian, but their relation to the disagreement was unqualified endorsement of the four. Thus, they became six.
The chapter of 12 was evenly divided in a difference of opinion that ordinarily would have been decided one way or the other and immediately forgotten. But both sides considered it a matter of principle and could not reach a compromise. During the ensuing months, the groups disagreed so much that their friendship grew distant.A Schism at Dinner
Chapter meetings, or attempted chapter meetings, occurred for months with the breach constantly widening. In February 1855, at an Oxford, Ohio, restaurant, a dramatic dinner meeting between the dissenting groups set the stage for Sigma Chi's founding. Bell, Caldwell, Cooper, Jordan, Runkle and Scobey hosted the event, hoping to mend ways with the other six. They were on hand early, awaiting developments with anticipation. Of the meeting, Runkle said, “With the kindest of intentions, we determined to give a dinner in their honor. I remember that the feast was prepared at the village restaurant, the guests invited, and on the appointed night we gathered and waited for the guests. They did not come for a long time, and then only Mr. Reid with a stranger. He took into his confidence Minor Millikin, an alumnus of the fraternity from nearby Hamilton, Ohio, and the two decided on strenuous proceedings.”Minor Millikin Steps Up
Millikin lost no time. “My name is Minor Millikin,” he said. “I live in Hamilton. I am a man of few words.” He then passed judgment on all of the matters in dispute. Since he had heard only one side of the story, his verdict was against Runkle, Scobey and the others who had originally opposed election of the DKE as the Poet in the literary society.
Next, Millikin unfolded a plan that he and Reid had concocted by which “justice” could be satisfied with the formal expulsion of the leaders in the rebellion, undoubtedly Runkle and Scobey, after which the others — having been properly chastised — could remain in the chapter.
At this dramatic moment Runkle stepped forward, pulled off his DKE pin, tossed it upon the table and said to Millikin, “I didn't join this fraternity to be anyone's tool. And that, sir, is my answer!” Runkle stalked out of the room, and his five colleagues followed.Six Against Six
The final meeting of the 12 active members of Delta Kappa Epsilon was in Reid's room in the “Old Southeast” building several days later. After a strenuous effort, led by Reid, for the expulsion of the six, with six against six on all vital issues, the meeting broke up in considerable disorder.
A rather prolonged correspondence ensued with the Delta Kappa Epsilon parent chapter at Yale, resulting in the April 1855 expulsion of Bell, Caldwell, Cooper, Jordan, Runkle and Scobey. However, those six young men undoubtedly had, by that time, already shifted their thoughts away from hoping that they would change the minds of those at DKE's parent chapter and focused instead on the prospect of forming a new fraternity.
The Early Years
"We entered upon all our college duties with great zeal and earnestness, studied hard, tried to excel in every department of study, contended for every hall or college prize and endeavored to make our Fraternity have a high and honorable standing.”
~Founder Isaac M. Jordan, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857
The Framework of a Fraternity
One of the best moves the first six Founders ever made was to associate themselves with Founder William Lewis Lockwood, MIAMI (OHIO) 1858. He had entered Miami University early in 1855 but had not joined a fraternity. He was the “businessman” of the group and possessed a remarkable organizing ability. More than any other Founder, he was responsible for setting up the general plan of the Fraternity, much of which endures to this day.
During the latter months of the 1854–55 academic year, Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, and James Parks Caldwell, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, lived in a second-floor room of a building near Oxford's public square on High Street — now known as the birthplace of Sigma Chi. The Founders hosted many of the earlier organizational meetings of Sigma Chi in this room, and it was there that Runkle and Lockwood designed the badge. The White Cross was designed exactly as we know it today except for the letters "Sigma Phi" in the black center. They were later changed to Sigma Chi.
Having been members of Delta Kappa Epsilon, six of the Founders were familiar with the general outline of fraternity constitution and Ritual content. They were considerably influenced by Lockwood, who had known little of Delta Kappa Epsilon or its differences. With all of their plans formally completed, the seven Founders of the new Fraternity announced its establishment by wearing their badges for the first time in public on Commencement Day at Miami University, June 28, 1855.Built to Last
The working fraternal conceptions of the Sigma Chi International Fraternity have long been identified with the words friendship, justice and learning. These three elements were the basic ideals our Founders used in forming the foundation of Sigma Chi.
In their new Fraternity, they possessed the qualities of congenial tastes, quality fellowship and genuine friendship to be indispensable. The element of thorough fellowship was regarded as a characteristic of all real Fraternity endeavors, thus they sought true friendship.
