Student groups and organizations have always been a part of the MSU’s history. Literary societies, activism groups and even squirrel watching clubs have shaped student life at the University since its beginning. MSU has also been home to one of the most iconic collegiate groups that has spurred on movies, books and television series, Greek Life.
Greek Life started at M.A.C in 1872 with the establishment of Delta Tau Delta. They were followed by Phi Delta Theta in 1873. However in 1896 the faculty banned national Greek organizations from forming at the College. Phi Delta Theta chose to be recognized as a local organization by changing their name to the Phi Delta Society. Due to the ban, many non-Greek societies began to form. The Union Literary Society, the Hesperian Literary Society and the Excelsior Society were among them. In 1891 the first all-women’s group, the Feronian Society, was established. They were founded just five years before the creation of the Women’s Program in 1896. Academic and literary societies sought not only to have a forum for intelligent conversations, but also to plan and attend extravagant events and balls.
Members of the Phi Delta Society in the 1920 Wolverine Yearbook
Literary Societies also sought off campus housing, at the exclusivity of their members. However President Snyder was great proponent of the collegiate dormitory system and found this idea to be elitist and unnecessary. In 1905 the College did not have enough living spaces to accommodate all of its students. The faculty relented and allowed the Hesperian Society and the Colombian Society to buy its own meeting houses off campus.
The Trimoira Literary Society established at M.S.C in 1913
The 1920s gave way to an increase in students attending M.A.C and the lack of housing led faculty to allow off campus housing for more society members. In 1921 the ban on national Greek organizations was lifted and the first organizations to be established were the Alpha Gamma Delta and Alpha Phi Sororities. Alpha Phi was created by members of the Feronian Society. Following them were the Forensic Society, who became Lambda Chi Alpha and the agriculturally based fraternity, Alpha Gamma Rho.
Members of Alpha Phi in 1925
Throughout the 1920s more and more literary societies became affiliated with national Greek organizations. The Aurorean Literary Society became Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity in 1923. Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity was forged from the Dorian Literary Society in 1924. In 1925 the Orphic Literary Society became Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. From then on Greek life grew and became an integral part of MSU student life.
Competition has always been an important aspect of Greek Life. Chapters held Tug of War across the Red Cedar River, Chess Tournaments in local houses, as well as academic achievement contests throughout the school year. In 1930 Sigma Kappa Sorority won an exciting victory for overall best GPA on campus. They narrowly defeated the previous year’s winner, Alpha Chi Omega.
During the 1940s, World War II led to an overall decline in male enrollment at M.S.C. Fraternity houses were used to lodge coeds, due to a lack of women’s housing. Houses were also used by the Army and local R.O.T.C chapters. After the War, the G.I Bill allowed more and more students to attend college and Greek Life at M.S.C once again became a popular student activity.
In 1948 the first African American fraternity at the college was established by the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha. They were committed to philanthropic service to all mankind and to the advancement of interracial groups at the college. The first African American sorority at M.S.C. was Alpha Kappa Alpha. They were established in 1954 and engaged in such as activities as reading to the blind and giving campus tours. Today MSU proudly hosts all nine historically African American Greek organizations on its campus.
Members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in the 1950s
In the 1950s Greek life continued to expand. In 1959 the count was up to 20 nationally recognized sororities and 34 fraternities. All of these organizations participated in campus wide events such as Spartacade, Greek Sing, Water Carnival, Greek Week and Homecoming festivities. One fall, the Kappa Sigma fraternity bought a World War II era plane from a local bar owner for $40. They set it up outside of their house so that it appeared to have crashed into the side of their house. They placed a dummy inside and splattered the whole thing in ketchup for dramatic effect. A sign beside it read “He rushed Kappa Sigma but didn’t quite make it!”
1957 photo of Winter Carnival Float created by Alpha Omicron Pi and Theta Chi
1951 outdoor homecoming display of William and Mary’s execution on the lawn of Phi Delta Theta.
Greek Life saw its decline in the 1970s. Campus dorm life became less restrictive and the traditions of fraternity and sorority members seemed to be out of date. Many chapters closed due to lack of membership; including Alpha Omicron Pi in 1972 (the chapter was re-established in 1989).
In more recent years Greek life at MSU has seen a steady increase with recruitment and rush numbers moving well into the thousands. In November of 2013, 141 years after the first fraternity established at MSU, the Panhellenic Council, Interfraternity Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council became recognized by the University.
Photo courtesy of MSU GreekLife: Representatives from Panhellenic Council and Interfraterity Council pose with President Simon and others at the recognizing of Greek Life by the University.
Michigan State University Archives, “African American Presence at MSU; Historic Firsts.” Accessed March 12, 2014. http://archives.msu.edu/collections/african_presence_firsts.php.
Michigan State University Greek Life, “MSU Greek Life: History and Future.” Last modified January 01, 2014. Accessed March 14, 2014. http://www.msugreeklife.org/history-and-future.
The 1959 Wolverine Yearbook, Michigan State University.
Thomas, David A. Michigan State College: John Hannah and the Creation of a World University. 1926-1969. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008.
Widder, Keith R. Michigan Agricultural College: The Evolution of a Land-Grant Philosophy, 1855-1925. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2005.
Written By Caroline Voisine