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The Challenge at Purdue
March 9, 1875, with a joint effort of eight young men, the Delta Delta Chapter at Purdue University was established. It was the first of Greek organization on campus. It took these men four months to overcome the opposition put upon Sigma Chi by the University. Purdue, being that it was an “industrial” college, did not promote the intellectual and literary endeavors of the fraternity members. Through many letters and speeches delivered to neighboring Sigma Chi chapters, Delta Delta received their charter, but the fight was not over.
The university president, Dr. A. C. Shortridge, was opposed to the fraternity and only allowed it to exist in fear that any controversy would limit the expansion of the university. With the new presidency of Emerson E. White, Delta Delta had to fight harder to keep their society alive. White put in place a plan to eliminate fraternities from the university and enforced an agreement before graduation that stated that no student enrolled in the university could join a Greek society and current members of the chapter were forbidden to participant in any fraternal events.
Delta Delta members found loopholes in the document and continued their practices but kept them unseen. The members signed the agreement and knew that any meeting held would be off campus, so they would not break the rules. They pledged and initiated new members in the summer when they were technically not attending the university. Secret codes, private meetings, and cloak-and-dagger escapes became the way of life for the chapter members. They had to be careful of who they initiated because there were spies among the Purdue students. If any member was found out they would be expelled from the university. The members hoped for a resolution.
In September 1881 a former Purdue student and member of the Sigma Chi chapter, Thomas Hawley, reapplied to the university without signing the anti-fraternity agreement. Hawley was denied readmission into the university and soon after filed a lawsuit against the school. This became known as the Purdue Case. The Judge dismissed the case as “irrelevant and immaterial”. Sigma Chi lost the case and the entire Greek system was in jeopardy until June 1882, when the state Supreme Court overturned the judge’s decision and announced the right to associate at Purdue University.
Though the fraternity and the entire Greek system won the case, President White revised the university agreement and continued to discriminate against the Greek society more than ever before. The fraternity membership became dangerously low. With just two members, one just initiated and the other about to graduate, the fraternity had to recruit new members. The two young men that were chosen were the sons of the judge who ruled against Sigma Chi in the first case. This was a valuable act against the resistance, for any exposure of the two member’s status would be an embarrassment to the opposition.
In 1883 the Indiana legislature announced to White that state and government funding would be withheld from Purdue University until the deletion of all anti-fraternal legislation. White soon resigned, but the College Board still held precedence over the university and continued to discriminate against the fraternity. Sigma Chi continued operating underground until October 1885, when six brave members gathered in the university chapel wearing their White Crosses, signifying that the battle was over and the fraternity won. The Purdue case holds a place in Sigma Chi history as the greatest challenge ever made on behalf of the fraternity system.