A Red Carnation on Theta Chi’s Founding Day

Theta Chi was founded on April 10, 1856, at Norwich University in Norwich, Vermont, by two military cadets, Frederick Norton Freeman and Arthur Chase. With the help of brother Charles Dole, who was serving in the Vermont State Legislature, Theta Chi was formally incorporated under the laws of Vermont on November 22, 1888, and acquired its first chapter house in 1890. The Greek motto of Theta Chi is Θηρόποσα Χείρ, which is translated as “A Red Carnation on Theta Chi’s Founding Day Assisting Hand.

Theta Chi’s motto was secret from the founding in 1856 until the 1930s, at which time it was made public and incorporated into the fraternity’s coat of arms. When Freeman and Chase founded Theta Chi in 1856 they very clearly spelled out the purpose of the Fraternity in the original Constitution. The Fraternity’s maxim is “Alma Mater First and Theta Chi for Alma Mater,” and refers to one of the founding ideals of the Fraternity: loyalty to one’s college or university over the course of one’s lifetime. The Fraternity’s colors are military red and white.

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Its flower is the red carnation. The national alumni publication is The Rattle, named for the rattlesnake that appears on the Fraternity’s coat of arms and badge. It has become a Theta Chi tradition to celebrate Founders Day on April 10, usually as an alumni gathering. Sometimes mistakenly called the crest, the Fraternity Coat of Arms consists of a gold shield with a red bend containing two downward pointing swords and a knotted rattlesnake, surmounting a scroll bearing the date of the Fraternity’s founding and the motto in Greek. An esquire’s helmet sits on top, on which stands a gold eagle. The true meaning of the Coat of Arms is known only to brothers of the fraternity.

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According to The Manual of Theta Chi, the original design for the coat of arms was suggested by Freeman, and members of Alpha Chapter used his ideas to develop an official image. The coat of arms has undergone over a dozen modifications since, with the current design being approved in 1939. The Creed is traditionally recited by members at chapter meetings, and is often discussed in new member education programs to teach the values and ideals of the Fraternity. I believe in Theta Chi, its traditions and its ideals. Born of sturdy manhood, nurtured by resolute men, ennobled by high and sacred purpose, it has taken its place among the educational institutions of America as a promoter of knowledge, an advancer of culture and a builder of character. It inspires true friendship: teaches Truth, Temperance and Tolerance, extols virtue, exacts harmony, and extends a helping hand to all who seek it.

Fraternity, in its influence and its accomplishments and I shall do all in my power to perpetuate its ideals, thereby serving my God, my country and my fellow-man. On August 29, 1931, the day of Theta Chi’s 75th Anniversary Convention, a stone monument was dedicated at Norwich, Vermont. The Monument of Theta Chi is a remembrance of the founding of Theta Chi Fraternity. Theta Chi currently has 161 active chapters and 6 colonies across the United States and Canada and has initiated over 184,000 members since its founding.

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In 1997, Binaya Oja died participating in a drinking pledging ritual at Clarkson University. Pledges were forced to drink until they vomited to appease Theta Chi members. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity. In his family’s wrongful death lawsuit filed against the fraternity, it was reported Kowiak’s head struck the concrete when he was tackled. In 2012, Philip Dhanens died due to alcohol poisoning after drinking bottles of hard liquor with his fellow pledge brothers at Fresno State University.

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Three Theta Chi members were arrested and charged for his death. TKE or Teke, is an international all-male secret and social college fraternity founded on January 10, 1899, at Illinois Wesleyan University. The five founders of Tau Kappa Epsilon. During formation, the Knights of Classic Lore were trying to get the Illinois Epsilon chapter of Phi Delta Theta restored. Prominent Phi Delt alumnus Richard Henry Little became a persistent sponsor for the Knights to petition Phi Delta Theta for a charter.

A Red Carnation on Theta Chi’s Founding Day

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The Knights first petitioned Phi Delta Theta at its 1902 convention in New York, but efforts were unsuccessful. In late 1907, TKE was preparing to petition Phi Delta Theta once again at the 1908 convention when an event took place that would forever change the course of history for the fraternity. At the annual initiation banquet on October 19, 1907, speeches were made that both advocated and questioned the continued petitioning of Phi Delta Theta. In 1909, TKE approached the Chi Rho Sigma Fraternity at Millikin University.

There were no national fraternities at Millikin at this time, and TKE had just established its intentions to become a national fraternity. Representatives from TKE presented their case, and after thorough consideration, Chi Rho Sigma voted to accept TKE’s offer. On April 17, 1909, Chi Rho Sigma was installed as the Beta Chapter of TKE. The national fraternity Sigma Mu Sigma merged with TKE in March 1935.

Prior to 1939, TKE chapters were installed after local fraternities petitioned TKE for approval. In 1939, a colonization process was established to promote expansion and to ensure that potential chapters met all necessary requirements prior to installation. Tau Kappa Epsilon expanded for the first time into the Deep South region of the United States in 1946. This expansion was made possible when Alpha Lambda Tau, a small predominantly Southern national fraternity, announced its dissolution. On January 20, 1981, Tau Kappa Epsilon member Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States.

Reagan joined TKE at the Iota Chapter at Eureka College in 1929. In 1983, President Reagan created the Ronald Reagan Leadership Award to recognize selected student members of TKE that have demonstrated superior academic and leadership accomplishments. In March 1984, President Reagan sponsored a TKE alumni luncheon at the White House. Approximately 60 members of TKE were invited to the White House luncheon.

