Selected History of the Gamma Theta Chapter
By Nick Carino ’69, Gamma Theta 1000

Note: This page will be a living document, and will be updated as other Brothers submit significant information about the history and evolution of the Gamma Theta Chapter of Sigma Nu.

Founding of Chapter

According to the Heritage History of Sigma Nu by Randall Capps, Charles D. Hubbard was granted a charter in 1873 to start Chapter VI at Cornell. There were, however, no initiates, and the chapter was never organized.

The Gamma Theta Chapter was established at Cornell 28 years later in 1901 and was the 56th Chapter of Sigma Nu. The following excerpt from Heritage History of Sigma Nu discusses the formation of the Chapter. (The excerpt refers to Daniel W. Langton, Jr., who was Regent of Sigma Nu from 1886 to 1890.)

“Gamma Theta Chapter at Cornell was a part of the new effort. Cornell was one of the most important fraternity schools in the country, with twenty fraternities. Langton felt that Sigma Nu would be unable to compete with the well-established fraternities at Cornell and discouraged the chapter. However, the charter was approved, and Oliver H. Davis, Wesley R. Ellis, Arthur R. Keller, Horace E. Sibson, and J.D. Clair Smith became the charter members [Class of 1903]. In a political move, Past Regent Langton was invited to represent the New York Alumni Club at the installation. Dallas Flannagan was designated as the installing officer. A.H. Wilson [Regent 1910–1912] began what was to be a record in attending chapter installations.

“A decision was made at the outset that Gamma Theta must have a house in order to compete with the other fraternities at Cornell. It was Horace E. Sibson who laid the financial foundation which allowed the chapter to have a house before ten years passed. Sibson was also active later in establishing a financial policy for the national Fraternity. It was an initiate from Gamma Theta who was responsible for the adoption of a pledge emblem. In 1904, Harvey B. Mann suggested that the center of the badge be made the official pledge emblem. The idea struck, and Gamma Theta contacted a jeweler to make such an emblem for Gamma Theta use only. The idea spread, and the emblem became so popular in the eastern chapters that the High Council shortly thereafter recommended the Cornell pledge button as the official Fraternity pledge emblem.”

The Chapter was established officially December 7, 1901 at 302 Eddy Street. In addition to Dallas Flannagan of New York, as the installing officer, and A.H. Wilson of Madison, NJ, other Sigma Nu members in attendance included: S. Ketchum of Stephens Institute, F. A. Miller of Vermont, and R.B. Cunningham of Lafayette. Besides the five charter initiates from the Class of 1903 mentioned in the above excerpt, eight other affiliates were inducted: J.B. Thomas 1904, J.E. Harris 1904, J.M. Young 1902, L.H. de Leon 1905, F.N. Meeker 1902, O.L. Goeble 1902, L.O. Veser 1903, and H.J.M. Baker. [Source: Cornell Daily Sun, December 9, 1901]

Chapter House at 111 Osmun Place

Brothers moved into a new chapter house on Osmun Place during winter break 1902–1903. An article from the February 5, 1904 issue of the Cornell Daily Sun describing the Junior Week dance gives a hint of the house’s appearance: Sigma Nu gave its Junior Week dance at the house in Osmun Place last night. The hall, library, and reception room on the first floor were thrown open for dancing, and the orchestra, furnished by Coleman, was stationed at the foot of the stairs. The catering was done by Haywood, and the decorations were furnished by Bool. The Chaperones were Mrs. Craig, of Ithaca; Mrs. Ross of Chicago; Mrs. Ely of Elyria, Ohio; and Mrs. Turner of Auburn, N.Y.

At 1:50 AM on April 22, 1911, a fire alarm was sounded as a fire broke out at the chapter house on Osmun Place. According to the Cornell Daily Sun article: The entire destruction of the Sigma Nu Chapter House by fire was narrowly averted by the timely discovery of a blaze in the furnace room about 2 o’clock in the morning by Witmer Russell ‘11 and B.J. Reynolds ‘14, members of the fraternity. Russell and Reynolds aroused the sleeping brothers on the upper floors sparing them from harm. According the newspaper article, the house was owned by Ithaca Realty Co. and the estimated damage was $1000.

The Lodge at Willard Way

Construction of the new fraternity-owned Lodge was begun in late September 1910. The following article from the October 22, 1910 issue of the Cornell Daily Sun describes the cornerstone placement ceremony for the new Lodge at 230 Willard Way (previously Ave.):


“The corner-stone of the new Sigma Nu chapter house on Willard avenue [sic] will be laid at noon today. Members of the Syracuse chapter of the fraternity will be present at the ceremony. An address will be made by Vice-Regent A. H. Wilson of New York, as well as short speeches by other alumni and undergraduate members. H. E. Sibson, Cornell ‘01, head of the Alumni Association, will formally turn over the house to the chapter. In accordance with custom, a few records will be laid in the corner-stone. In the evening a Joint initiation of new members will be held in conjunction with the Syracuse chapter. This will be followed by a banquet at the New Ithaca Hotel.

