Since established at the University of California, Berkeley in 1873, Phi Delta Theta’s California Alpha chapter has had a cherished and vibrant history. In the fraternity’s first year, Phi Delt quickly established themselves as a strong presence on campus. One of the first brothers from the UC Berkeley fraternity was a man named Jacob Bert Reinstein, Bond #8. He was one of the “Twelve Apostles” at Berkeley, which was the first four-year class at the university and graduated in 1873. Mr. Reinstein went on to be the first Cal Alumnus to be appointed to the U.C. Regents Board.
Unfortunately, just a few years later California Alpha broke apart. Luckily, they were to re-establish in 1886 and have flourished in the Berkeley community ever since.
In 1902, Cal Alpha moved to its first chapter house at 2401 Durant Avenue near Dana. This would be the very first fraternity-owned house ever. When the brothers moved in, John Reid, Jr. Bond #126 moved with them. He went on to become a well-known architect in the area, designing the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and several other notable landmarks in the Bay Area. Towards the end of his career, he designed what is now known as the Hearst Mansion on the north side of campus, where the brothers of Phi Delta Theta resided.
In 1948 the university faced a great housing shortage. Their proposed solution was to demolish many buildings, such as the Phi Delta Theta mansion on Hearst and the Beta Theta Pi house, in order to build more dorms. Though this plan ultimately failed, there were still trials ahead. In the 1960’s there was a strong anti-Greek sentiment throughout Berkeley, which led the university to force fraternities and sororities to move to the south side of campus. Most of the old houses were taken over by the university and religious groups. Although many chapters shut down as a result of the move and Greek resistance, Cal Alpha stood strong and embarked on yet another era in its history.
After losing the Hearst House, the Phi Delts became homeless for many years, until they moved to another house on Durant, staying for five years. In 1980, the chapter relocated to its current residence on Channing Way.
Today, the Hearst House is designated as a “City of Berkeley Landmark” and has been since May 24, 1982. For more information about the history of California Alpha, stop by the Berkeley Landmarks site for a more detailed story.
Famous Cal Alpha Phis
- William Randolph Hearst Jr. – Bond #382: Newspaper publisher, philanthropist=
- Bill Bixby – Bond #826: Actor, The Incredible Hulk
- James Gallagher – Bond #1250: California State Assemblyman, 3rd District
National History of Phi Delta Theta
“To do what ought to be done, but what would not have been done unless I did it; I thought to be my duty.”
—Robert Morrison, Founding Father of Phi Delta Theta
The first Greek letter organization was Phi Beta Kappa, founded Dec. 5, 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. 63 years later, Beta Theta Pi was founded at Miami University in Ohio. In protest against the president of the university, members of Beta Theta Pi and other students blocked the entrances of the main educational and administrative building in what became known as the Great Snow Rebellion.
A year later, after the president expelled most of the students involved in the uprising, Phi Delta Theta was formed. Six men staying in a dormitory the day after Christmas formed the Greek-letter society. Robert Morrison, a senior, proposed to fellow classmate John McMillan Wilson they bond together to form a secret society. They invited juniors Robert Thompson Drake and John Wolfe Lindley; sophomores Ardivan Walker Rodgers and Andrew Watts Rogers into the fold. The first meeting was held in Wilson’s room at Old North Hall, now called Elliot Hall.
During the early meetings, the founders wrote The Bond of Phi Delta Theta, which is the fundamental law of the Fraternity. It has remained unchanged ever since. The Founders also designed the badge, consisting of a shield, eye, and scroll with the Greek letters on it. The first branch of Phi Delta Theta was founded at Indiana University in 1849. The Indiana Chapter has the longest continuous existence of any in the Fraternity.
The War Between the States was difficult for all fraternities. Battles put fraternity brother against fraternity brother, although fraternal bonds may have led to the release of many prisoners or better treatment for others.
During the two decades from 1870 to 1890, the growth of the Fraternity was very rapid, due principally to the efforts of Walter B. Palmer, Emory-Vanderbilt 1877, and George Banta, Franklin-Indiana 1876. The two were given the title Second Founders for their work.
Phi Delta Theta is known as an international fraternity. The first Phi Delta Theta chapter in Canada was installed at McGill University April 5, 1902.
The Fraternity has approximately 160 chapters in over 40 states and six Canadian provinces (see map of Phi Delta Theta chapters). The Fraternity has initiated nearly 215,000 men between 1848 and 2004. Chartered house corporations own more than 120 houses valued at $50 million. There are nearly 70 recognized alumni clubs across the U.S. and Canada.
Complete history of Phi Delta Theta at Phi Delta Theta International.
- Benjamin Harrison – Miami University: 23rd president of the United States
- Neil Armstrong – Purdue University: First man on the moon
- Lou Gehrig – Columbia University: Hall of Fame baseball player
- Frank Lloyd Wright – University of Wisconsin, Madison: World renowned architect
- Burt Reynolds – Florida State: Actor
- Roger Ebert – University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign: Film Critic
- Wes Welker – Texas Tech: Denver Broncos Wide Receiver