Delta Kappa Epsilon was founded at Yale in 1844, and is the oldest international secret college fraternity of New England origin.
In the 1840's there were two Junior societies at Yale: Alpha Delta Phi, which had been founded at Hamilton College in 1832, and Psi Upsilon, founded at Union College a year later. In those days, certain members of the Sophomore class were elected into these societies on the basis of good scholarship and personal character. These exclusive groups functioned largely as private debating groups in a day when literary and oratorical skills were an undergraduate’s highest goals. There was a social aspect, too, but Alpha Delta and Psi U had less of a fraternal spirit than they do today—they were primarily selective organizations honoring men of academic merit.
New Criteria In the spring of 1844, due to undergraduate politics and a division in the Sophomore class, a number of men of high character and scholastic attainment did not receive bids from the two societies. So unfair, in fact, were the selections that some men who did receive bids promptly rejected them. There arose a feeling of such injustice that fifteen men resolved to form their own society, one which would be more fraternal in nature and less restrictive (and, as they saw it, unfair) in terms of membership criteria when com- pared to their rivals.
On Saturday, June 22, 1844 these men met in No. 12, Old South Hall, and established a new society, which they called Delta Kappa Epsilon. At this meeting, which must have been a long one, the Fraternity’s secret and open Greek mottos—the latter, “ Friends from the Heart, Forever” in translation—were adopted, the ΔKE pin was designed, showing ΔKE on a scroll, upon a diamond shape bearing a star in each corner, and the secret grip was devised.
Very quickly ΔKE became more than just another Junior society.
Sole emphasis on academic distinction was expanded to include qualities of good fellowship and compatible tastes and interests. The wider range of prospective members would be narrowed down, as written by founder Dr. Edward G. Bartlett, as “the candidate most favored was he who combined in the most equal proportion the gentleman, the scholar, and the jolly good fellow,” and these criteria have remained unchanged to this day. It was originally presumed that ΔKE would be a purely local group at Yale, although both Psi U and Alpha Delt had chapters elsewhere. However, Elisha Shapleigh, a founder, wrote a stirring account of ΔKE’s beginnings to a hometown friend in Maine, John Fogg, and Fogg became so imbued with the spirit of the new movement that he suggested to his fellow undergraduates at Bowdoin College that a ΔKE chapter be established there.