Lambda Chi Alpha, History in the Making: Founding the Fraternity
The story of the founding of Lambda Chi Alpha is not one that is set in stone. There are actually five separate histories written by different men and evidently, filled with one-sided stories of the truth. The following excerpt is from the newest history book, written by Michael J. Raymond, called “Our Story: A History of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity”.
Every story has a beginning. Our story, unlike most other fraternities, began as the dream of one
man: Warren Albert Cole. He was born in Swansea, Massachusetts, a thriving town of ironworks, farms, fisheries, and small businesses, on November 15, 1889.
Ever since his birth, Swansea had managed to retain much of its late 19th century charm. In 1969, Cole’s daughter, Irma Cole Pollard, stated that the family could boast of a former lieutenant governor of Rhode Island, Massachusetts Congressman Maj. Everett Horton, and Hugh Cole the first selectman of Swansea, Massachusetts. In addition, the nearby Cole River was named after one of his family relatives. Without question the extended Cole family was important to the political and economic history of Swansea and the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Cole attended school at Taunton and at Fall River. He matriculated at Boston University’s Law School in the fall of 1909. It appears that the idea of creating a college fraternity was on Cole’s mind from the start. There were some unsuccessful attempts about which we know little more than names: “The Lodge,” “Tombs,” and “Lambda Pi.” Then it was Lambda Chi Alpha – “Loyal Collegiate Associates,”
or, in a more humorous vein, “Little College Asses,” until a new meaning was adopted in 1913.
The genesis of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity is surrounded by differing stories, various interpretations of facts, inconsistent timelines, and an underlying controversy that has not been totally resolved to this day. Without question it is a story worth telling.
The events that occurred in Boston and led to the establishment of Lambda Chi Alpha are, at best,
somewhat hazy. Cole’s first Boston address was 166 Huntington Avenue at the corner of Newton Street. While this site was close to the main campus it was far from the law school, located at 11 Ashburton Place on Beacon Hill, and his part-time job at Marston’s a restaurant a couple of blocks from the law school. Cole found the long commute, especially in the snow, a great inconvenience. It appears that he and a motley group of students from Boston and Tufts rented a room at 64 Pemberton Square in which they could wash up, change clothes, and leave their books and papers.
Most of these young men were working in neighborhood businesses in addition to attending
college, but some were still of high school age. In 1955, Cole described one group, Tombs, as a
discussion group useful to members in preparation for examinations. He said, “I was popular with the group because of my shorthand and typing ability developed for recording law lectures.”
In the 1950s, Cole recalled that one earlier group name, Lambda Pi, was chosen because he had found no other fraternity name beginning with Lambda in a directory. Mrs. Lotte Cole remembered him sketching badge designs in the spring of 1911. Several envelopes in the archives bear sketches of a monogram for Lambda Pi in such a manner as to form those letters plus an A. The third letter seems not to have been intentional. A constitution under the name Lambda Pi was drawn up and signed by Cole, Bridge, and Miles on November 15, 1911.
In 1954, Cole told fraternity historian John Clark Jordan in his first interview with him that Lambda Chi Alpha had its origin in a prank. He and Miles were out walking in the fall of 1911 and came to the show window of a jewelry shop. They saw some pins that looked like fraternity pins advertised for sale at a very low price. These pins turned out to be some badges that had been made for a high school fraternity, and the jeweler was willing to sell them cheaply because an error had been made in the manufacturing process. Cole and Miles each bought a pin. They began to wear the pins to tease McDonald, a friend and former room mate of Cole, who was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. They said that they had founded a new fraternity.
After some experimenting and discarding of the name Lambda Pi, they chose the name Lambda Chi Alpha and gave themselves a nickname, “Little College Asses”. When the joke became serious and plans for an organization became clear, they gave a new meaning to the organization and said it was “Loyal College Associates.” This meaning of Lambda Chi Alpha held until after the Boston Assembly of March 1913. This pin-buying episode must have occurred after November 15, 1911, when the Lambda Pi constitution was signed by Cole, Bridge, and Miles. Henceforth the name of Lambda Pi disappears altogether from the records.
