About the District of Columbia Chapter
The District of Columbia Chapter of Sigma Xi has the distinction of being the first "Alumni Chapter" formed under the provisions of the National Organization. Before this, all chapters were directly affiliated with institutions of education and research, however the need for such a chapter was felt by the charter members because of the number of research institutions in the Washington, DC area. The Preliminary Constitution of the Chapter gives the objectives of the organization as "primarily to establish fraternal relations among the alumni of the Society of the Sigma Xi in the District of Columbia and vicinity, to grant the privilege of membership to individuals of this community who have achieved distinction in science, and in general to foster the spirit for which the Society of the Sigma Xi was established." The D.C. Chapter was the 29th chapter to be chartered by the Society of the Sigma Xi.
The formation of this chapter began in the year 1914. On January 2 at 4 p.m. the nucleus of an organization committee met in the office of Dr. Paul Bartsch in the U.S. National Museum. Those attending this meeting in addition to Dr. Bartsch were Marcus Benjamin who became acting chair of the Organization Committee and the first President of the D.C. Chapter, M.W. Lyon, Jr. who became Secretary of both the Organization Committee and Chapter, and Edmond Heller. More meetings were held in the following weeks and a constitution and by-laws were drafted. Invitations were sent to Sigma Xi alumni who were residing in Washington, D.C. and the vicinity to attend a meeting on Friday, January 30, 1914 in Room 43 of the National Museum. The earliest letter in the Chapter archives is a letter granting the use of this room that was signed by Charles D. Walcott who was then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The application for the Chapter was submitted in February 1914 and was accepted a short time later.
The first Annual Meeting of the District of Columbia Chapter was held on Friday, April 30, 1915, more than one year after the first meeting of the Organization Committee that met in the office of Paul Bartsch. The meeting was called to order at 8:15 p.m. in the Assembly Hall of the Cosmos Club by temporary president Marcus Benjamin. There were 50 persons attending. At this time, the first slate of officers was elected for the Chapter. The officers and their affiliations were as follows: President - Marcus Benjamin (Columbia, U.S. National Museum); Vice-President - Isaac King Phelps (Yale, Bureau of Chemistry); Secretary - Marcus Ward Lyon, Jr. (Brown, George Washington University); Treasurer - Daniel Roberts Harper 3rd (Pennsylvania, Bureau of Standards); Councilor - Fredrick Leslie Ransome (California, Geological Survey); Councilor - Cornelius Lott Shear (Nebraska, Bureau of Plant Industry). The meeting concluded with informal remarks by the President and other members relative to the practices of Sigma Xi at their parent chapters. Adjournment at 9:30 p.m. was followed by a social hour with refreshments. It was recorded in the minutes that the bill from the Cosmos Club for the hall rental and refreshments was $26.
Printing the official Charter presented some problems. There were 172 charter members and not all names could be printed on the face of the standard form for Sigma Xi Charters. After some discussion it was decided that 11 names would appear on the face and the remaining names would be placed on the back. The Charter was sent to the D.C. Chapter in January 1916, however, it left the National Office without signatures of any of the officers of Sigma Xi. It is unclear whether the document was returned to headquarters for the signatures or if it was signed at the installation meeting in the following month. This was not to be the final word on the Charter. After the Chapter was officially installed, it was decided that since the District of Columbia Chapter held a special status as the first Alumni Chapter a special charter would be printed. The old charter was recalled and a new one printed by the National Office.
Formal installation of the District of Columbia Chapter occurred on Saturday, February 19, 1916. The meeting commenced at 7 p.m. in the Red Parlor of the Ebbitt Hotel. Dinner was served to 41 members and guests. After dinner Chapter President Benjamin gave an introductory address which outlined the development of the D.C. Chapter. This was followed by an address from National President Charles S. Howe. He spoke of the history of Sigma Xi and its scientific ideals and concluded his address with the formal presentation of the Charter to President Benjamin, who accepted it on behalf of the D.C. Chapter. Other speakers included Thomas H. Norton, L.O. Howard, Vice-President Phelps, and Paul Bartsch. Prof. Norton, a guest, congratulated the D.C. Chapter on behalf of the Phi Beta Kappa Association. He also related some of his experiences in the Orient, in particular the region including Constantinople. He described his visit to a gorge in the upper Euphrates River and discussed the possibility of developing water resources there with the preservation of natural scenic beauty. The minutes of the Installation Meeting also recorded that another speaker, charter member L.O. Howard, "had been longest in the Society and made a short address". The meeting adjourned about 11 p.m.
(This article is based on documents in the D.C. Chapter Archives. Names of Charter Members appear in Sigma Xi Quarterly, Vol. III, June, 1915. The account of the Installation Meeting was published in Sigma Xi Quarterly, Vol. IV, June, 1916.)
Geoff White, Archivist