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#72 Theta Chi Started a National Movement in the Old South Barracks

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Norwich Firsts

Theta Chi fraternity was founded at Norwich in 1856, the university’s first Greek letter fraternity and one that is still nationally active today with over 6,500 undergraduate members.

Author Chase

Author Chase

Cadets Arthur Chase and Frederick Freeman founded Theta Chi in the South Barracks of our original Norwich, Vermont campus. One of their first members was Edward Williston, who would receive the Medal of Honor for his service in the Civil War. Over the next century, as other fraternities grew on campus, Theta Chi remained a centerpiece of fraternity life at Norwich.

For the first 46 years, as Theta Chi developed traditions and put down roots, it was local and unique to Norwich. It wasn’t until 1902 that a Beta Chapter was established at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, beginning the spread of Theta Chi throughout the country.

Even after the fire in the South Barracks removed Theta Chi from its roots in Norwich, Vermont, the Norwich University campus and the Alpha Chapter remained a focal point for the growing national fraternity. In 1931, a 75th anniversary celebration was held on campus. The university also played host to Theta Chis from around the country for a 100th anniversary celebration in 1956, just four years before Norwich’s fraternity ban closed the Alpha Chapter’s doors.  A monument to Theta Chi still stands on the site of the South Barracks in Norwich, Vermont where Chase and Freeman formed their brotherhood 160 years ago.

Theta Chi 1902

Theta Chi 1902

In addition to Medal of Honor recipient Williston, notable Theta Chi alumni from Norwich include future NU presidents Samuel Shattuck and Charles Spooner; “Rough Rider” Henry Hersey; Edward Shuttleworth, for whom the Shuttleworth Saber is named; famed telescope designer Russell Porter; and U.S. Senator Ernest Gibson. For many years, Daniel Fleetham, NU Class of 1934, was the oldest living Theta Chi alumnus, in addition to being the second-oldest living Norwich alumnus. He passed away in 2016.

The history of Theta Chi and its members is documented throughout the records in the Norwich University Archives, in particular the collection documenting student activities.

 

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