Chapter Houses - -
Those of Sigma Chi and the Life Therein

(from Sigma Chi Quarterly, 1894)

Excerpts from the Digital Text at Google Books.

(NB: Paragraph numbers apply to this excerpt, not the original source.)

"Chapter Houses - - Those of Sigma Chi and the Life Therein," Sigma Chi Quarterly 13 (May 1894), 221-40.

Nothing illustrates better the hold which Greek letter societies have on college life in the United States than chapter house development. The evolution of the houses, at first slow and gradual, is now rapid. They require neither advocates nor defenders. They are a recognized necessity for the healthy growth of every fraternity. Upon them depends the life and well-being of the chapters. . . .

They play no unimportant nor uncertain part in the development of the youths whose chapter is so fortunate as to . . . see the bright, healthy faces of its members reflected on its own mahogany and dispense wholesome hospitality from its own sideboard. The sense of proprietorship gives an added zest to the dispensation of this hospitality which involves more responsibility than life in the dormitory or lodging house, and fits the boy, like the rest of his college days, for the graver cares that come when he greets the world as a pater-familias.

They are component parts of our educational system and must be appreciated as such. Exercising a refining influence morally and physically over the boys who live in them, they conduce to bring out all the good that is in these students. . . .

Ex-Grand Consul Walter L. Fisher - - a man who has done as much if not more than any one else for the advancement of Sigma Chi - - in a speech before the Chicago Alumni Chapter in June, 1890, said:

The highest idea, the fruition of good fellowship can best be obtained in the fraternity life in the chapter house. If the value of the chapter house as an element for good in college life needed any argument or authority, I could quote to you the words of President Seelye of Amherst, of Andrew D. White, ex-President of Cornell, and a score of prominent educators.

Grand Tribune Alling in an editorial in February, 1890, says:

Remember, when you contribute to a chapter house fund, you are honoring the chapter to which you owe much if not most of the valuable training which you received at your alma mater. . . . Remember that you are doing the noblest thing that man can do, namely, the giving of your means that your fellow men may be happier, that their youth at college may be of more benefit to themselves, to their fraternity, and to the world.. . . The time has come when Sigma Chi cannot do without chapter houses, and it is to you - - our alumni - - that the active chapters look for aid in erecting them. How can our chapters cope with the other fraternities without equal advantages? The boys here tonight can tell you the difficulties they encounter during their rushing season.

As has been said, the first chapter of Sigma Chi to build its own house was Chi [of Hanover College]. As no account of the building of it has ever been published, it is presented here in full. It seemed peculiarly appropriate that when, in 1888, Chi chapter, grown to a lusty youth of 17 years, desired to purchase a site for a chapter house, it should secure a lot overlooking Crowe Falls and the beautiful ravine in which its founders had met in the spring of 1871 to push their efforts for a charter from Sigma Chi. The site selected also fronts upon the main entrance to the college grounds, and commands a view in the distance of "la belle revierre." It is undoubtedly the best location for a fraternity chapter house in the whole vicinity and contains an acre and a quarter of ground. The money for its purchase was subscribed by the active members of Chi. . . .

Soon after the purchase of the land, plans for the house were prepared by Otto H. Matz, a well-known architect of Chicago, and the work of construction was accomplished in the winter of 1889 and the spring of 1890. The house itself cost, when completed, about $4,500. . . . Alumni and active members who contributed, formed a voluntary association known as the "Chapter House Association of Chi Chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity" [with Walter L. Fisher as trustee]. . . .

[Contributors provided $2,300 of the cost of building the house.] The balance of $2,200 was borrowed from a local building association, upon the personal note of Walter L. Fisher, with the property as security. . . .

The Chapter House Association pays to the building association seven per cent, interest in monthly installments and also makes monthly payments on the principal on the usual plan of building associations. The first year these payments were $34.84 per month, which would reduce the principal from $2,200 to $1,936 at the end of the first year, and a correspondingly greater reduction for the second year, totally paying the debt in 6 or 7 years, if the monthly payments are regularly continued. Of course, the house is kept fully insured. . . .

The following paragraphs concerning life in Chi's home are culled from an article by Paul B. Scarff, one of the active members:

. . . After breakfast college lasts until noon. After dinner the fellows all gather in some popular man's room, and work off much of that effervescence peculiar to giddy youth. Politics is discussed, the management of the college is severely criticised, and the faculty is lauded with all encomiums of respect. The instant the hands of the clock indicate two o'clock, silence prevails, and study hours are on until five. There is silence - - no sound breaks the stillness save the crash of broken furniture, the uproar of battle, or some oratorically inclined brother "speaking his piece." Thus there is silence, occasionally made more intense by the melodious, desperate appeal of "study hours" in cadences imploring. Still, all lessons are generally very thoroughly learned by supper time, and the evenings are devoted to reading, a friendly game of whist, a social call, or any other harmless recreation.

Gathered around the great cheerful fire-place in the comfortable, tastefully furnished library, with curtains pulled down, the long table covered with periodicals, and the luxurious chairs snugly adjusted, true comfort is enjoyed, and friendships and associations are formed that only death can sever, and whose memory will never die.

The true spirit of a fraternity, the knowledge that you have somebody behind you - - those whom you know and whom you can trust - - and withal the spirit of love, is intensified and expanded. A chapter house does not destroy fraternal spirit. Of course, there are discords. Where are they not? But I speak from experience, and I know that the fraternity has not suffered. On the contrary, we never have been so prosperous as now. We have succeeded in furnishing our house and in securing all the men we desired.

The objection to chapter houses is often urged that they destroy frat spirit by bringing the boys into too close and continued communication; but, as I have said above, at least in this instance no such effect can be perceived, and I think that we may safely regard this as an average case. Of course, the possession of a chapter house entails a more strict standard of judgment in "spiking," as most people are apt to be somewhat fastidious as to "what fellows live in the same house with me." But as such things should be considered any way no harm is done. No man you would not live with should wear the white cross of Sigma Chi.

The possession of a parlor and the cheerful frat hall confer considerable social advantages.

Sigma Chi house Sigma Chi House, Hanover College, c. 1890.

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