In matters of general college interest, the Founders had refused to be limited simply by the ties of their DKE brotherhood. The Founders' new association was surely not planned to prevent laudable mutual helpfulness. On the contrary, it was designed in every worthy way to enhance such helpfulness. The new Fraternity stood for the “square deal” in all campus relations. It exalted justice.Rigorous Academics
In the 19th century, the academics of college were very strenuous. College men of the day studied subjects such as spherical trigonometry; Roman history; odes and satires of Homer, Horace and Plato. A strong emphasis was placed on literature in all campus activities. In the literary exercises of the chapter, literary training was regular and rigid. Founder Issac M. Jordan, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, once said, “We entered upon all our college duties with great zeal and earnestness, studied hard, tried to excel in every department of study, contended for every hall or college prize and endeavored to make our Fraternity have a high and honorable standing.” The Founders placed learning in high regard and importance.The Spirit of Sigma Chi
The Founders' unfortunate experience in Delta Kappa Epsilon, which they saw as a group focused on conformity for political gain, stirred their hearts and their spirit. They found it a necessity to allow and accept differences in points of views and opinions, realizing that doing so brought opportunities and pleasures. This “spirit” became documented as The Spirit of Sigma Chi. Though The Spirit of Sigma Chi calls for men who are inherently “different,” it is expected that the members, in their differences, remain responsible, honorable, gentlemanly, friendly-indeed all those characteristics that are also listed inThe Jordan Standard.
Benjamin Piatt Runkle
Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, born in West Liberty, Ohio, was 18 years old at the time of the founding of Sigma Chi. It was Runkle who pulled off his Delta Kappa Epsilon badge and threw it on the table at the pivotal February 1855 dinner meeting, putting into forceful words the thoughts of Founders Thomas Cowan Bell,MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; James Parks Caldwell, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; Daniel William Cooper, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; Isaac M. Jordan, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857; and Franklin Howard Scobey, MIAMI (OHIO) 1858. It was this type and quality of spirit that he instilled in Sigma Chi throughout his life.
Runkle joined with Founder William Lewis Lockwood, MIAMI (OHIO) 1858, in designing the White Cross. They had decided to come up with something different from the shield and diamond type common at the time. In later years, Runkle explained, “Its selection grew from an admiration of its meaning.” He was inspired with the story of the Emperor Constantine and his vision on the night before the battle for Rome. He believed Constantine was a heroic character, and he convinced the other Founders to pattern Sigma Chi symbolism after the vision of Constantine. Runkle's spirit and idealism in college once led to his temporary suspension from the university for fighting in chapel with a Beta Theta Pi Fraternity member who had publicly sneered at his badge.
He had the most noteworthy military career of any of the Founders. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he volunteered with a militia company and was a colonel by the end of the war. He was seriously wounded in the battle of Shiloh and left for dead on the battlefield, leading his former Delta Kappa Epsilon rival Whitelaw Reid to pen a glowing tribute to Runkle in a dispatch to his newspaper. The reports of Runkle's battlefield death turned out to be erroneous, and Runkle actually outlived Reid.
After a long military career, during which he was eventually promoted to major general, Runkle was ordained as an Episcopal priest. He was the only one of the Founders to become Grand Consul, serving as the 7th Grand Consul from 1895–97.
Runkle spent the last years of his life in Ohio, where he died on the Fraternity's 61st birthday in 1916. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where in 1923 Sigma Chi erected the first of the Founders' memorial monuments at his grave.
“Courageous in spirit and idealism”
Benjamin Piatt Runkle
Sept. 3, 1836, to June 28, 1916
A.B., Miami University, 1857 • A.M, Miami, 1860 • L.H.D., Miami, 1899
Attorney, 1859-61 • professor of military science and tactics, Miami 1899-1901; University of Maine, 1902-03; Peekskill Military Academy, 1903-04
Captain, major and lieutenant colonel, 13th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, U.S. Army • colonel, 45th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, U.S. Army; Major General
Delegate to first and 22nd Grand Chapters • orator for 22nd Grand Chapter • Grand Consul, 1895-97
Daniel William Cooper
Founder Daniel William Cooper, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, born near Frederickstown, Ohio, was 25 years old at the time of the founding of Sigma Chi. He is credited with contributing much to the moral and spiritual foundations of the Fraternity. The confidence of his fellow Founders led to his election as the first Consul of the Alpha Chapter.
