On Saturday, December 6, 1845, three young men sat down in a small room at Yale College and created a fraternal society based on high moral values and centered on the concept of brotherhood. Louis Manigault, the principal founder, then designed the badge and other insignia, and wrote the ritual for the fraternity. How could he have ever imagined that, over 150 years later, his fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi, would be one of the strongest national fraternities in America? Yet that was his dream, as he would write later in his life:
“To think that all our college labor in the arduous task of founding a society has not proved vain but on the contrary, that Alpha Sigma Phi still stands with her glorious and mystical insignia untarnished. I pray that she may yet survive to transmit to future generations her renown.”
Alpha Sigma Phi has survived these many years, but the road has not been easy for the “Old Gal.” Early expansion led to four additional chapters aside from the one at Yale. Hard times and the Civil War almost eliminated the fraternity, but the Delta Chapter at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, carried on alone in the late 1800s.
The reactivation of the Alpha Chapter at Yale College in 1907 began Alpha Sigma Phi’s new existence as a true national fraternity. Expansion between 1907 and the early 1930s saw the fraternity start chapters on campuses across the nation, but this success did not last long. The Great Depression in the early 1930s created much hardship and chapters began to close, including Alpha Chapter at Yale. In 1936, Ralph F. Burns, “Mr. Alpha Sig,” took over the role of Executive Secretary, a position he would hold for the next 40 years. He managed Alpha Sigma Phi through the dark days: the Great Depression and World War II.
Post-War America was a prosperous time for college fraternities, and Alpha Sigma Phi was no exception. The fraternity began an active expansion program, and current chapters experienced success. Mergers and consolidations with Alpha Kappa Pi in 1946 and Alpha Gamma Upsilon in 1968, along with the previous merger with Phi Pi Phi in 1938, added even more chapters and dedicated alumni. In both 1966 and 1967, the fraternity initiated over 1,000 men.
Yet times were changing and, once again, the fraternity was challenged. By the 1970s, men were not interested in joining fraternities. Young Americans were full of unrest, and they saw fraternities as part of the “establishment,” something they were against. Alpha Sigma Phi acknowledged that change was needed. Undergraduates were given stronger representation with the governing board of the fraternity, the Grand Council. New innovative leadership programs were created such as the National Leadership Conference, which took place once a year.
The end of the 20th century has seen the resurgence of the “Old Gal.” Alpha Chapter at Yale has once again been reopened, and an aggressive expansion policy by the fraternity now has the number of chapters, colonies, and interest groups at more than 60.
Alpha Sigma Phi has gone through many changes since its inception back in 1845, yet the essence of what Louis Manigault created has stayed the same. The badge, while smaller, is as it was in the first years. Our rituals and values, while reexamined and adjusted at various points to reflect the times, still embody much of what Louis envisioned. And at the core, the idea that brotherhood and the fraternal experience enhance one’s life beyond college still holds true.