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   Washington University Chapter

History of the founding of the Washington University Chapter, St. Louis, Missouri

In the fall of 1908, three Sigma Xi members teaching at our campus called an informal meeting to discuss the organization of a chapter on the Washington University campus. The outcome of this meeting was a letter sent December 18, 1908, signed by eleven individuals, eight of whom were Sigma Xi members, to the national office, requesting permission to proceed with the procedures to obtain a charter for the establishment of a chapter at Washington University.

Permission received, 12 individuals then began the process of preparing the printed pamphlet which was then required to be sent to all extant chapters, to seek approval for the petition. The eighteen page pamphlet had the standard letter from the Chancellor supporting the idea, abbreviated CV of each petitioner, a catalog of major University publications, and a short list of selected research projects being conducted on campus. The original petitions were James Abbot, Zoology (Chicago chapter), Edward Keiser, Chemistry (non-member), George Lamke, Electrical Engineering (Michigan chapter), Alexander Langsdorf, Electrical Engineering (Cornell chapter), Frederick Mann, Architecture (Pennsylvania chapter), Walter McCount, Geology (Cornell chapter), Francis Nipher, Physics (Iowa chapter), Ernest Ohle, Mechanical Engineering (Case chapter), William Trelease, Botany (Cornell chapter), Jan Van Ornum, Civil Engineer (non-member), Clarence Waldo, Mathematics (Union chapter), and Calvin Woodward, Mathematics (non-member).

At this period, Sigma Xi was still growing, and deciding to what extent it should emulate Greek social fraternities. Thus, each chapter had chosen a letter, from either the Greek alphabet, or the Roman alphabet, to designate the chapter. Washington University chose "W". By 1916, however, the national office decided the letter system was a failure, and that hence forth, each chapter would be known by its institutional name -- in our case, not "W", but "Washington University Chapter."

Growth here was rapid. The charter was officially approved with the original twelve signators on May 21, 1910. At the first nominating session in 1911, 33 more members were added -- 28 newly elected, and five transferring from other chapters. Each spring Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa host a national lecture. The beginning of this tradition dates back to 1916, with the first joint activities, and has been continued for more than 80 years.

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