The History of Pi Kappa Alpha at The University
Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity is a Greek letter, secret, college, social fraternity. It is composed of men who share similar ideals of friendship, truth, honor and loyalty. The Fraternity’s ideals are expressed in the written words and symbols of a secret ritual. These ideals and members’ ability to maintain the visions of the Fraternity’s founders are the great moral legacy of Pi Kappa Alpha.
Pi Kappa Alpha was founded at the University of Virginia on March 1, 1868. At the time, the University of Virginia was the fifth largest school in the United States. Only Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Michigan were bigger. The University of Virginia is considered the first truly American state university because it was the first to be established totally free from religious control.
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 was James Benjamin Sclater, Jr., a school-mate of Tazewell, and Sclater’s roommate Robertson Howard. Those four men voted to add a fifth to their group and chose Julian Edward Wood. Although history is unclear, William Alexander, probably a friend of Sclater, Jr., was proposed for membership and was admitted as a founder. The first initiate was Augustus Washington Knox.
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 for the interest
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.”
The years after the Civil War found a proliferation of American college fraternities being organized, particularly in the South. Pi Kappa Alpha’s founding in 1869 was soon followed by the founding of Kappa Sigma and Sigma Nu. These fraternities, along with Alpha Tau Omega, Kappa Alpha Order, and Sigma Phi Epsilon, are known as the “Virginia Circle”.
Before the end of Spring 1868, the brothers had decided that 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 more troublesome times, nearly shattering the dreams of these young men. With universities making it nearly impossible for the fraternities to exist by placing bans on the presence of secret societies, the Fraternity was still able to expand. The second chapter, Beta (Davidson College), had even voted to disband saying in a letter to the president of the college, “we have disbanded our chapter and we do not intend to carry it on unless we can do it openly and above board, as we regard its ties too sacred for other procedure.”
Nearly two years later, the third chapter, Gamma (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. The 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 of major importance, as it is considered the rebirth of the Fraternity. Together, Theron Rice, Howard Arbuckle, Robert Smythe, and John Foster came to be known as the Junior Founders.
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.
The Alpha Chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha is located 513 Rugby Road in Charlottesville, Virginia…just footsteps from the University of Virginia grounds and 47 West Range.