A Brief History of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity
The Kappa Sigma Fraternity has origins that can be traced back to Bologna, Italy in the year 1400. The University of Bologna was one of Europe’s preeminent universities attracting students from all over the continent. The corrupt governor of Bologna, and one-time pirate and later papal usurper Baldassare Cossa took advantage of the students by sending his men to assault and rob them; this motivated one of the university’s scholars Manuel Chrysoloras to found a secret society of students beginning with five of his most devoted disciples, for mutual protection against Cossa.
In order to protect their ranks from betrayal and to communicate covertly, the students used secret words and signs. These forms and rituals became the basis for our organization. It embodies our ideals and allowed for both the safety of our original members and the strong unity of the society. The society slowly grew to large numbers, taking in those students who desired the protection it could offer. With a strong foundation in the loyalty and quality of its members, the order grew into a strong organization and spread to other continental universities throughout much of the Renaissance.
However, as time wore on, the uses of such fraternal orders began to wane. The order’s membership was eventually limited to a number of noble families in France. It was one of these families that entreated an American traveler to begin the order in America in the middle of the nineteenth century.
On December 10, 1869, five students at the University of Virginia met in 46 East Lawn and founded the Kappa Sigma Fraternity in America. William Grigsby McCormick, George Miles Arnold, John Covert Boyd, Edmund Law Rogers Jr. and Frank Courtney Nicodemus later become known as the Five Friends and Brothers. They took what they claimed as the traditions of the ancient order in Bologna and created a fraternity that aimed to continue in its noble cause, that of unending brotherhood.
In that same year, the Five Friends and Brothers 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 Five Friends and Brothers left the University, as did Semmes, leaving its future in the hands of Brothers Arnold, Boyd, Rogers and North. They initiated three more into the order that year. 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 this Saturday night would ensure the future of the fraternity. Bowen was the only member to return to the University the following year, and it was placed in his hands to prevent the work of the Five Friends and Brothers from fading away.
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, and he discovered 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. It cannot be understated the importance of their choice to look beyond their personal conflicts and initiate Jackson as the order would have never had a more influential and dedicated brother.
On an autumn night in 1872, Jackson was initiated into the order. From the moment of his initiation, he began his work as a great leader in the order of Kappa Sigma. He helped 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. He 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 Sigma’s, a practice now continued by the biennial Grand Conclave, and characterized the event as “the finest hour” of Kappa Sigma.
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!”
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. He worked with his chapter and friends at nearby university to establish new chapters of the growing order as well as traveling the nation to find more locations worthy to host a chapter. Jackson’s 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 to this day. His ideals for recruitment and expansion can be seen in the 300+ campuses that have hosted chapters of the order and the more than 250,000 men who have been initiated into the order since its conception.