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In Flanders Fields

Our Founders

Resolutions of The Upsilon chapter during the Civil War

Iota Archaeological Dig


  [ 1847-1860 ] [ 1860-1864 ] [ 1864-1914 ] [ 1914-1920 ] [ 1920-1947 ] [ 1947-1979 ] [ 1979-2005 ]
Foundation Civil War New Ground World War I Peace & War Dark Years To the Present
an illustrated history of zeta psi

[designed by Jared Sunshine (Alpha)]

1847 to 1860: Foundation and Early Expansion

On the first of June in 1847, three intrepid men gathered in a New York home with grand purpose in mind: the constitution of a new greek-letter society. Their names were John Bradt Yates Sommers, William Henry Dayton, and John Moon Skillman; the fraternity they founded that day is Zeta Psi.

Then students at New York University (itself a young campus, having only been founded in 1831), the three men formed the core of the first chapter, Phi. But William Dayton was stricken with poor health, and departed New York shortly after wards for more temperate climes. He retired to the University of North Carolina, where the warm weather was expected to improve his humors, intending to begin a chapter there. But the move was inauspicious: Dayton died within the year, and the University of North Carolina was without a chapter of Zeta Psi for over a decade.

The Phi chapter at NYU persisted in his absence, and graduated its first member the next year with George S Woodhull (F '48). The second chapter was established as Zeta at William College in Massachusetts, but it was to be short-lived: in 1952, the faculty of the university voted to proscribe fraternal organizations from campus. The Delta chapter was founded at Rutgers University later that year, and remains the longest continuously active chapter of the fraternity (the Phi chapter was briefly inactive in the 1970's).

Three chapters followed in 1950: Omicron Epsilon at Princeton University, Sigma at the University of Pennsylvania, and Chi at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The first two are still active, as was the Chi Chapter until 1988. But in the early 1980's, Colby College prohibited fraternities on campus, despite the long and storied tradition they had enjoyed there. By 1988, ejected from campus and banned from any formal rush, the chapter quietly expired after over 130 years of existence. Problems beset other early chapters as well. The first Alpha chapter was founded in 1852 at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. But immediate resistance from the administration slowly wore upon the brothers there, and that chapter became in inactive in 1872, permitting its illustrious letter to be used for the later chapter founded at Columbia.

But expansion proceeded apace throughout the 1850's at a rate of several chapters per year: Epsilon was chartered at Brown and Rho Epsilon at Harvard in 1852; Psi Epsilon at Dartmouth in 1853; Kappa at Tufts in 1855; Theta at Union College in 1856; Tau at Lafayette in 1857; Xi at University of Michigan in 1858. Also in 1858, the Upsilon chapter was finally founded at the University of Northern Carolina, fulfilling the purpose of Brother Dayton in his last journey south. And in that year an abortive attempt was made to colonize Amherst College with the Pi chapter, which was rechartered at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1860 as the war among the several states loomed large.

Above: the Phi chapter
at NYU.
Below right: the
chapter at Rutgers.
Below left top
: the Chi
chapter at Colby. Below
left btm
: the Sigma chapter
at University of Pennsylvania.

[Back to the Top]
1860 to 1864: The Civil War

But those chapters were the last before the conflict brewing for nearly a century was unleashed finally. Lincoln was elected president of the United States in 1860, and South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed shortly thereafter by her fellow Southern states. Expansion of the fraternity halted as campuses rallied for war and sent companies of their collegemen to battle. Zeta Psi too contributed her men, and many did not return.

At the outbreak of war, the Upsilon chapter at UNC--itself only chartered three years before--found itself the only chapter of Zeta Psi among all the Southern states, sundered from the North by the sudden lines of enmity. But even as they mustered for war and marched south, the Grand Chapter of Zeta Psi, specially assembled in early July 1862, adopted the resolution of Brother William Cooke (F '58) prescribing unity:

Above: an artist's depiction
of the Battle of Chattanooga.
A more comprehensive treatment
of the battle can be found here.

