Theta Xi was founded at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, on April 29, 1864, by Peter Henry Fox, Ralph Gooding Packard, Christopher Champlin Waite, George Bradford Brainerd, Samuel Buel Jr., Henry Harrison Farnum, Thomas Cole Raymond, and Nathaniel Henry Starbuck. Minutes of the original meeting, Constitution and Ritual have been preserved by the Fraternity to this day. Our tradition is truly continuous.
Christopher "Kit" Waite, whose father was destined to become Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was from Toledo, Ohio. Peter Fox from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Thomas Raymond, a down easterner from West borough, Massachusetts, together with Waite, were the only Founders from out of state. Nathaniel Starbuck was a local from the campus town of Troy whose father, a leading citizen of the town, was often called upon to address public meetings to arouse popular support for the Lincoln administration. The remaining Founders were all New Yorkers: George Brainerd from Brooklyn; Samuel Buel, Jr. from Poughkeepsie; Ralph Packard from Niagara Falls and Henry Farnum from Port Jarvis.
In 1864, Rensselaer was attempting to rebuild. The Civil War had threatened the future existence of the institution, just as it had threatened the future existence of our Union. In 1861, the collar factories, for which Troy was famous, nearly all closed down, and several other large manufacturing plants went idle. In 1862, sparks from a passing locomotive ignited the roof of a covered bridge spanning the Hudson at Troy, and before it could be halted, the fire swept across the 75-acre tract, completely destroying eight hundred structures in the heart of Troy's business section, including the downtown campus and the original building of RPI, the Old Bank Building.
All of the Founders were members of Sigma Delta, a local fraternity established in 1859 to rival Theta Delta Chi, the only secret society then at Rensselaer. Crude in its beginnings, Sigma Delta gradually increased and prospered so that, by the fall of 1863, it had become a secret center of attraction for all freshmen.
Debates formed a regular part of Sigma Delta meetings (as in other fraternities at that time), and these were judged by the presiding officer. Spirited debates were held on such topics as: "Genius is more necessary in the pursuits of science than in the pursuit of art," "The use of tobacco is injurious," and "The rum barrel is more potent than the gun barrel."
Dissension within Sigma Delta became apparent on October 30, 1863, when George Brainerd tendered his resignation to the society. The resignation was unanimously declined, but it contributed to a rift that would not heal. On that same day, due to a seeming desire of some of the members to bust up Sigma Delta and try to become part of another organization, Samuel Buel suggested that Sigma Delta try to obtain a charter from some large and flourishing society such as Sigma Phi, which had been founded in 1827 at Union College and had six chapters at the time. He had previously had an interview with a minister who belonged to Sigma Phi, who assured him that he favored such a move. He promised to do all in his power to help them obtain a charter. Sigma Phi sent representatives to Troy who were entertained and had their hotel bills paid.
A petition was prepared and submitted to Sigma Phi, but at its convention at Union College on March 4, 1864, a motion was adopted to the effect that no more charters be granted. Since no action was taken on Sigma Delta's petition, this was accepted as a refusal.
Dissension in Sigma Delta continued to grow such that two factions sprang up within the society. The eight members who ultimately founded Theta XI considered such divisiveness incompatible with their ideals of unity and fellowship. They determined to build anew with the intention of forming a society national in scope - a tall order for the Civil War era!
The ill feeling became more acute after the failure to obtain a charter, and at a regular meeting held on March 11, 1864, attention was called to the sad condition of the society. A suggestion was made that each one present express his views concerning the management of the affairs and offer some plan of removing this feeling which has existed, and does now exist, among us. This suggestion was accepted and each member in turn was called upon for his opinion. One suggested plan, which met with instant favor and was finally agreed upon, specified that bottles, suitably covered and labeled, be provided and placed in the adjoining club room.
On March 12, 1864, two large cups of white and black beans were provided for the purpose of voting. A bottle was placed upon the table and each member went into the clubroom to cast his ballot on the member whose name appeared on the bottle. After everyone had voted the bottle was sealed, and the next vote taken. When the process was completed, the members assembled in the club room to count the votes. Before any bottle was opened, each man deposited on the table the keys and all other property in his possession which belonged to the society. The bottles were emptied alphabetically and, as one received a majority of black beans, he took up his hat and left. The first person who received a majority of black beans remarked, "I guess I am not wanted here." Four of our eight founders had opened their bottles before the five who received a majority of black beans left them in possession of the room. A new lock was immediately put on the door.
