-Caveat Lector-

http://pantheon.yale.edu/~dbent/dkehist.htm


The History of the Phi Chapter

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On the twenty-second day of the sixth month in the year of our Lord
eighteen-hundred and forty-four, fifteen members of the Yale College class
of 1846 met in the Old South Hall on the Old Campus of Yale University. At
this gathering they resolved to create a fraternal society, and took the
name Delta Kappa Epsilon.

The fifteen founding fathers gathered after the annual selections to the
existing junior societies, Psi Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi, had been named.
The selection which was normally based on scholarship, was so badly
influenced by favoritism, that several of the selected gentlemen, joined
with several of the non-selected gentlemen to form a new junior society. At
the first meeting, that fateful night, the fifteen decided they would be
known as the Phi Chapter and their open motto would be "Friends from the
heart, forever." They also adopted an official badge, a fraternal crest, a
secret motto, and a secret grip. Membership was to be based on more then
merely academic merit. In the immortal words of Doctor Edward Bartlett, Phi
'46, "The candidate we most favored was he who combined in the most equal
proportions, the scholar, the gentleman, and the jolly good fellow."

Later that same year, one of the founding fathers, Elisha Bacon Shapleigh,
wrote of the new organization to a childhood friend of his, John S.H. Fogg,
at Bowdoin College. Fogg was so impressed by the idea that he gathered his
closest friends and petitioned Phi for a charter. It was granted and on
November 6 of that year Phi begat Theta at Bowdoin. From there DKE spread
rapidly; in a decade there were 18 chapters, and by 1858 there were 28.

Then the fateful year of 1861 arrived; the Civil War broke out and many
Dekes were embroiled in the fierce struggle. Theodore Winthrop of Phi fell
leading Northern troops at Great Bethel. Despite the setbacks of the year,
Phi took a gigantic leap forward. The members of Phi built a windowless tomb
on High Street as a meeting place for brothers. The tomb was located on the
sight of what is now Branford College and is commemorated by a cornerstone
that reads, "DKE Fraternity, 1861."

Brothers of Phi met in the tomb on Thursday evenings to eat dinner and drink
ale. The brothers often put on skits for one another as the theater was very
popular at the time. Music, cards, cigars, and singing to women on the Yale
campus were also very popular activities for the brothers of Phi. In
addition to creating a gathering place for brothers, the purchase of the
High Street property allowed Phi to establish a corporation under
Connecticut trust laws. Thus the Winthrop Trust Corporation, named for the
Phi hero of the Civil War, was born.

Before the turn of the century, the fraternities ran the Yale campus. All
the political elections were controlled by the Dekes and other
organizations. This domination, combined with the tendency towards rowdiness
and academic slothfulness, forced the faculty to consider banning junior
societies in 1861, but the movement was never enacted. DKE, along with Psi
Upsilon, and to a lesser extent, Zeta Psi, were the dominant junior
societies of their day; the Dekes showed notable athletic orientation in
their membership selections.

In 1890, as the University continued to expand, it required that DKE
relinquish it's High Street property. Therefore, an even more elaborate tomb
was constructed on York Street. Meanwhile, the fraternity's financial
fortunes continued to improve as Phi men began to take their places in the
vanguard of American business and government.

The next chapter in Phi history begin's in the 1920's with the advent of the
residential college system at Yale. The brothers of Phi were forced to sell
their tomb to the University, and Saybrook College now stands in it's place.
However, in the spirit of the roaring twenties, the Dekes and other
fraternities moved across the street to build lavish new houses. Thus, in
1926, Phi moved to their new house at 232 York. The house contained a bar,
grill, and dining room with other comforts. In the pre-World War II years,
DKE thrived at Yale. The brothers were required by yale to eat at least one
meal a day in their colleges, but the rest were inevitably taken at DKE.
These were happy times for Phi along with the other farternities.

This period of Phi history ended with the outbreak of hostilities on the
European continent and in the Pacific Ocean. In the Second World War some
three hundred Dekes gallantly gave their lives. Those who returned to Phi
found a much changed environment. In the post-war years the attitude of the
University administration to Phi and all the other fraternities was actively
destructive. The brothers were forced to pay for 21 meals a week in their
colleges. This radically decreased the numbers of brothers dining in the
house. As the income from meals had been the primary source of income for
the fraternity, this was a harsh blow. In the early 1950's the Yale
administration managed to ban pledging and most fraternity activities. The
brothers of Phi routinely defied both regulations and in 1958 were fined
$200 when two pledges were arrested trying to transport their handcuffed
pledgemaster to New London.

Despite the number of brothers reaching its numerical pinnacle in the 1950's
and 1960's, darker times were ahead for the fraternity. In the 1960's and
1970's the tide of public favor turned sharply away from fraternities.
Economic and political pressure caused the fraternities at Yale to die one
by one, until only Phi stood as a bastion against the rising tide of liberal
hysteria that was sweeping America.

This battle was not without casualties. The greatest of which was the
magnificent house on York Street. In 1973 the Phi house was sold to the
University to escape foreclosure by the city of New Haven because of $40,000
in unpaid back taxes. The DKE house was acquired by the University and still
stands today as the home of Yale's Alumni Association. Furthermore, the
Winthrop Trust was dissolved and it was generally assumed that the proud
tradition of the Phi chapter had come to an end. However, despite the loss
of this edifice to the greatness of DKE, the fraternity retained it's
greatest asset, approximately one hundred steadfast active brothers. The
members of Phi continued on and leased an old mortuary on Chapel Street for
meetings. However, after only one semester, the mortuary was also abandoned
for financial reasons.

The strength of DKE held it through the interim period. Meetings were held
in Yale College common rooms. The brothers of the decade after the loss of
the house on York Street forged on and carried the banner of DKE until the
new conservatism of the 1980's spawned a Greek revival on the Yale campus.
In 1987 the fraternity purchased a run-down house on Lake Place, one block
from the Yale campus. Through tireless efforts by the brothers and generous
donations of the previous generations, the original beauty and physical
structure of the house were slowly restored.

Other national fraternities chartered chapters at Yale and once again the
Greek system boomed. However, as the rolls of other organizations fluctuated
with popular whim, only DKE stood as a permanent monument to the gentlemanly
tradition of Old Yale. Only DKE continued to embody the traditions of the
fraternity system as they had stood for a century and a half.

Thus, at 79 Lake Place, Phi resides today advancing towards an ever more
glorious future, to match it's distinguished past.

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