Samuel Zenas Ammen, known as Kappa Alpha’s practical founder, was born in Fincastle, VA, on October 22, 1843. He was the youngest of nine children and at the age of eight he entered school. Later, he would enter the Botetourt Male Academy in Fincastle where he received excellent academic standing. The Civil War, and his involvement in it, delayed him from entering college until 1866.
At the beginning of the war, Ammen joined a local military organization at the rank of second lieutenant. At the time of his enlistment, he was stationed in Centreville, near Washington DC. In December, 1861, he was engaged in a skirmish at Dranesville, near the Potomac. His force was led by the colorful and daring General J.E.B. Stuart. Ammen’s company later marched to Richmond. The night before the battle of Williamsburg, where several of his companions were killed, he slept on the campus of The College of William and Mary. A month later, he was detailed as a chemist to assist in the preparation of the dye needed in the manufacture of cloth for the army. He later was transferred to the Confederate Navy. Just before the end of the war he was transferred to Virginia’s western front.
At the end of the war, Ammen returned to the Botetourt Military Male Academy and continued his studies. It was also during this time that he became involved in Freemasonry. In the fall of 1866, he traveled north up the valley road to Lexington where he enrolled in Washington College to study under General Lee. He was now 22 years old, older than most of the boys in his class. During his first session, he boarded at the home of William Ruff. He later lived at the Ann Smith Academy, while teaching Latin and French. On October 18th, 1866 during his first year at Washington College he was initiated into Alpha chapter of K.A. From that day until his death he labored faithfully toward the development of the Order.
Shortly after his initiation William Nelson Scott, James Ward Wood and Ammen began to rework the struggling fraternity’s initiatory customs. By the end of a session in 1867 a new set of customs were introduced. It was Ammen who carried on the work of its creation. He once wrote, “In the evolution of the customs and constitution nothing was borrowed from other fraternities, with respect to which the founders had very little knowledge…”
As a student at Washington College, Ammen became president of the Washington Literary Society – then one of the most coveted honors. He won a gold medal for the best essay in the School of English Literature. He was the founder of the Southern Collegian, a literary paper, and afterwards a magazine. In addition, he was a member of the Ugly Club and was Chief Mourner at the Burial of Queen Math – both being honors of distinction during his time in college. In June 1869 he graduated with a master’s degree in arts. He immediately became master at the Milburn Academy in Kentucky. He had turned down an assistant professorship in modern languages at Washington College.
The first day of Ammen’s new teaching post, the principal of the school skipped town and young Ammen took over as headmaster. The next day he recieved a raise in his salary. He served in this capacity during the 1869-1870 academic year; it was during this same time period, with the consent of Alpha chapter, that he completed the first ritual and constitution.
From 1870 until 1881, he taught Latin, Greek, and chemistry at the Atkinson’s School for Boys in Baltimore, Md. It was also during this time that he traveled extensively throughout Europe. In August 1881, Ammen became the literary editor of The Baltimore Sun. This move opened up the second stage of his professional career, journalism. He continued as an editorial writer on The Sun for the next thirty years.
Samuel Zenas Ammen died on January 5, 1929 at the age of 86 in Baltimore, Maryland. He is buried in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia. Samuel Zenas Ammen is the Practical Founder of the Kappa Alpha Order.