At a meeting held on April 1, 1864, a committee consisting of Waite, Buel, Brainerd, and Packard was appointed to prepare a constitution. At this meeting the secretary was instructed to recall their petition to Sigma Phi and inform them of their intention to form a new society. On April 6, Buel presented two monograms, Theta XI and Theta Psi, as possible names for the new society. Theta XI was chosen because of the reported existence of a local society called Theta Psi at Yale at that time. On April 29, 1864 - that most sacred night in the history of our brotherhood - eight former members of Sigma Delta met in their secret rooms for the purpose of founding Theta XI Ralph G. Packard was chosen chairman because he had been president of Sigma Delta at the time of its dissolution. Brother Farnum was requested to act a secretary. A committee made up of Brothers Buel and Brainerd was designated to develop an initiation service, while another committee comprised of Brothers Raymond, Starbuck, and Brainerd was made responsible for developing a grip, various symbols, and names of the officers, as well as for completing all vacancies in the constitution. The Constitution, By-Laws, and Rules of Order which had been drawn up by the committee were read and adopted without a dissenting vote. The oath of initiation was taken by all the Founders as a group, then they signed the Constitution alphabetically and by classes. The new society decided that the chapter be called the Alpha Chapter of Theta XI, and that each succeeding chapter should be named by the following letter of the Greek alphabet. On the same night Edward H. Morrison was unanimously selected as the first new member of the Fraternity, and was initiated eight days later on May 7, 1864.
In the first forty years of its existence, the Fraternity had founded six new chapters (Yale University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Cornell University, and Lehigh University) located within approximately two hundred miles of RPI. It was not until 1905 that Theta XI began its westward expansion with the chartering of Theta Chapter at Purdue in February of that year and Iota at Washington University in St. Louis a month later. The Fraternity established its first West Coast chapter in 1910 with Nu Chapter on the Berkeley campus of the University of California; moved into the Southwest three years later by locating Rho Chapter at the University of Texas and entered the Pacific Northwest in 1915 by establishing Upsilon Chapter at the University of Washington. Theta Xi's introduction to the South occurred in April, 1921 when Alpha Alpha Chapter was chartered at Louisiana State University. In less than sixty years the dreams of our Founders had become a reality. Theta XI had become a national organization.
Upon completion of informal talks held between representatives of Kappa Sigma Kappa and Theta XI in 1962, it was concluded that a merger would prove beneficial to both organizations. Kappa Sigma Kappa had three main reasons for favoring a merger. First, and most important, it had been unable to obtain National Interfraternity Conference (NIC) membership because several of its chapters were on unaccredited campuses. Some of its chapters had disaffiliated or lost host institution recognition as a result of the fraternity's failure to obtain NIC membership. (Theta XI had been a member since 1911.) Second, its membership expressed a need for stronger organizational structure with a sound financial footing, more uniform chapter operations, and a larger base of alumni volunteers. Last, the fraternity saw a need for a central office with paid personnel, including full-time executive secretaries and traveling staff. Theta XI could provide all of these needs. The two fraternities also seemed to complement each other, since there was no duplication of chapters.
Following a series of meetings the terms of the proposed merger were agreed upon and subsequently ratified by the governing bodies of the two fraternities. As part of the merger agreement the Theta XI Fraternity flower was changed from the white carnation to the blue iris, the fleurs-de-lis on the coat of arms was replaced with upright crescents and the title of the membership manual was changed from the Theta XI Pledge Manual to the Quest for Theta XI
On August 20, 1962, twenty-one chapters of Kappa Sigma Kappa located at accredited schools were received into the Bonds of Theta XI Each of these chapters received a Greek-letter designation prefaced by Kappa. Seven chapters, which were ineligible to come into Theta XI because they were located on unaccredited campuses, reorganized their national structure and continued under the name Kappa Sigma Kappa.