RESOLVED, That while we may differ in political sentiment with those of our Brothers who are courageously battling for principles which they deem right, no disaster shall separate them from the union of Tau Kappa Phi.

And the brothers of Upsilon replied by letter in like fashion:

WHEREAS, The present distracted state of our country renders it inexpedient to hold our convention in this State during this year;

RESOLVED, That the Sigma Alpha be instructed to write to all Chapters, assuring them that though our Federal Union has been dissolved, still the Circle of Zeta Psi Fraternity shall never be broken;

RESOLVED, That the bonds of Tau Kappa Phi which bind us to our Brothers in the North are as strong as they ever were.


The Badge of Zeta Psi
by Brother Francis Lawton
written 15 December 1891

You ask me why upon my breast
I wear, tho' bent and grey,
These ancient characters of gold,
Gem'd with the diamond's ray.

A band of students long ago,
When life's bright morning shone,
Gave me this badge, the badge they wore,
To show their hearts were one.

And that is why upon my breast
I wear, as years go by,
These ancient characters of gold,
The Badge of Zeta Psi.

On Chattanooga's bloody field
A pris'ner left to die,
I saw a chief in Southern grey,
Deck'd with this badge march by.

He nursed me, clothed me, set me free,
And when we said good-bye,
He, silent, pointed at the badge,
And spoke, "Tau Kappa Phi."


Nor was the brotherhood among Zetes limited to mere words; the moving tale of Brother Henry Schwerin (Q '63) illustrates the embodiment of love even in the most trying of circumstance. Schwerin lay gravely wounded after the bloody Battle of Chattanooga; pinned on the breast of his Union uniform was the badge of Zeta Psi. A passing Confederate soldier, also a Zete, spied the badge and carried the invalid to medical care and safety, ignoring even the imperatives of war for the sake of his brother. The worthy badge later passed into the hands of his brother, Max Schwerin (Q '70), who would one day serve as Phi Alpha. After his death, it was donated by his sister to the fraternity's archives and remains among its treasures. Brother John Day Smith (E '72) witnessed the incident on the Chattanooga field, and later related it to Brother Francis Lawton (E '69; FA in 1891), who would author the poem "The Badge of Zeta Psi," later set to original music and preserved to this day. The reference to "Chattanooga's bloody field" is not idle hyperbole, but the recollection of a rare triumph among such sorrows.

And amid these sorrows and heroisms, when so many brothers of Zeta Psi perished, so too were even whole chapters swallowed by the War. The Eta (Gettysburg, chartered 1861), Psi Epsilon (Darthmouth), Upsilon (UNC), Epsilon (Brown), and Theta (Union) chapters had vanished by the end of battle, decimated by fallen brothers or disheartened campuses returning from the shadow of death. The Theta and Eta chapters would never survive the staggering losses they suffered, though the others ultimately recovered and reactivated. And the Gamma chapter—chartered 1861 at the Georgia Military Institute, the only new chapter during the War—was annihilated utterly by Sherman's march, and existed thus only for those few years of tumult. But out of the shadow of war came regrowth and a time for Zeta Psi to expand once more.

1864 to 1914: Breaking New Ground

The nation was still young indeed even after the end of the Civil War: California has only recently become a State, committing to the side of the victorious Union and contributing its men though the conflict took place mainly across the continent, thousands of miles away. It was then only fitting that to California the fraternities should next have moved. And as in many initiatives, Zeta Psi was first: in 1870 it established the Iota chapter at the Berkeley campus of the University of California and became the first fraternity on the West Coast. (Though the Iota chapter would not be joined until 1892 by the next addition, the Mu chapter at Stanford.)

The end of the nineteenth century was fecund ground for Zeta Psi. It took root at no fewer than fourteen colleges in those latter days: Omega was founded at U Chicago in 1864; Pi at RPI in 1865; Lambda, Bowdoin, 1867; Beta, U Virginia, 1868; Psi, Cornell, 1868; Iota, UC Berkeley, 1870; Gamma, first at the US Naval Academy in 1874, and then at Syracuse in 1875 after the government proscribed fraternities at its military academies; Theta Xi, U Toronto, 1879; Alpha, Columbia, 1879; Alpha Psi, McGill, 1883; Nu, Case Western, 1884; Eta, Yale, 1889; Mu, Stanford, 1892; Alpha Beta, U Minn, 1899.

