Fraternities

UNITED STATES

The word “fraternity’’ is first recorded in English in 1330, applied to a religious order, and in 1386 to members of trade guilds and similar companies. The more strictly etymological meanings of brotherhood and brotherliness also appear in due course.

In America within six months after the Declaration ot Independence, a group of students at William and Mary College organised a literary society which they labelled cryptically with the three Greek letters — Phi, Beta, and Kappa. The oath of membership pledged them to secrecy as to the significance of the name, to the pursuit of learning, and to eternal brotherhood. Because of this last, the organisation became known as a fraternity. In due course similar societies followed, called themselves fraternities, and ultimately the term became definitely associated with collegiate organisations, social and professional as well as honorary, and even with similar groups in the secondary schools. The development of a specitically American institution gave the word a special application which it never acquired in England.

Nor did the process stop there. The development of women’s colleges and of co-education gave rise to similar women’s organisations, consequently a complementary specialization of the word “sorority’’ is to be found at the beginning of the present century, but even before this the term “fraternity’’, despite its masculine derivational meaning, was extended to some women’s groups, a number of which proudly retain it to this day.

As these societies developed traditions and modes of behavior, a whole new vocabulary grew up, bringing with it such compounds as “fraternity pin’’, “fraternity house’’, “fraternity brother’, the clipped form “frat’’, and the derivative “tushee’’*,

There are a large number of national fraternities and sororities with chapters at almost 500 colleges and universities. No society has more than one chapter in any one college. While these Greek letter societies are secret in character there is seldom any over-emphasis of ritual or mystery in their conduct. It has become quite the custom for students of a particular fraternity to reside together during their college course in their chapter house.