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Frater Reagan was hosted to an informal reception by the Chapter’s active members. There was no pre-screening of the house or its members by the Secret Service. Photos were taken to commemorate the event and the meeting was both up-building to the Chapter and to Frater Reagan. In October 1984, President Reagan attended lunch at the TKE house at the Ohio State University. The Ohio State Chapter hosted President Reagan for lunch following a rally in which he was speaking at Ohio State. Scholarship to TKE member Alan Friel.

A Red Carnation on Theta Chi’s Founding Day

During the ceremony at the White House, President Reagan was presented with TKE’s Order of the Silver Maple Leaf by TKE Grand Prytanis Bruce Melchert. The mythological ideal or patron of Tau Kappa Epsilon is Apollo, an important and complex Olympian deity in Greek and Roman mythology. Apollo is the Greek god of music and culture, of light and truth, the ideals toward which the organization strives for in their development of manhood. The official membership badge, made of gold and adorned with three white pearls, is by far the most important item of TKE insignia in general use. This badge may be worn only by initiated members.

Jeweled badges, crown set with pearls, diamonds, rubies or emeralds, according to choice, may be worn by alumni members. Frequently the standard membership badge is used as a token of engagement. The red carnation is the flower of the fraternity. From this flower the color for the coat-of-arms, flag, and other symbols are derived. Red carnations are also worn at TKE banquets.

The Red Carnation Ball is a dance that many chapters celebrate, and is named after the flower. The heraldic definition of the TKE Coat-of-Arms is “Gules, on a bend argent five equilateral triangles bendwise of the first voided. Crest: Above a peer’s helmet, a death’s head three-quarters profile, proper. Motto: The Greek letters, pi, alpha, omega, epsilon, alpha. The present design of the TKE flag, as adopted at the 1961 Conclave, features five voided triangles, in cherry red, on a gray bend surmounting a cherry field.

Because it is patterned after the shield of the fraternity Coat-of-Arms, the flag is readily associated with Tau Kappa Epsilon. Individual chapters may also purchase and use pennants and wall banners of various designs. In April 1921, members of the Fraternity at The Ohio State University made their way to the Conclave in Madison, Wisconsin. At the conclusion of the vote granting their charter as the Omicron Chapter, one of the members pulled from the pocket of his pants a rusty horseshoe which the fraters had picked up along the way. In mid-1995, the original horseshoe was discovered by Past Grand Prytanis Rodney Williams among some artifacts belonging to the Alpha-Chi Chapter, which had been held for years by a charter member of the chapter. At the 49th Biennial Conclave, the original TKE horseshoe from the Omicron Chapter was displayed, and the story behind its loss explained. The horseshoe, now an adopted symbol, is traditionally displayed on a plaque given to new chapters at their founding.

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The tradition of singing a Sweetheart Song to a fraternity’s sweetheart is one shared by most fraternities. The following table lists the current Grand Council officers and members, which were elected at the Fraternity’s 59th Conclave in New Orleans for a 2-year term. Every Grand Prytanis, or Grand President, serves for a two-year term after being elected at Conclave. However, early fraternity elections were yearly and some elections were irregular or interrupted, such as during the two World Wars.

Previous Grand Prytani are listed below. The Ohio State University chapter was suspended for three years after a thorough investigation found the chapter guilty of hazing, endangering behavior, and improper use of alcohol. The Towson University chapter was suspended after WBAL News Radio reported that a student was “forced to eat cat food and a liquid he was told was vinegar and pickle juice by members of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity” and that “the student started vomiting blood hours later and was taken to a nearby hospital later that day”. The Florida State University chapter was suspended for hazing and misconduct violations. The pledges were forced to participate in a hazing activity called “Old South” where pledges acted like slaves in blackface while serving drinks to members.

The University of Maryland chapter was kicked off campus due to the distribution of a video showing disturbing hazing rituals. The Northwest Missouri State University chapter had a member arrested and charged with first degree rape of a female student at the fraternity house on campus. The chapter was placed on suspension for the incident. The California State University, Northridge chapter was kicked off campus until July 2018 due to hazing and sexual misconduct. The Quinnipiac University chapter was kicked off campus due to serious allegations of hazing. The Arizona State University chapter was expelled by the university after photos surfaced of a racially themed “MLK Black Party” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend, although it later surfaced that the event was not planned by members of the fraternity.


The Rowan University chapter had two men suspended for an illicit sex tape recorded in the fraternity house that was leaked to the public. The California State University San Marcos chapter was suspended after several different complaints of sexual assault and date rape were made against the fraternity. Milwaukee chapter was suspended after several women accused the fraternity of drugging and raping them at the fraternity house. One fraternity member was arrested for possession of illegal drugs.

Wales University chapter had a former pledge sue the fraternity after a brutal hazing ritual that left him hospitalized for over a month. He was branded, urinated on by members, paddled, deprived of sleep, forced to exercise, forced to swim in his own vomit, and asked to participate in a host of many other demeaning activities. The American University chapter was disciplined for forcing pledges to binge drink, smoke marijuana, and perform various humiliating tasks. One DKE member was beaten so badly that he had to be transferred to an emergency room with a concussion and broken jaw. The Butler University chapter was shut down and placed on probation for an undisclosed period of time. School administrators at the time did not release a reason for the chapter’s closure. The Radford University chapter made national headlines after a pledge died partaking in a drinking hazing ritual.