Sigma Alpha Epsilon is currently the largest national social fraternity, with approximately 180,000 initiates living around the world. Our fraternity is rich in history and to understand the beauty of what makes it such a sacred organization, one must know a little bit about the history. In 1855, at the University of Alabama a young man named Noble Leslie Devotie began contemplating the idea of starting a fraternity. A few other Greek letter organizations including Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Beta Kappa already existed on campus, but Devotie had a vision to start a new fraternity. After spending many hours thinking along the shore of the Black Warrior River, Devotie and seven of his other contemporaries including Nathan Elams Cockrell, Samuel Marion Dennis, John Barratt Rudolph, Thomas Chappell Cook, Wade Foster, John Webb Kerr, and Abner Edwin Patton held the first chapter meeting on the night of March 9, 1856 in Tuscaloosa. Between 1856 and the start of the Civil War in 1861, the fraternity opened chapters at several institutions of higher learning around the southern states, but the Civil War meant putting all fraternity matters on hiatus.
By the end of 1865, the Civil War had ended, and the Confederate veterans who had been involved with SAE before the start of the war returned to their respective schools. Unfortunately, the brothers of the Georgia Pi chapter at the Georgia Military Institute returned only to find that their campus had been burned down during the war. Although discouraged at their loss, three brothers from Georgia Pi by the names of George Goetchius, Samuel Spencer, James McClesky, came up with the idea of moving their fraternity to the University of Georgia in Athens. On December 31, 1865, Goetchius, Spencer, and McClesky held the first meeting of the Georgia Beta chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in Athens. Sigma Alpha Epsilon continued to grow after the Civil War, and interestingly enough, Mississippi Gamma at the University of Mississippi, was founded the next day on January, 1, 1866.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon was the first Greek letter fraternity to be founded at the University of Georgia and continues to be among the strongest on campus. The chapter has been at its current location on 247 Pulaski Street since 1929, when the home was sold to the fraternity by a private resident. Spencer Hall, as the comely mansion has come to be known, taking its name after one of Georgia Beta’s founding fathers, was built by Ross Crane in 1842 in the Greek-Revival style, and looks out over downtown Athens. Its grand Magnolia trees, impressive lawn, and square columns, make it a truly magnificent and awe-inspiring place. Spencer Hall has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1936, and has been dubbed “one of the three perfect examples of Southern architecture.”
A story of the history of Georgia Beta would be incomplete without mentioning John Henry “Doc” Banks, a loyal servant to the fraternity for over fifty years. Doc served the chapter from 1908 until 1963, when his poor health and old age forced him into retirement. It remains a mystery as to how exactly Doc got his name, but the most popular story involves the concoction he made for the men living in the house when they were under the weather. His “remedy” included a mixture of rock candy, corn whiskey, and lemon juice. Many of the men remember fondly Doc making mint juleps for the true gentlemen and fair Southern belles at Magnolia Ball and serving dinner in his white tuxedo. Every fall since 1963, the chapter has set aside a weekend for the men, a date, and their parents to come together and celebrate, while remembering all of the hard work and devoted service Doc did for the chapter.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon continues to be one of the strongest fraternities on the University of Georgia campus. Yearly membership hovers around 115 and draws brothers from Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, the Carolinas, Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Georgia has and always will be, however, where our feet are most firmly planted in membership. The Georgia Beta chapter can boast United States Senators, Georgia Governors and Lieutenant Governors, past Eminent Supreme Archons, business executives, and strong community leaders. Sigma Alpha Epsilon may have chapters as far away as Alaska, but the South is where our fraternal heritage is rooted, and Georgia Beta will always be among the most important chapters in the entire realm.