Much controversy and mystery surround the origin of our Fraternity. The traditional founding date of November 2, 1909, was just one of a number of options for Cole, Mason, and other early leaders of our Fraternity. Other dates that were considered by them were:
• April 10, 1910: First recording of “Lambda Chi
Alpha” in Boston chapter minutes
• October 3, 1910: First new members initiated by the
• November 15, 1911: Boston chapter charter issued
and first Grand High Zeta elected
• November 23, 1911: Boston chapter members
declared themselves charter members
• March 22, 1913: Second General Assembly adopts
the present esoteric name of the Fraternity and the
current ritual, insignia, and basic organizational
The apocryphal meeting with Clyde K. Nichols and Percival C. Morse on November 2, 1909, was selected by Cole and Albert Cross (Pennsylvania 1913) as the first formal step in creating Lambda Chi
Alpha Fraternity. In later years Cole said the date could be moved either way by a year or two. Given
this ambiguity combined with the major decisions made at the Second General Assembly on March 22, 1913, Founder’s Day is celebrated on March 22.
The factual basis for the November 2, 1909 meeting was questioned by Jordan in 1956 in his unpublished work, A Confidential History of the Early Years of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity (The Jordan Manuscript). Jordan studied the Alpha Zeta (Boston)20 Book of Minutes; three Alpha Zeta Account Books; documents in the Mason Library; hundreds of letters written by or to Cole; and various interviews with Cole and other early members of our Fraternity.
The official source of the founding date of November 2, 1909 is the Alpha Book of Minutes. Jordan examined this book carefully and noted three important facts:
• The first 16 pages of the book were cut out as well as
some pages in the back of the book.
• The book was heavily annotated by Mason in 1922.
• Mason concluded that all of the minutes and the
signatures of the recording secretaries were in the
handwriting of Warren. A. Cole.
Fortunately, Jordan could go to the source and ask Cole about the confusion surrounding our date of origin. In May 1954 Cole admitted that he wrote all of the Alpha Zeta minutes from scattered notes and memory. Later in 1954, Jordan received confirmation from Harold W. Bridge, Ralph S. Miles,
and Percival C. Morse, all listed as early secretaries of Alpha Zeta, that they did not write or sign the
minutes. Morse went on to state his belief that Cole wrote the Alpha Book of Minutes in 1913.
The Jordan Manuscript makes a convincing case that the November 2, 1909 date is a fabrication. While no specific reason is given, Jordan reported that Cole repeatedly told him that the date was fictitious. There is other evidence that supports this conclusion. Jordan quotes a letter Cross wrote to Cole on June 10, 1913: “Now here is a point of vast importance – Lambda Chi Alpha was founded in 1909. Make it that… for the love of mike keep it 1909.” Cole replied to this letter on June 12, 1913, “Ever since we agreed last fall to change date of Lambda Chi Alpha founding I have had it registered as November 2, 1909… for all final time is November 2, 1909.” Citing a half dozen letters written by Cole, The Jordan Manuscript documents that Cole considered November 15, 1911, as the founding date of our Fraternity.
However, it is possible that attempts to develop our Fraternity took place prior to 1911. It is also possible that Cole was planning to organize a fraternity as early as 1909. A letter written by Cole on July 19, 1955, provides some evidence that a group of young men rented a room at Pemberton Square to use for study and recreation in the fall of 1909.The friendship and fellowship of the group may have contributed to Cole’s desire to start a new fraternity. The investigation of Jordan into the founding of Lambda Chi Alpha points convincingly to November
15, 1911, as the most reasonable date of origin.
However, in a handwritten postscript to his discussion of this issue in the Jordan Manuscript, he adds this statement: “On the other hand, in view of the many attendant uncertainties, and in view furthermore of the longstanding tradition as to the founding, it is perhaps wise to let November 2, 1909 stand. It will do as well as any other.” What is the real founding date of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity? Cole considered November 15, 1911, as our founding date and submitted that date to Baird’s Manual as late as 1920. However, Cole, then national president, and Cross, the original Fraternity organizer at Pennsylvania, discussed the founding date of Lambda Chi Alpha in December of 1912, and again in June of 1913, and decided upon November 2, 1909; this date has been accepted since that time.
Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity celebrated its Centennial in 2009.
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