Skip to main content
Penn History

Histories of Early Penn Fraternities Earliest Account of Penn Fraternities

These histories were researched and written by Benjamin Foster Carlson

This, the earliest description of fraternities at the University of Pennsylvania, is excerpted from the diary of George D. Budd (1843-1874) A.B. 1862, LL.B. 1865.

There were four “Greek Letter” or “secret societies” at the college when I entered [1858]. These societies are known by Greek Letters, which stand for some word unknown to any but the initiated. They have chapters in many colleges and their organization is similar to that of the Free Masons. In some colleges they may have a literary character, but in this city they are merely social clubs. They have rooms in Chestnut Street, for which they pay high rents, and where they spend much time. Besides being the cause of much waste of time they are very detrimental to the morals of their members, as there generally is a great deal of dissipation connected with them. They are in many cases very prejudicial to the standing of the student in college; and are condemned by the faculty. Still they have some advantages, and serve to inculcate social feeling among their members; but I do not like the splitting up of classes into little cliques. There is no doubt but that these societies rule the college in all class elections. They all vote for their own men, and often unite to prevent non-secret society men from succeeding in obtaining any office. They have got the upper hand of the literary societies; but since the Zelo[sophic Society] has formed this League, and the rooms are open at College every day, much of their thunder is stolen.

The Zeta Psi Fraternity have for a long time had their rooms at 10th and Chestnut, S.E. corner, third story. They have a powerful chapter, but their members are almost all “babyish” in their character. In order to obtain control of the Philomathean Society, most of them joined it; and worked its ruin. They seem to be very wealthy, and in our class had the two highest honors.

The Delta Phi has its rooms in Chestnut St. below 11th South side. It is a very numerous and powerful society throughout the United States; and the chapter here is very aristocratic and rich. It is very exclusive, and is confined to the “upper ten” of the college.

The Delta Psi had its rooms in Chestnut St., above 10th, North side. It has a very large chapter, and has the fast set of college. They are very noisy in their room, much to the disgust of the Young Mens’ Christian Association which has its rooms in the second story of the same building.

The Phi Kappa Sigma has now [1862] no chapter here, it having died out about the beginning of the [Civil] war. Most of its members belonged to the Zelo[sophic Society]. It was fast declining, and finally gave up the ghost. It had some very fine fellows in it, but many of them were hard cases; and were always the foremost in the college rows.

All these societies have beautiful badges of gold, and when a new member is initiated and puts on one of these badges he is said to have “swung out.” Their expenses are very heavy, and their dues must be large.