Of him, Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, recalled, “To him more than to any other man is due the birth and early growth of the kindly and generous spirit of Sigma Chi. It is hard to account for his dominant spirit, and his influence in that little band. He was a man of God, honest, upright and pure. In his intercourse with the rest of us he was gentle and considerate. He never reproved; he never lectured. By common consent he was the head of the chapter, and no one thought of displacing him. His quarters were the resort of each one of us when in trouble, and there we found sympathy and convincing, unselfish advice. Different from every one of us, he walked among us honored, loved, looked up to with perfect confidence. He taught us that the badge was not to be looked upon as common. Many an hour did I pass in his room, and every minute was a benediction. Brother Cooper, in those days, though rich in spirit was poor in worldly goods, and his life and work contain a priceless lesson for those of us who think that the end of life is the attainment of material riches and worldly power.”
Following graduation, Cooper attended seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. He held several pastorships in Ohio and engaged in special missionary service. In retirement, he lived for some years in the South, returning to Ohio where he spent his last years with his son, James G. Cooper, OHIO WESLEYAN 1902.
He was the last of the seven Founders to pass into the Chapter Eternal, doing so in 1920 at age 90. He is buried at Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.
Cooper wore his original Sigma Phi badge until his death; it is now pinned on the newly installed Grand Consul at each Grand Chapter, and the Grand Consul is then given a replica to wear during his term.
“Ruler of the spirit”
Daniel William Cooper
Sept. 2, 1830, to Dec. 11, 1920
A.B., Miami University, 1857 • student, Western Theological Seminary, 1857-59 • licensed by Richland Presbytery, 1858 • ordained, 1859
Pastor, Presbyterian churches in Ohio and Indiana, 1859-1891 • delegate, Presbyterian General Assembly, 1872 and 1885
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh
Franklin Howard Scobey
Founder Franklin Howard Scobey, MIAMI (OHIO) 1858, was born in Hamilton, Ohio, and was 18 at the time of Sigma Chi's founding. He, along with Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, was a leader of the rebellion in Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity. He was the prime proponent in the Fraternity of what has come to be known as the “Spirit of Sigma Chi,” which articulates that friendship among members of different temperaments, talents and convictions is superior to friendship among those who are similar.
Scobey is best remembered for the unending enthusiasm and encouragement that he brought to the Founders group. Of him, Runkle recalled: “Of all of those that I have ever been closely associated with he was the brightest, the most cheerful, the sunniest. The sunshine is the most powerful agent of nature. The world is dead without it. But this brother was never gloomy; no clouds seemed to shadow his life; he was the same to all at all times. The element of selfishness was as far from his nature as light from darkness. He cared nothing for money, and yet he was the closest friend and companion of Lockwood, the only one of the Founders who exhibited much trace of the commercial instinct. Without Frank Scobey I do not believe that Sigma Chi would have succeeded and expanded and endured. We had our disappointments, our months of gloom, times when it seemed that we had no chance of success. Everyone was against us. But Frank Scobey was never discouraged. Always looking on the more cheerful side, his very smile and cheerful words of encouragement gave us new heart. Scobey did well whatever he undertook to do; stood high with the professors and was popular even with our enemies.”
He studied law and was admitted to the bar after graduation. Never physically strong, he suffered from increasing deafness, but during and after the Civil War he engaged in newspaper editorial work in Hamilton.
He entered the Chapter Eternal in 1888 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton.
“Courteous and loyal in his friendship”
Franklin Howard Scobey
May 27, 1837, to July 22, 1888
A.B., Miami University, 1858 • A.M., Miami University, 1861
Editor, Telegraph, Hamilton, Ohio, 1867-79 • cattleman, Kansas, 1879-82 • farmer, Woods Station, Ohio, 1882-1888
Sergeant, Third Ohio Infantry, U.S. Army, 1861
Greenwood Cemetery, Hamilton, Ohio
Isaac M. Jordan
Founder Isaac M. Jordan, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, born on a farm in central Pennsylvania, was 20 years old at the time of Sigma Chi's founding. When he was a boy, he moved with his family to Ohio and became friends with Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857.
