Pi Kappa Alpha History

What began in Room 47 West Range at the University of Virginia back in 1868 has now endured for well over a century, growing into one of the largest fraternal organizations in the world.

How? The reason is simple. Pi Kappa Alpha has remained dedicated to developing men of integrity, intellect, success and high moral character, and to fostering a truly lifelong fraternal experience.

Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity was founded at the University of Virginia on March 1, 1868. At the time, UVA was the fifth largest school in the U.S. and is considered to be the first truly American state university established without religious control.

Founding

It all started in Room 47 West Range, when Frederick Southgate Taylor turned to Littleton Waller Tazewell, his cousin and roommate, for help in starting a new fraternity. Also present were James Benjamin Sclater, Jr., a schoolmate of Tazewell, and Sclater's roommate, Robertson Howard. Those four men voted to add a fifth to their group and chose Julian Edward Wood. Soon thereafter, William Alexander, believed to be a friend of Sclater, was proposed for membership and admitted as a Founder. The Founders very quickly prohibited 'horseplay' or hazing of new members—a trait often found in existing fraternities at the time—as they believed such practices ran counter to their mission of promoting “brotherly love and kind feeling.”

The essence of the Founders' vision for Pi Kappa Alpha can be found in its Preamble. A committee was first suggested by Brother William Alexander "to draw up a statement of the origin and the organization of the Fraternity." The committee was composed of brothers Robertson Howard and Littleton Waller Tazewell.

The resulting statement is now referred to as the Preamble.

"For the establishment of friendship on a firmer and more lasting basis; for the promotion of brotherly love and kind feeling; for the mutual benefit and advancement of the interests of those with whom we sympathize and deem worthy of our regard; We have resolved to form a fraternity, believing that, thus we can most successfully accomplish our object."

Expansion

Before the end of spring 1868, the brothers decided they wanted more than a Virginia society; they wanted to become a national fraternity. The following 21 years would prove to be some of the most troublesome times, nearly shattering the dreams of these young men. With universities making it nearly impossible for fraternities to exist by placing bans on the presence of secret societies, the Fraternity was still able to expand.

Pi Kappa Alpha first expanded to Davidson College, where Beta Chapter was formed. Nearly two years later, the third chapter, Gamma Chapter at William & Mary was established. During the years that followed, until 1889, there would be a total of ten charters granted; however, only five remained active. This was the year of a most important convention.

A Crucial Turning Point

The 1889 Hampden-Sydney Convention brought the likes of Theron Hall Rice, a transfer to Virginia from Southwestern, who represented Alpha; Howard Bell Arbuckle, a recent graduate and then a teaching fellow at Hampden-Sydney, who represented Iota; and John Shaw Foster, a delegate from Theta Chapter at Southwestern (now Rhodes College). Lambda at the Citadel was to have been represented by Robert Adger Smythe, but a telegram from Charleston explained, "no holiday given us. Impossible to come. Act for us in everything." This convention is considered the rebirth of the Fraternity. Together, Theron Hall Rice, Howard Bell Arbuckle, Robert Adger Smythe, and John Shaw Foster reorganized and energized the Fraternity, and thus came to be known as the Junior Founders. (https://www.pikes.org/about-pike/history/the-founders-of-pi-kappa-alpha)

Another pivotal event in the Fraternity's history is the 1933 Troutdale Convention. At this meeting, the national organization was restructured. Former national officer titles were replaced with simple ones, the number of national officers was increased, and the Fraternity established the executive secretary (later executive director, now executive vice president) as a paid professional administrator. The year marked the end of direct regular service by two junior founders, Arbuckle and Smythe. The period of the Junior Founders had passed and Pi Kappa Alpha looked forward to a new generation of leaders.

Looking Ahead

March 1, 2018 marked the 150th year of Pi Kappa Alpha. The reason the Fraternity has endured and thrived through the years lies in its values. As a values-based organization, the ideals of serving others and self-improvement while treating all with dignity and respect ensure the future prosperity of Pi Kappa Alpha and its members.

The Alpha Tau Chapter got its start in 1911 as a local fraternity (Xi Kappa Phi), before becoming the 43rd chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha on April 20, 1912. Today, Alpha Tau has over 3,000 initiates making it the third largest chapter nationwide and one of the largest fraternities on the University of Utah campus.