The Kappa Sigma Fraternity's origins can be traced back to Bologna, Italy during the 1400s. The scholar, Manuel Chrysoloras, founded a society of students with his five most devoted disciples at the University of Bologna. Chrysoloras and his disciples banded together for mutual protection against the corrupt governor of the city Baldassare Cossa. A former pirate, Cossa frequently had university students attacked and robbed in the city streets. After leaving Bologna, Cossa went on to usurp the Papacy and rule as the "antipope", John XXII.
The students used secret words and signs to protect their ranks from betrayal. These gestures or "rituals" became the basis of their organization. It embodied their ideals and allowed for both the safety of their members and the unity of the society. The society slowly grew, taking in those students who desired the safety and potential it could offer. With a strong foundation from the loyalty and quality of its members, the ancient order grew into a strong organization. Over time, its strength and unity transformed the order from a protective society into something much greater, a true brotherhood. The society grew and spread its glory to the great universities of Europe, and continued its influence throughout much of the Renaissance.
On December 10, 1869, five students at the University of Virginia met at 46 East Lawn and founded the Kappa Sigma Fraternity in America. William Grigsby McCormick, George Miles Arnold, Edmund Law Rogers, Frank Courtney Nicodemus, and John Covert Boyd later became known as the Five Friends and Brothers. They took the traditions of the ancient order in Bologna and created a fraternity that aimed to continue in its noble cause: unending brotherhood.
The original five searched for others who would complement their diverse personalities. They initiated two more in that first year, Samuel Isham North and John Edward Semmes. The following year, two of the original five left the University, as did Semmes, leaving the order's future in the hands of Brothers Arnold, Boyd, Rogers and North. They initiated three more into the order and on March 18, 1871 the entire active membership, consisting of seven, met to initiate William Cornelius Bowen. They did not realize at the time that the work of that Saturday night would ensure the future of the fraternity. Bowen was the only member to return to the University the following year, and the future legacy of the fraternity was placed in his hands.
Bowen worked quickly the following year to find prospective members. He, along with his first initiate, Goodwin Williams, began searching for new members who could fulfill the expectations of the founding brothers. Brother Semmes returned to the University that spring discovering that Bowen had added five new brothers to the order.
The next year, 1872, marked a milestone in the history of Kappa Sigma. Three new initiates were welcomed into the brotherhood, including Thomas Wright Strange. The members of the chapter, known now as the Zeta chapter, decided that they wanted one additional member that year. Thomas Strange introduced the name of Stephen Alonzo Jackson. He was chosen for initiation into the order in 1872 despite personality conflicts.
On an autumn night in 1872, Jackson was initiated into the order. From the moment of his initiation, he began his work as the great leader of Kappa Sigma. He worked in every aspect of the chapter operations, and later became Grand Master of the Zeta chapter at the University of Virginia.
Jackson's contributions to the fraternity stretch far beyond chapter leadership. He was given the nickname, "the Golden-Hearted Virginian." During his membership, he expanded and revised the ritual of Kappa Sigma and created the Supreme Executive Committee (SEC), which now serves as the governing body of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity on a national level. Jackson also introduced the idea of a frequent, national convention of all Kappa Sigmas, a practice that is still continued by the bi-annual Grand Conclave. This event is still known as Kappa Sigma's "Finest Hour."
These innovations in ritual and government helped to transform Kappa Sigma from a small, local fraternity at the University of Virginia into the international fraternity it is today. Jackson worked with his chapter and friends at nearby university to establish new chapters in the growing order. His passion for the success of the fraternity still influences its actions to this day. Evidence of his work can be seen in the many milestones that Kappa Sigma has reached. His ideals for recruitment and expansion can be seen in the 289 campuses that have hosted chapters of the order and the more than 290,000 men who have been initiated into the order since its conception.
Jackson's vision for the future was summed up in his "Apples of Gold" speech given at the Grand Conclave, 1878. "Why not, my Brothers, since we of today live and cherish the principals of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, throw such a halo around those principles that they may be handed down as a precious heirloom to ages yet unborn? Why not put our apples of gold in pictures of silver? May we not rest contently until the Star and Crescent is the pride of every college and university in the land!"