Jordan is best remembered for his strong will and determined purpose. Of him, Runkle recalled, “Isaac M. Jordan — playmate of my boyhood, schoolmate, friend for long and strenuous years of manhood, and always the incarnation of high resolves, boundless energy, lofty ambitions, gifted with untiring perseverance and ability that made success a certainty; he has left an example of what a strong will and determined purpose can accomplish. If ever there was a 'self-made' man who had a high right to be proud of the making, that was Brother Jordan. Nothing was too lofty for his aspirations, nothing to his vigorous mind, impossible. He showed no signs of faltering. He did everything with the same tremendous energy.”
In a speech he gave in 1884, he delineated the valued criteria for pledging, which is now known as The Jordan Standard. Following graduation from Miami, he studied law, was admitted to the bar, and practiced law in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. He was elected to the Congress in 1882, easily winning as a Democrat in a strong Republican district.
Jordan aided in the organization of the Cincinnati Alumni Chapter in 1881, was involved with the planning of the 14th and 15th Grand Chapters in 1882 and 1884, respectively, and served as the orator of the latter. His accidental death in 1890 was deeply mourned throughout southwestern Ohio. Leaving his law offices in downtown Cincinnati, he paused at the elevator entrance and turned to greet a friend. Unnoticed by him, the elevator ascended to the floor above, the door still partly open. With a quick movement, and still facing his friend, he stepped into the open elevator shaft and fell to his death.
The tragedy created a shock throughout the city. All courts adjourned, and public businesses were stilled. The newspapers of the day devoted entire pages, with prominent headlines and drawings, to the dreadful occurrence. Jordan is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.
“Energetic and faithful to every task”
Isaac M. Jordan
May 5, 1835, to Dec. 3, 1890
A.B., Miami University, 1857 • A.M., Miami University, 1862
Admitted to bar, Columbus, Ohio, 1858 • attorney, 1858-90 • congressman, first district of Ohio, 1883-85
Orator, first and 15th Grand Chapters
Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati
James Parks Caldwell
Founder James Parks Caldwell, OHIO 1857, born in Monroe, Ohio, was just 14 years old at the founding of Sigma Chi. By the time he was 13, his progress through academic courses, including Latin and advanced math, caused the principal of the local academy to remark that the boy had covered everything that could be offered there, and he entered Miami University apparently with advanced credits.
Caldwell is best remembered for his spirit of youth and for bringing an element of creative genius. According to Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, “Jimmie Caldwell was born with a wonderful brain and a strangely sensitive and delicate organization. He was from his childhood one of the most lovable of God's creations. Strong men who have become hardened to tender feeling and sympathetic sentiment, remember and love him. Somehow, he seemed closely akin to all of us. I roomed and cared for him for more than a year. Our holidays were spent in the fields and along the streams, one of us carrying a gun, or fishing rod, but Caldwell his copy of Poe or Shakespeare. His contributions, essays, poems, plays and stories read in the literary hall, in the chapter meetings and on Saturdays before the whole corps of students, were the most remarkable productions that I ever heard. Few of us escaped the pointed witticisms that flowed from his pen, or ever lost the nicknames that he gave us in his dramas. He never seemed to study as other boys. What he knew appeared to be his intuitively. He wrote Latin and Greek poetry, and he was more widely versed in literature, and more accurate in his knowledge, than any other student in the college. He left the university with the respect and the wholehearted affection of every soul from president to janitor.”
He graduated Miami University soon after his 16th birthday. Following college, he practiced law in Ohio, and began a career as an educator in Mississippi. He enlisted in the Confederate Army, and during the Civil War, he was captured and taken prisoner. He rejected an offer of freedom on condition that he renounce allegiance to the Confederacy, even though it came from a northern soldier who loved him as a brother.
Following the war, he returned to Mississippi and was admitted to the bar. He remained a bachelor and traveled frequently, writing as a journalist and practicing law. His death came in 1912, at Biloxi, Miss., where in his room were found the latest issues of The Sigma Chi Quarterly.
He is buried in Biloxi Cemetery.
“True to principle”
James Parks Caldwell
March 27, 1841, to April 5, 1912
A.B., Miami University, 1857
Teacher, Mississippi, 1858-59 • principal, Palmetto Academy, Panola County, Miss. 1860, 1865-66 • admitted to the bar, Mississippi, 1866 • attorney, Los Angeles and San Bernardino, Calif., 1867-1875 • edited newspapers in Ohio • practiced law in Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss., 1887-1912
Private and first lieutenant of artillery, Confederate Army
Biloxi Cemetery, Biloxi, Miss.
