The Purdue Case

The Purdue Case holds a significant place in Delta Delta history. Between 1877 and 1882 Sigma Chi Fraternity, both undergraduates and alumni, sought to maintain the right of fraternities to exist at Purdue and to maintain its chapter against the actions of the University. This legal case decided by the Indiana Supreme Court on June 21, 1882, is a testimony to the perseverance and determination of our first Sigma Chi brothers at Purdue. Read on for more of this extraordinary story.

May 6, 1869 Purdue University was established with president Richard C. Owen, however classes did not start until 1874. The enrollment was 39 students and 6 staff members along with President Abraham C. Shortridge. The next year in 1875, the enrollment was up to 75 and on March 3, the Delta Delta chapter of Sigma Chi was established at Purdue, making it the first Fraternity on campus. The founders were Blair, Clark, Harper, Hatch, Jamison, Reed and Vanada. Shortridge did not like Fraternities, but he tolerated them because he did not want to deter prospective students due to troubles with enrollment.

The next president was John S. Houghham, who only remained for 6 months, giving way to Emerson Elbridge White on May 1, 1876. White despised Fraternities even more than Shortridge and vowed to abolish them, guided by James McCosh of Princeton University. He was quoted as saying that Purdue should “rise above the rest and stand alone,” free to pursue its greatness “with industrial classes with industrial interests.”

White also believed Fraternities to be immoral because they presented students in a negative way along with his feeling that students would not have time for such student organizations. Although not significant, it seems almost fitting that on September 11, 1877 with the full support of the faculty, White established what was known as the matriculation pledge, beginning the entire fight against the oppression of the Greek system. This pledge stated that students would not be allowed to join any secret or Greek lettered societies, smoke or drink, skip classes, or even go to the bars. This pledge was aimed at abolishing the Greek system within 3 to 4 years since it could not be required for students already admitted.

Ironically, even those faculty members who had been associated with Fraternities when they were in school still promoted the new mandate, and played an integral part in its passing, due to the strong position held by White. This forced Delta Delta to go underground, having to conduct meetings in total secrecy and initiate new members while classes were not in session.

There were 7 new members initiated during this time, called “sub-rosas” because of the secret status of their initiations. Due to the actions of Purdue’s administration, the brothers of Delta Delta did not wear their letters around campus, a tradition that is continued today, showing great respect for the courageous actions of those who came before them. During the ensuing months, the brothers of Delta Delta fought their case with the faculty but to no avail, as they were not heard to any reasonable extent.

Over the course of 1878 and 1879, there were 5 of 6 members expelled. This left only one brother, James Milo Waugh, who today is recognized as the only Fraternity member on the entire Purdue campus at that time. He died on October 22, 1930. A student by the name of James B. Shaw, one of the 5 expelled, was suspected to be connected with the blowing up of a fountain by the ladies dorm on campus. Later he was cleared of any suspicion because he had just been experimenting with chemicals for a class he was taking.

The first lawsuit filed, was a class action lawsuit against Purdue in the name of Thomas B. Hawley in 1882. The case was to be conducted in the Tippecanoe Circuit Court System. Despite their political connections, they lost their case. Judge D. P. Vinton, who ironically had two sons that were initiated in the Delta Delta chapter unbeknownst to him, made the ruling. Soon after, Samuel T. Stallard, Esq. filed a writ of mandate but it was denied. Unsatisfied with this verdict, McMillin, Coffroth and Ward appealed the ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court and on June 21, 1882 they ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The ruling read: “There was no impropriety in either becoming a member of or being otherwise connected with the Sigma Chi fraternity … and that the objections seemingly entertained by the faculty against other fraternities of the same class were unfounded.”

President White, upset by this ruling, mandated a set of new rules against Fraternities. They said that although Fraternity members could remain on Purdue’s campus, they would not be allowed to receive any types of honors. The Governor of Indiana, Isaac P. Gray, along with his Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Hanna (both Sigs) quickly stepped in and attached a rider to Purdue’s appropriations bill that prevented White’s mandated rules to take affect. They also attached another rider that would abolish any future actions taken against Fraternities.

President White retired soon after this and was preceded by James Henry Smart Xi ’76 in 1883, who had previously acted as the President of the National Education Association in 1880. Another new person added by the Board of Trustees was Oscar J. Craig, another member of the Xi chapter, as head Academy. As a result of the courageous actions of all those involved in the struggle to keep the Delta Delta chapter alive and functioning at Purdue, there was a precedent set for future Fraternity chapters to follow in their footsteps.