Nor was Zeta Psi content even to remain a national fraternity, but also pressed northward into Canada. The brothers of the Xi chapter at the University of Michigan in 1879 constituted the Theta Xi chapter at the University of Toronto, making Zeta Psi the first international fraternity as well. Since then, Zeta Psi has actively bolstered its Canadian presence, commissioning a director solely for Canadian chapter development and amassing a long list of successful chapters there. Also in late 1879, on December 12, the Columbia University chapter of Zeta Psi was established, taking its name of Alpha from the long-inactive Dickinson College.

Even as the physical reach of Zeta Psi made great bounds, so too did the principles underlying its brotherhood. By the turn of the century, the need for some more centralized structure pressed as chapter after chapter was added to the Circle and their correspondence became too much to handle so chaotically. In 1909, an international publication concerning the affairs of Zetes was first published by Brother William Comstock (X '99) and distributed among the several chapters: The Circle of Zeta Psi. The periodical, which is still published to this day, contained in that first issue the exhortation which has come to be known as "The Vision of Bill Comstock" for its prescience and wisdom:

We feel that the Fraternity, now that its individual chapters and memberships have grown so strong, is wasting its greatest possibility of strength and growth through the lack of a systematic central organization.

In short, Brother Comstock criticized the degree of individualism among the chapters of Zeta Psi, demanding unity among such disparate brothers. He prescribed that every member should receive the fledgling Circle of Zeta Psi, and thus be apprised of the far-flung doings of the fraternity; that a general secretary be commissioned to travel among the chapters and treat with them; and that a foundation be established for the pecuniary support of the general fraternity. And all three of his mandates have been amply fulfilled: The Circle is still published and distributed to the brothers of Zeta Psi; now the General Secretary is assisted in his rounds by chapter consultants, whose function remains the same; and the Zeta Psi Educational Foundation was to be instituted within Brother Comstock's lifetime, though still in the future. Before Zeta Psi could turn to such collegiate concerns, war again threatened, this time abroad.


Above left: the Iota
chapter at UC Berkeley.
Above right: the Theta Xi
chapter at U Toronto.

Above: the Alpha chapter at
Columbia. Below: Brother William
Michigan maintains
an archive of Comstock's
papers as governor


Brother Comstock was also potent in politics, rising to the chairmanship of the Michigan Democratic Party before election to governor in 1933, interrupting a chain of gubernatorial Republicans since 1917, though he would be succeeded by a GOP man two years later. During that time he engineered the "Comstock Agreement" under which the federal government ceded control of Indian lands to State or autonomous regulation. And Brother Comstock served as Phi Alpha until his death mid-century, a great statesman and a great Zete.
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1914 to 1920: The First World War

Though already inured to the horrors and trial that War would wreak upon her from the bloody Civil War, war in Europe came suddenly in the 1910's and caught a nation and fraternity unaware. For some time, the United States did not commit troops to the battle, maintaining an isolationist stance protected. But Canada was a member in good standing of Britain's Commonwealth, and as war threatened England, the men of Canada were called upon to support their ally abroad.

Above: Brother Dr. John McCrae.
See John McCrae's homestead here,
or our international headquarter's
treatment here. Also see Rob Rugg-
enberg's excellent article on the poem
here. Below: The original handwritten
manuscript of the poem, penned in
Flanders Fields. (Click to enlarge)



In Flanders Fields
by Brother Dr. John McCrae

In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up the quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high;
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

With the first Canadian chapter only founded at Toronto in 1879, her sister chapters were still young when war came to them. Particularly stricken were the Alpha Psi and Theta Xi chapters at McGill and U Toronto. Even in 1914, they were already sending letters indicating their brothers heading east across the sea to the war. In 1915, more than half the workers at the McGill Base Hospital were Zetes from Alpha Psi. By war's end, the two beleaguered chapters had given over two hundred souls in defense of King and Country.

