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Penn History

These histories were researched and written by Benjamin Foster Carlson

The Beta of Pennsylvania Chapter of the Kappa Alpha Society was established at the University of Pennsylvania in 1909 as a local fraternity, known as the Terwood Society. In 1913, the fraternity became a chapter of the Kappa Alpha Society, the oldest Greek letter social fraternity. Kappa Alpha was established at Union College in 1825, and along with Delta Phi (1827) and Sigma Phi (1827) constitutes the Union Triad, the progenitors of the American fraternity movement. The Kappa Alpha Society is not affiliated with the Kappa Alpha Order, a totally separate organization with chapters located primarily in the South.

The chapter’s first house was located at 3537 Locust Street, formerly the Phi Kappa Sigma house and now the Jerome Fisher Management and Technology Center. In 1947, the chapter moved to 3803 Walnut Street, but the location proved disadvantageous for rushing freshmen, and a house at 3803 Locust was obtained in 1953. According to Building America’s First University, the current residence is one of the oldest houses in West Philadelphia, designed by Samuel Sloan and built between 1851 and 1855.

The Penn chapter grew out of a local fraternity established by several members of the Philomathean Society (founded 1813) who had organized two theatre productions early in the century, among them “The Second Shepherd’s Play” and “Two Angry Women of Abington.” The plays were so successful that the revenues generated were sufficient to completely refurbish the Philo Halls. The charter members included:

  • Charles James Cole, B.A. 1909, M.D. 1914
  • William Seal Carpenter, B.A. 1911, M.A. 1912
  • Walter Rhoads White, B.A. 1908, L.L.B. 1911
  • Alexander Meigs Haig, B.A. 1914, L.L.B. 1919 (father of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr.)
Philomathan Society, "The Second Shepherd's Day," 1908

The Kappa Alpha Society has long remained conservative in growth, and other chapters are limited to academically rigorous institutions such as Williams, Cornell, Princeton, Virginia, and Wesleyan. The KA chapter at Penn has historically remained small in membership, preserving its original nature as both a fraternity and a literary society. Among the more famous alumni of the Beta of Pennsylvania chapter are:

  • Edwin Frederick Schaefer, B.A. 1919, a key leader in the U.S. Olympic Committee
  • Robert B. Sinclair, B.S. in Econ. 1926, a prominent stage, screen and television director
  • Robert Bruce Asher, B.S. in Econ. 1960, longtime Republican national committeeman
  • Joseph Charles Vignola, B.S. in Econ. 1970, B.A. 1970, former Democratic city councilman in Philadelphia
  • Donald Kinney Angell, B.S. in Econ. 1930, a Vice-President and Secretary of the University and chair of the University’s Bicentennial Celebration
  • John Cummings Hetherston, B.S. in Econ. 1946, Penn’s Executive Vice President with oversight of the 1970’s transformation of super block into student housing and open park space.