“Work has been progressing on the house since October 1. By now the foundations are all in, and it is expected that the building will be ready for occupancy by June. The work is being carried on by Driscoll Brothers, contractors of this city, and the architect is Leon Stern, of Rochester, the designer of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. The exterior will be composed of dark red brick as far up as the second floor, above which it will be of English half-timber. The roof will be of red tile. The first floor will be taken up by a reception room, a dining room, a living room, and kitchens. On the second floor will be the studies, the billiard room, and an alumni suite; the third floor will be for dormitory purposes. The entire building, which will easily accommodate 34 men, will be composed of inflammable material. The floors will be of concrete, the beams of, steel, and there will be added a system of automatic fire doors.”

A 1998 condition assessment report commissioned by Cornell, described the Lodge as follows: Sigma Nu was built in 1910 and is a historically significant building of the American Beaux Arts style. The building is well designed and built. It is a beautiful structure worthy of careful maintenance and preservation. The historic components are the exterior and interior still exist and are in good condition.

Confrontation Related to Membership Qualifications

[The following is based on information gathered from the Heritage History of Sigma Nu and articles from the archives of the Cornell Daily Sun.]

Beginning in 1948 and up to 1968, the issue of restrictive membership qualifications embodied in the Law of National Sigma Nu was debated at bi-annual Grand Chapter meetings. During the 1950s, various universities set deadlines for local chapters to cease adherence to restrictive membership requirements contained in the laws of their national fraternities. Sigma Nu Fraternity defended its restrictive membership qualifications on the basis of the right of an individual to select with whom one wishes to associate. The Fraternity further maintained that membership qualifications was an issue of “social rights” rather than “civil rights.”

Gamma Theta was brought into the fray in 1961. According to an article in the November 27, 1961 issue of the Cornell Daily Sun, Gamma Theta was asked to appear before the Judiciary Committee of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) to ascertain whether the Chapter was in violation of two IFC rules: (1) the local discrimination policy and (2) Article IX of the IFC Bylaws. The former was a statement that the IFC would not tolerate any chapter policy that excludes the possibility of selecting a new member “on the basis of his race, religion, or national origin.” Commander James Gugino ’62 provided evidence to the IFC showing that Gamma Theta had rushed and offered bids to minority students. At a subsequent presentation before the Commission on Segregation, Gugino reported further that Gamma Theta opposed the National Fraternity’s restrictive membership qualifications.

Article IX of the IFC Bylaws stated: Any Cornell chapter whose national fraternity constitution embodies a discriminatory clause shall make a sincere and continuous effort toward removal of said clause. The IFC Judiciary Committee ruled that Gamma Theta was in violation of Article IX and was placed on disciplinary probation until September 1, 1962. The probation meant that the Chapter was not allowed to participate in IFC activities nor run for elective offices on the IFC. Gamma Theta faced a dilemma because, according to the Cornell Daily Sun, Sigma Nu National barred local chapters from obtaining waivers from its restrictive membership qualifications unless the chapters fought university pressure to eliminate such requirements. Apparently, the fact that Gamma Theta was placed on disciplinary probation was sufficient cause for a waiver; and in April 1962, Sigma Nu National granted Gamma Theta a “Wavier with Honor.” In May 1962, the IFC removed the Chapter from probation.

Meanwhile efforts to remove restrictive membership qualifications from the Law failed at the Grand Chapters in 1962, 1964, and 1966. At each subsequent convention, however, the number of delegates in favor or removing the restrictions increased. Finally, at the 43rd Grand Chapter in Denver in 1968, restrictive membership qualifications were removed from the Law by a nearly unanimous vote. At that same meeting, Mike Peters ’68 (Past Commander) and Ed Reiss ’69 (Commander) presented a resolution to allow a chapter to obtain a waiver from the “blackball” system, whereby one negative vote by a current brothers disqualified person from joining the Fraternity. That resolution also passed. So, 1968 marked a historic moment in the development of the modern Sigma Nu, and Gamma Theta played a vital role in that transformation.

Chapter Lodge Timeline

Here we will list some key dates related to the Lodge. Alumni are asked to contribute what they remember as significant changes to the physical plant.

  • 1910—Lodge constructed
  • 1960—The first stereo record player for the Great Hall was installed; it was procured by pooling dividend receipts from the Campus Store
  • 1961—At a cost of $150, the back hill leading down to Ithaca Gun Co. was filled in with the rubble from the demolished Olin Hall, where the present Olin Library now stands, to accommodate the increasing number of cars brothers were bringing to Cornell. It also was the last year the Lehigh Valley RR’s Black Diamond provided service between NYC and Buffalo to Ithaca.
  • 1967—Property Association replaced Great Hall furniture.
  • 1994—Brothers cleared overgrown trees and restored the majestic view of Cayuga Lake from the sun porch.
  • 1998—Through the generosity of Les “Wags” Wagner ‘72 and Steve “Stash” Schaefer ‘73, tennis court was replaced by large parking lot and back yard was graded to provide large gathering area for outdoor activities.