Perhaps most noted among the rolls of the brave Canadian brethren who went overseas is Lt. Col. Brother Dr. John McCrae (QX '94), a serviceman in the Canadian army, who like so many other men did not return at the close of conflict. But Brother McCrae bequeathed to his fraternity more than even his worthy life, but also a poem which has been preserved in great honor as both a historical and literary work: "In Flanders Fields."; The words are a testament to the heroic spirit in man and are treasured still by the brethren of Zeta Psi as the hallowed words of a brother whose time long ago passed.

Finally in 1917, America entered the war, and with their country, so too did the many Zetes who called that land their home. At the annual convention of Zeta Psi, the brothers adopted a resolution in support of the war—which the United States Congress had itself only declared a few weeks previously—:

WHEREAS, The United States of America has been forced into the World War in defense of its national honor and for the protection of international justice and democracy;

BE IT RESOLVED, That the Zeta Psi Fraternity of North America, at the Seventieth Annual Convention assembled at Raleigh, North Carolina, hereby pledges to the President and Congress of the United States of America its unqualified support of whatever war measures the Government may deem necessary and expedient, and places at the disposal of the Government its national organization, its Chapters, and it individual members, for service in whatever capacities the government may direct.

Right: Brother
Benedict Crowell.

Case Western Reserve University maintains a collection of Crowell's correspondence and papers; an online catalogue may be found here.

Nor was the pledge mere idle words nor fatuous boasting. Over one quarter of all brethren of Zeta Psi would serve during the First World War in foreign lands, and many did not return. Zeta Psi also provided the nation its first Assistant Secretary of War, Brother Benedict Crowell (N '92), noted for his bold reorganization of civilian military control during World War I. Even after the war, Crowell remained politically powerful, and was later instrumental in engineering the repeal of National Prohibition (read about it here). When battle and country called, the men of Zeta Psi answered.

[Back to the Top]

1920 to 1946: Troubled Peace and Another War

The post-war years were marred by the calamity of the Great Depression in the United States, and Zeta Psi suffered with her country. The ranks of brothers at campuses across the nation had been decimated by war, and chapters had struggled to survive. Yet they had persevered--not one chapter went inactive in those years. But expansion was slow, as the chapters rebuilt their strength after the toll. By 1930, the nation had fallen into deep economic trouble, and students struggled to attend college, let alone accede to a brotherhood demanding of time and energy. Not only was the collegiate population averse to expansion; but in the meager times, campuses were reticent to open their doors and resources to new fraternities. Only two new American chapters were chartered during this period, Phi Lambda at the University of Washington in 1920, and Sigma Zeta at UCLA in 1924. By 1930, no more chapters would be chartered until after the Pyrrhic economic boom occasioned by the Second World War that Zeta Psi would reach many of its present chapters.

Yet these decades were not without moments of profound joy among Zetes. It happened in 1922 that both the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans had elected brothers of Zeta Psi as their commanders-in-chief. Thus at a dinner held for Zetes in New York that year, the two men--Brothers Lewis L Pilcher, G.A.R., and Julian S Carr, U.C.V.--shook hands and broke bread as brothers, rather than the leaders of two organizations still as militantly opposed as forty years before. Brother Henry Thomas, the evening's toastmaster, remarked, "If the North and South had only placed the controversy in the hands of Zeta Psi, there would have been no war. At last the mistake has been realized, and now we see our two Brothers, each in command of his old army."

And while expansion in America had stalled, Zeta Psi's presence in Canada grew dramatically. The Pi Epsilon chapter was chartered at Univerity of Manitoba in 1921, Sigma Epsilon at the University of British Columbia in 1926, Mu Theta at the University of Alberta in 1930, Alpha Mu at Dalhousie in 1938, and the Theta Phi chapter would be founded at the University of Western Ontario in 1947.

The history is still in progress. Please be patient.

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15 S. Henry St., Pearl River, NY 10965
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