Yale University


New Haven, CT

Alpha Sigma Phi was founded on December 6, 1845 by Louis Manigault, Horace Spangler Weiser, and Steven Ormsby Rhea. The Alpha Chapter played an increasingly prominent role in the Sophomore Class at Yale, eclipsing its rival, Kappa Sigma Theta in 1857. In the years that followed, the three Junior Class Fraternities, Alpha Delta Phi, Psi Upsilon, and Delta Kappa Epsilon, competed for pledges from Alpha Sigma Phi. The junior class fraternities bid and pledged members throughout the students’ sophomore year, and announced their elections on “Calcium Light Night.”  For several years, Psi Upsilon and Delta Kappa Epsilon took comparatively equal numbers and Alpha Delta Phi a few.

In 1864, Delta Kappa Epsilon won a majority of the Old Gal’s outgoing members and upset the political balance in the fraternity system. The faculty stepped in and proposed to abolish sophomore societies (i.e. Alpha Sigma Phi). Instead, Psi Upsilon and Delta Kappa Epsilon each proposed to sponsor sophomore organizations. With faculty approval and supervision, Phi Theta Psi and Delta Beta Xi were born in 1864. Both of the new sophomore societies claimed to be a legitimate successor of Alpha Sigma Phi. The ritual and secretly initiated members of the Alpha Sigma Phi class of 1864 carried on within Delta Beta Xi and Alpha continued under this alias until 1876.

In 1876, conduct of the membership on election night, when the actives proceeded in Black Lantern Procession to the rooms of those elected, became “rowdy” due to strong punch served by some of those elected. In response, the faculty banned the existing sophomore societies. Several sub-rosa groups existed in the Sophomore Class until 1902, when the Junior Societies moved their initiations to the beginning of the sophomore year. This move ended the class society system at Yale, leaving national Greek letter fraternities as “junior” societies and local honorary groups (Skull and Bones, Scroll & Key, and Wolf’s Head) as “senior” societies. Separate fraternities still existed for students of Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University. Several newer fraternities entered Yale as “University Societies,” taking members of all classes from both Yale College and Sheffield Scientific School.

After 1876, undergraduate operations at Yale went into a thirty-year eclipse. Many of Alpha’s alumni went on to distinguished careers in education, including the founding presidents of Cornell University and Johns Hopkins; government, including a score of Governors, many legislators, judges, including three Justices of the U. S. Supreme Court, and diplomats. The heritage of Alpha and Delta Beta Xi continued to influence Delta Chapter, whose initial approaches to become a chapter of a national fraternity were due to the Yale Junior fraternities which had claimed Alpha and Delta Beta Xi alumni.

In fall 1906, Yale freshman Edwin Morey Waterbury found library records of Alpha Sigma Phi, and of its surviving chapter at Marietta College. He conceived the idea of reviving Alpha Sigma Phi at Yale as a thirty-year-old graduate student and enlisted several colleagues at the Yale Masonic Club. The group contacted Delta Chapter, and its investigation of the group was reported favorably to Delta. On March 28, 1907, six members of the Yale group travelled to Marietta, Ohio, where they were initiated by members of the Delta Chapter, and Alpha Chapter was reborn. Waterbury continued to serve Alpha Sigma Phi as a national officer and Editor of The Tomahawk; another of the six re-founders, Wayne M. Musgrave, a thirty-year-old graduate student in 1907, went on to lead the Fraternity for sixteen years.

Alpha Chapter resumed operations at Yale as a University Society, meaning that it recruited members from all schools and departments. It acquired both a chapter house and a Tomb, a building closed to non-members used for ritual, meetings, and social activities. In 1934, a new chapter house was completed at 217 Park Street, New Haven. At the same time Yale University adopted a residential plan for lower division students requiring that they live and board in campus facilities; limited to providing housing and meals for only upper division students in a new facility with significant mortgage interest costs. Reduced male enrollment during World War II and the high costs of operating the chapter house resulted in closure of Alpha Chapter in 1943. In 1956 a plaque commemorating the 1845 founding of Alpha Sigma Phi was installed near the chapter house on the Yale campus.

Interest in reviving Alpha Chapter continued and in 1999 an interest group was formed which was chartered on December 6, 2000. The initiation took place in the former Alpha Chapter house, and the chartering ceremonies and banquet at Moreys. The chapter initiated two pledge classes after chartering but failed to establish sustained operations; it closed in 2003.

Twelve-year Grand Senior President Wilbur H. Cramblet, Yale ‘12, who led the Grand Council through World War II and the Fraternity’s two largest mergers, was the first alumnus to have received both the Distinguished Merit Award and the Varner Distinguished Service Award.

Records show brother's name, initiation year, and award received.

Wilbur H. Cramblet 1912 Varner Distinguished Service Award
Wilbur H. Cramblet 1912 Distinguished Merit Award
Wilbur H. Cramblet 1912 Delta Beta Xi Award
Benjamin F. Crenshaw 1907 Delta Beta Xi Award
Harold B. Dickson 1911 Delta Beta Xi Award
Robert L. Ervin 1907 Delta Beta Xi Award
Wentworth F. Gantt 1919 Delta Beta Xi Award
William H. T. Holden 1915 Delta Beta Xi Award
Ralph S. Hudson 1915 Delta Beta Xi Award
Raymond K. Hyde 1914 Delta Beta Xi Award
Wayne M. Musgrave 1907 Delta Beta Xi Award
Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr 1913 Distinguished Merit Award
Vincent L. Price 1930 Distinguished Merit Award
Edmund B. Shotwell 1920 Delta Beta Xi Award
Edwin M. Waterbury 1907 Delta Beta Xi Award