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Amherst College Fraternities Collection

Identifier: MA.00205

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, reports, printed material, newspaper clippings, financial and business records, publications and other materials relating to fraternities at Amherst College.


  • Creation: 1830-2014
  • Creation: Majority of material found within circa 1830-1984

Conditions Governing Access

The following restrictions to access apply to the Fraternities Collection: material less than 50 years old may be restricted; material containing information protected by privacy laws is restricted permanently; and particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the Fraternities Collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

Fraternities played an important role in the history of Amherst College from the founding of the first "secret society" in 1830 to the dissolution of the fraternity system in 1984 and the continuing presence of "underground" fraternity activity.

The first student-run societies at Amherst College were the literary Athenian and Alexandrian societies, open to all students. In 1830, a secret literary society was formed, Chi Delta Theta, which lasted until 1845. "Secret" and "Anti-Secret" societies proliferated in the coming decades both at Amherst and at other American colleges. The first national fraternity to open a chapter at Amherst was Alpha Delta Phi in 1837. At their peak, in the 1910s-1930s, there were fourteen fraternity chapters; in addition, non-fraternity men formed parallel groups such as the Commons Club (1941) and the Lord Jeffrey Amherst Club (1935) as a balance to fraternities' secrecy and elitism.

Fraternities and other secret societies were the cause of much concern to Amherst College's faculty and administration at various points in their history. In 1842, faculty required the two fraternities on campus to share their secret files, but were unable to enforce the request. Continuing concern brought President Edward Hitchcock to write letters to other college presidents in 1846 inquiring into their experiences with secret societies. Eventually the fraternities gained general acceptance and flourished until the disruptions of World War II. During this time most of the fraternities bought or built houses, established ties with national fraternities, formed bases of alumni support and changed focus from largely literary and academic pursuits to a greater emphasis on social events and leisure activities. In 1943, during World War II, the fraternities were shut down and their houses served as military quarters. After the war, the changing social and academic climate led to a debate on the question of whether to restore fraternities at Amherst. The fraternities were reopened, but never again enjoyed the firm support of previous decades.

On April 20, 1946 the Trustees of the college declared that all fraternities would be required to formally advise the Trustees that they did not discriminate on the basis of race, color or creed in their membership selection process. The initial deadline of October 1, 1948 was later extended to February 1, 1951 to permit extra time for local fraternity chapters having difficulty negotiating for the removal of discriminatory clauses with their national. During this period, a number of houses found themselves at odds with the discriminatory policies of their national bodies and found it necessary to disaffiliate and become locally-based organizations; the first to surrender its charter was Delta Tau Delta in September 1946, subsequently becoming Kappa Theta. The first fraternity to deal with the challenge of racial integration was Phi Kappa Psi, which pledged Thomas Gibbs (AC 1951), a black student, in 1948; it was not only the first fraternity at Amherst to do so, but the first in the nation. At the time, the local chapter did not expect to stir up controversy over this act, as there was no clause of discrimination in the national's constitution; however, that August, the Amherst delegates to the national convention were met with an order forbidding the pledging of Gibbs. The Amherst Phi Psi chapter, with the overwhelming (but not quite unanimous) support of its alumni, held fast to its decision. Accordingly, in December 1948, the national executive committee suspended the chapter. No longer affiliated with the national, Amherst's Phi Kappa Psi changed its name to Phi Alpha Psi. The whole matter caused a storm of national publicity.

The post-war issue of discrimination signaled a new attitude toward fraternities at the College: if fraternities were to continue on campus, their first allegiance would have to be to the ideals and priorities of the College, not the national body. Projecting forward to 1975, when Amherst became coeducational, their future was immediately put in jeopardy.

Major milestones since the Phi Psi controversy are as follows: the achievement of 100% rushing in 1952, the first College in the nation to implement such a system; the transfer of fraternity property to College ownership in 1963; the mandate in 1980 to include female students in fraternities; and ultimately, the formal dissolution of the fraternity system in 1984.


46 Linear feet (42 records storage boxes, 2 archives boxes, 3 half archives boxes, 3 oversize boxes)

Language of Materials



Correspondence, reports, printed material, newspaper clippings, financial and business records, publications and other materials relating to fraternities at Amherst College.


This collection is organized into ten series:

  1. Series 1: General, 1838-1984
  2. Series 2: Alpha Delta Phi, 1942-1983 (bulk 1870-1960)
  3. Series 3: Beta Theta Pi, 1870-1969
  4. Series 4: Chi Phi, 1875-1982 (bulk 1906-1960)
  5. Series 5: Chi Psi/ Delta Chi Psi, 1864-2004 (bulk 1870-1979)
  6. Series 6: Delta Kappa Epsilon, 1875-1973
  7. Series 7: Phi Delta Theta/ Phi Delta Sigma, 1888-1961
  8. Series 8: Phi Gamma Delta/ Phi Gamma Chi, 1894-1983
  9. Series 9: Phi Kappa Psi/ Phi Alpha Psi, 1915-1971
  10. Series 10: Additional Fraternities, 1830-1986

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The materials in this collection have come from a wide variety of sources over time and items continue to be added. Where materials were received with evidence of original organization, such organization was maintained. In other instances, material was arranged by material type, subject or date.


Material may be added to the collection in the future.

Related Materials

  1. Buildings and Grounds Collection (photographs and information about fraternity houses)
  2. Photograph Collection (photographs of fraternity members and events)
  3. Scrapbooks Collection (scrapbooks created by fraternities or of fraternity materials)
  4. Posters Collection (posters advertising fraternity events and fraternity placards)
  5. Amherst College bound memorabilia, volume #30 (volume of fraternity invitations, 1885-1899)
  6. Amherst College Oral History Project Records, 1978-1982
  7. Gibbs, Thomas W. III: oral history [videorecording] / interviewed by Karen H. Williams. Friends of the Library, 2010.
  8. Amherst College Library online catalog (published fraternity catalogs, histories and songbooks as well as student honors theses on the subject of fraternities)
  9. Objects Collection (fraternity pins, plaques and other memorabilia)
  10. Clubs and Societies Collection (Lord Jeffrey Amherst Club, anti-secret societies and non-fraternal Greek letter societies)
  11. Class Album Collection (5 fraternity albums)
  12. Frank Learoyd Boyden (AC 1902) Papers - Series 2, Phi Kappa Psi
  13. Amherst Dance Book Collection, 1880-1942 (includes programs from fraternity dances)


Cutting, George Rugg, 1848-1903. Student life at Amherst College. Its organizations, their membership and history. Amherst : Hatch & Williams, 1871. [ FULL TEXT]

Physical Description

42 records storage boxes, 2 archives boxes, 3 half archives boxes, 3 oversize boxes (46 linear feet)


Mariah Leavitt
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299