Thomas Cowan Bell
Founder Thomas Cowan Bell, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, was born near Dayton, Ohio, and was 23 years old at the time of Sigma Chi's founding. His rooming place in Oxford, Ohio, with his aunt, Mrs. Lizzie Davis, became informally known as “the first chapter home of Sigma Chi.” All of the members of the Alpha Chapter either moved into the house or into the immediate neighborhood and all ate at her well-furnished table.
Bell is best remembered for his exemplification of the qualities of learning and friendship. He instilled an atmosphere of friendship in the Fraternity and had, according to Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, “an expression on his face that made one instinctively reach for his hand. He was one of the kindly and lovable sort, and came into the Sigma Chi movement naturally. He was good hearted, believed in securing the good things of life and immediately dividing the same with his companions. He was as full of enthusiasm as a crusader. Naturally, he was a leader and teacher of men. He was ambitious, but in no way disposed to push his aspirations at the expense of his fellows. He and Founder Daniel William Cooper, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857 in thought and sympathy and in the deep foundations of their being, were much the same sort of men, though in outward expression of the inward character they differed widely.”
Graduating in 1857, he started on his life's work of teaching. At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, he enlisted in the Union Army, where he won a commission and received high commendation at the Battle of Murfreesboro. He rose to lieutenant colonel, although he preferred to be called “Major Bell.”
Following the war, he returned to a career in education. He served as superintendent of schools in Nobles County, Minn.; county recorder of deeds and editor/publisher of a local newspaper; and as principal and president of several preparatory and collegiate institutions in the western United States.
He entered the Chapter Eternal in 1919, the day after attending a Sigma Chi Initiation at Alpha Beta Chapter at the University of California-Berkeley.
Bell is buried in the Presidio in San Francisco, where, in 1933, the Fraternity dedicated the final Founders' memorial monument to him.
"The qualities of learning”
Thomas Cowan Bell
May 14, 1832, to Feb. 3, 1919
A.B., Miami University, 1857 • A.M., Miami University, 1862
County superintendent, public schools, Minnesota, 1872-77 • publisher, Journal (Worthington, Minn.), 1878-85 • president, Philamath College, 1885-86 • principal, La Creole Academy, Dallas, Ore., 1887-92 • president, Central Oregon State Normal School, 1892-96
Captain, major and lieutenant colonel, 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, U.S. Army, 1861-63
Presidio, San Francisco, Calif.
William Lewis Lockwood
Founder William Lewis Lockwood, MIAMI (OHIO) 1858, the only one of the seven Founders who was not a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, was born in New York City and was 18 years old at the time of the founding of Sigma Chi. He is best remembered as the businessman or organizer of the group and for bringing the element of cultural refinement. His organizational skills were largely responsible for the survival of the young Fraternity.
Of him, Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, recalled: “He was different from each of the others. The difference was hereditary and was sharpened by environment. He was cultured and had been partly educated in the East. He was a slender, fair-haired youth with polished manners, and was always dressed in the best of taste. When he first came to Miami University, wondrous tales were told of his wardrobe, of his splendid dressing gowns and the outfit of his quarters.
He was refined in his tastes. He knew something about art and had some understanding of the fitness of things genteel. We welcomed him into our circle. He could bring to our ambitious little band some things, mental and spiritual, that were sorely needed. He came to us, brought us all he had, and divided even his wardrobe, which seemed to be unlimited. Lockwood knew, instinctively, the value and power of money. He was treasurer and managed the business of the Fraternity. He furnished the business spirit to the little band, and without it we must utterly have failed. He shared our love while living, and tender memories follow him to the brighter world.”
After graduating in 1858, Lockwood returned to New York, studied law and was admitted to the bar. At the outbreak of the Civil War he recruited a company of volunteers, which he later led. He greatly distinguished himself in battle, but was seriously wounded and never fully recovered. He returned to Usquepaugh, R.I., with his wife and son, Frank, who was named in honor of Franklin Howard Scobey. Unable to practice law because of his poor health, he bought the local woolen mills and formed the firm of Lockwood, Alpin and Co.
Although the business was a great success, his health failed constantly. In 1867, he became the first of the Founders to enter the Chapter Eternal, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Honest and trustworthy through life”
William Lewis Lockwood
Oct. 31, 1836, to Aug. 17, 1867
A.B., Miami University, 1858
Admitted to the bar, 1860 • manufacturing, 1864
Company H, 48th Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, U.S. Army • first lieutenant, 1861 • captain, 1861 • A.A.G., Second Division, Tenth Army Corps, U.S. Army, 1864
Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y.