1894 - 1956
THE ERA OF LEVERE
The initiation of Billy Levere coincided with SAE's emergence from burgeoning adolescence to vigorous maturity. The rapid expansion experienced during Harry Bunting's reign slowed drasticly, and the fraternity became more selective with its chapters.
Signs of the fraternities impending maturity were obvious. Toward the turn of the century, fraternities became a major source of undergraduate housing on college campuses. Thus, most SAE chapters either lived in a chapter house or were planning to do so. In order to cut costs, the fraternity decided to have provintial conventions rather than expensive annual conventions. But national officers didn't want to lose a feeling of national unity. So in 1895 EST Albert Austin proposed that each new SAE member be presended a serially numbered badge at the time of his initiation. Austin's proposal was approved at the 1896 convention, along with the adopton of a coat of arms, designed by William Leslie French. H.H. Cowen's flag designed had been adoped just four years earlier.
The 1986 convention also celebrated the fact that a member of SAE, William McKinley, had been elected president of the United States. McKinley's affection and devotion for the fraternity were evident by his wearing prominently his studded SAE badge, and no other insignia, at his inauguration on March 4, 1897.
William C. Levere, known to all as "Billy," devoted his life to SAE. It became his passion, the obsession of his life. In the era of Levere, the college fraternity became the most powerful and influential undergratuate institution on the campuses of America. Granted, Levere didn't singlehandedly bring fraternities to this position, but he was regarded by all to be the most brilliant and creative fraternity man of his day, if not of all times.
Perhaps Levere's greatest contributions to the fraterntiy came in his writings. Levere wrote and published many directories, songbook, histories, and other miscelanous books, including the monumental three-volume History of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. During Levere's run at SAE's helm, the fraternity continued to expand at a good rate- keeping pace with its chief rivals: BQP, FDT, SC, and Phi Gamma Delta. 21 new chapters were formed, including Washington Beta at Washington State in 1915, and four were revived.
When America joined the first World War in 1917, more than 8,000 SAEs responded to the call to arms. Billy Levere was determined to join the thousands of SAEs at the front of the war lines. Although he was 44 years old and overweight, he wanted to be on the front lines, but no service wanted him. He finally found an important YMCA program that helped troops on the front lines, and off he went.
Not only were there SAE alumni overseas, but two remarkable initiations as well. The first initiation of a neophyte into an American college fraternity on European soil was held at Tours, France, December, 1918, when Walter Jepson was regularly initated. The second was held at Andernach, Germany, February 18, 1919, when Lloyd Brown, a pledge from the University of Wisconsis, was inducted. The initation at Tours took place in an ancient mansion of the city, while the ceremony at Andernach was conducted in a most romantic setting, the ruins of an old castle.
SAE IN THE ROARING TWENTIES
In 1920, the fraternity decided it needed to have a central office, and restructured the supreme council. Thus it built a central office in Evanston, Illinois, home of Billy Levere. The office to this day resides at 1856 Sheridan Rd, and contains a library, museum, and offices for national work.
It was in the 1920s that fraternities obtained such a negative reputation that can still be seen and felt today. America was youth-crazy, car-crazy, and sports-crazy, and who better to represent the resurgent energy of the country than a college fraternity member. Yet there was so much irresponsibility in the "frats" of the twenties, that the image degenerated. Fraternities were no longer considered a symbol of sober maturity, justified or not.
Levere took on so much work, what with building the national offices, continuing as fraternity leader and historian, and with writing a huge volume about SAEs in the World War that he fell ill late in 1926. Levere died on Washington's birthday in 1927. Wrote Marvin Holderness:
Levere's life was so many-sided, his interests so all-embracing, his activities so diverse, and his accomplishments achieved in so many fields of endeavor, it is difficult to select a select a setting for a character picture that would satisfy all . . . Looking over his life, we can sum it up no more succinctly and truly than he once did when he remarked, 'Well, it has all been for SAE.'
SAE IN DEPRESSION, PEACE AND WAR
SAE was fortunate to be in good financial position as the 1930s began, and came out of the depression relatively unscathed. Expansion was its slowest since the 1870s, and membership declined, but not one chapter was lost. But by the end of the decade, the fraternity was as active and prosperous as it had ever been. In mid 1941, SAE had 113 chapters on its roll, at that time the largest number of chapters in any national fraternity.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan gradually decreased many chapters' size as young men went off to war. Not many chapters managed to remain active throughout the war. Surprisingly, three chapters were granted charters during the war, and only two pre-war chapters were not revived.
SAE made a great impact on the Second World War. Of the 18,920 men of SAE that served, 870 made the supreme sacrifice. This record of service was unequaled by any other fraternity. There are hundreds of stories of heroics, honor, bravery, and courage involving members of the fraternity from the war, but one stands out as a reminder of the strength one can derive from Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
A few months after the war, the fraternity found a document recording the minutes of a group of SAEs who were prioners of war in the Philippine Islands at Cabanatuan. In defiance of Japanese regulations which forbade any meetings of prioners, the 20 SAEs met in February of 1943 and organized what they called "Cabanatuan Alpha Alumni Chapter of SAE." This was the first chapter ever formed in a military prison camp. Lt. Richard P. Fulmer, one of the twenty, wrote that "the wretched conditions of prison camp life are no bar to the rekindling of this spirit in our hearts as we meet in secrecy, telling in whispers, and singing softly our fraternity songs." They held eleven meetings between February and October, elected officers, and even pledged and initiated Philip H. Meier. In order to provide a badge for Meier, the chapter mmade one by hand using an old silver Philippine peso. It took several months of utmost secrecy to make this badge, and finally Philip Meier was initiated on October 1, 1943 in the dark, as no lights or meetings were allowed by the Japanese. Of the 28 men who were recorded as members of the chapter, only 12 returned from the war.
During the time after the war and before the fraternity's centenial in 1956, 26 new chapters were established. As was neccessary at the times, the fraternity publicly declared that membership in SAE was open to any young undergraduate, that there were no restrictions whatever based on race, creed, and religion. While in many institutions fraternity chapters were banned from the campus because of discrimination against minority groups, it is a matter of record that SAE never lost a chapter for that reason.
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