The History of Virginia Omicron

The University of Virginia is home to the Virginia Omicron chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the seventh oldest SAE chapter and second oldest active in the nation. Many of the early founders of SAE looked longingly towards UVa as an institution in which to expand. Thus, Virginia Omicron was established at UVa on December 19, 1857 by Junius B. French, less than a year after SAE was founded at the University of Alabama in March, 1856.

Only eight years after SAE’s founding at UVa, Virginia and the nation were swept into the Civil War. The majority of SAE brothers enlisted with the Confederate Army, with a number earning ranks of captain and lieutenant during their duty. Eight UVa brothers were killed on the battlefield, including Captain Elliot Muse Healy, who led a charge during the second battle of Bull Run. His final words echoed amongst those he led as he rode into battle saying, “Come on boys! Victory and glory once more on the plains of Manassas!” Healy was shot during the charge and laid to rest as a hero of his company.

Of fifteen antebellum SAE chapters, including Virginia Omicron, none but the Washington City Rho chapter survived the war. However, Virginia Omicron chapter would not be absent for long. In the fall of 1866 Robert Atkinson, Washington City Rho, and John Bagby, Virginia Kappa, enrolled at UVa. Both men had served for four years in the Confederate army and felt that the universities of the defeated South desperately needed to restore the chapters to their former prominence. Together, they sent to Washington City Rho for the fraternity’s constitution and reinstated the Virginia Omicron chapter. Thus, Virginia Omicron became the “Phoenix Chapter,” rising out of the Southern ashes to continue in pursuit of the Founder’s ideals. Virginia Omicron was soon followed by more chapters, both reinstated and newly chartered. Continuing its unique role in the SAE national history, Virginia Omicron was recognized as “Acting Grand Chapter” during the period of Reconstruction. The charter was again withdrawn in 1878, but was re-established through the efforts of SAE brothers J. H. Phinizy, Georgia Beta, and H. D. Flood, Virginia Sigma. The efforts of SAEs across the country have aided in continuing the storied history of the fraternity at the University.

Over the next century, Virginia Omicron continued to play a large role in the lives of the men who walked through its doors, the University it called home, and the national fraternity. In 1936, the fraternity established itself in a house at 1703 Grady Avenue and continued to grow in stature at the University. Brothers and those associated with Virginia Omicron have left their lasting impressions, from John Walter Wayland, author of “The True Gentleman,” to Ike Curry, the beloved house chef and “spiritual advisor” for over 50 years.

The most recent event in Virginia Omicron’s storied history came in May 2006, when the chapter left its home of over 70 years and took up residence in the former Phi Kappa Sigma house at 160 Madison Lane. The True Gentlemen of Virginia Omicron continue to embody SAE’s legacy to this day.