The real story of that June day in 1889
USC's first fraternity had several brothers on the original Trojan football team, then sororities crashed our opening party
"They Made a Difference"
Excerpted from “Sigma Chi Has Made a Difference: A Centennial History of the Alpha Upsilon Chapter”
1889 was a year of progress in Southern California. Los Angeles boasted a population of nearly 50,000 residents. The Valley Hunt Club in nearby Pasadena ushered in a New Year’s event which was to be called a Tournament of Roses. Down in what was then the southernmost section of Los Angeles County, the McFadden Brothers had just completed a new wharf on the ocean side of a sand spot that was soon to become Newport Beach.
Later that year Walter Newhall succeeded his brother, Henry, as manager of the mammoth Rancho San Francisco in the Santa Clarita Valley. With three others, he was also promoting the sale of residential lots high on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. Purchasers were carried to and from their new homes on a funicular railway.
The fledgling University of Southern California was in the throes of just beginning its second decade with a student body totaling 47 students.
Just ten years earlier, Messers. Childs, Hellman, and Downey had donated land for this new university south of the city. At the time, there was hope that the school’s sobering presence might eliminate the riffraff that was frequenting the races, cock fights, and flesh pots that were congregated around Agricultural Park near the new campus.
As Arnold Eddy described the groundbreaking, “It happened on an uncomfortably hot summer day, September 5, 1880. One thousand persons arrived on foot, horseback, carriages, or on an uncertain horse-drawn trolly which ran out to Agricultural Park, to witness the laying of a cornerstone of a building in a mustard field. The building, which has been moved three times, is the beautiful Widney Hall, which is now the home of the General Alumni Association.”
Classes began on October 4, 1880 with the Reverend Doctor Marian M. Bovard as the university’s first president.
Students in 1880 were expected to follow stringent rules. It was forbidden to shoot rabbits from the trolley, and guns could not be taken into classrooms. Students could not leave town without the consent of the president. They could not be absent from their rooms later than ten o’clock at night except to attend the sick.
Student were also prohibited from using obscene or profane language, wearing firearms or other weapons, card playing and gambling of any kind, visiting billiard, drinking, or gambling saloons, and drinking intoxicating liquors.
By 1889, the original College of Liberal Arts had been joined by the colleges of Agriculture, Medicine, Theology, Fine Arts, and Applied Sciences. That year, tuition increased to $20 a semester. As a member of the School of Theology or a clergyman’s family, one was eligible to receive a two-thirds discount on tuition expenses. In addition, one student from each Southern California high school, upon gaining admission, could petition to have his tuition waived.
The founding of the Alpha Upsilon Chapter stemmed from the appointment in 1887 of Winfield S. Matthew, Omega 1876, as the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Soon after his appointment, Matthew wrote the General Fraternity to advise them that a move was afoot to establish a Sigma Chi chapter at USC.
Following Matthew’s letter, eight students petitioned Sigma Chi for a chapter at the small West Coast university. They were later described by the fraternity as “...the choice men of the institution; and during the subsequent investigation they showed themselves possessed in an unusual degree of the genuine fraternity spirit.”
During this time there were a number of prominent alumni living in South California. Among them were Freeman Teed, Kappa 1873, who was Los Angeles City Clerk, Judge Nathaniel Conray, Xi 1881, Charles Davis, Gamma 1873, Clarence Miller, Beta 1881, Milton Vernon, Alpha 1859, and the Reverend Dr. Willel Thomson, Chi 1871, who lived in Pasadena. All were in favor of the installation of Sigma Chi.
Teed wrote to the General Fraternity “...this country has a grand future – will increase, and will keep on increasing until you benighted bluenoses will wonder when the end shall be.” He went on further to describe the petitioners: “....they are manly young fellows of the proper material from which Sigs should be made, and will do (Sigma Chi) no discredit.”
The new Alpha Beta Chapter at Cal was asked to conduct an independent investigation. They, too, were favorable.
Early in 1889, the Grand Council of the fraternity voted unanimously for the installation of the Alpha Upsilon Chapter at the university.
The Charter Initiates were William C. Whitcomb, 1889, Paul Arnold, 1890, Elger A. Reed, 1890, Edward B. Stuart, 1890, Clinton A. Bradley, 1890, Thomas Robinson, 1892, Elmer E. Hall, 1892, and George Sinsaburgh, 1885.
Whitcomb was the captain of USC’s first football team in 1888. After graduation, he moved to Chicago where he became a successful Mid-Western businessman. Paul Arnold later earned his doctorate and became a professor at the university until his death in 1921.
Reed was “snapperback” on the football team, and he became a doctor practicing first in El Monte and later in Chino, California. He died there in 1924. Stuart and Sinsaburgh became brokers in Southern California and Robinson practiced law.
Bradley stayed in Los Angeles and was office manager for the old L. H. Manning Company. Elmer Hall, following graduate studies, became a member of the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley and for many years was a professor of physics. He, too, was a member of USC’s first football team.
The Alpha Upsilon chapter founders June 1889. Their lives are detailed in the book.
The Centennial Book recounting the 100 years of Alpha Upsilon, published in 1990
The title page to Alpha Upsilon's centennial history book published in 1990. This copy belongs to Order of Constantine Sig Gene Erbstoesser. They're now hard to find.
A photo from the centennial book featuring three Sig chapter founders on the original Trojan football team, beginning a long history of Sig football players.
These eight men were initiated on the evening of June 8, 1889. Freeman G. Teed was in charge and he was assisted by other alumni.
The History of Sigma Chi described the event: “Teed secured for the occasion the imposing hall of the Masonic Order of the Mystic Shrine, together with much elaborate paraphernalia from like sources. The titles assigned, to Teed as ‘demon presiding’ and to Clarence A. Miller as ‘attending spirit’ indicates the impressive character of the exercises.”
Immediately after initiation ceremonies, chapter officers were elected and two additional members were initiated brothers George D. and Lloyd B. Christy, both of the Class of 1990 and from the Arizona Territory.
The History of Sigma Chi goes on to describe the installation banquet: “Held at Ebingers, the local Delmonicos, (it) was a fitting forerunner of the many festive occasions for Sigma Chi which have since been celebrated in the City of Los Angeles.”
Three days later the brothers gave their first reception, which was held at the College of Music. In a letter written to the general fraternity, they boasted “An excellent orchestra was in attendance; and suitable refreshments were served.” Mrs. Bovard, the wife of the university’s president, sent “a handsome floral tribute for the occasion.”
Ostensibly, the reception was for alumni of the fraternity and the faculty of the college of Liberal Arts. Regardless, the two ladies’ fraternities attended en masse.
Alpha Upsilon Chapter was launched!