OUR ORIGINS AS THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF COMMONS CLUBS
Phi Mu Delta traces its roots to the National Federation of Commons Clubs. The Commons Club was founded at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1899. The organization, as a whole, seems to have been unwieldy, for membership was not on the same basis at all chapters. At some institutions, members were voted upon, while at other colleges the local chapter accepted any man of the non-fraternity body willing to sign the constitution of the National Federation. In many cases, members were permitted to join Greek lettered organizations and hold dual membership. The chief ideal of the order was Democracy, as was expressed in the Federation’s National Magazine, The Chronicle. In addition, the red rose was the official flower and Abraham Lincoln was the patron saint. Although the Commons Club was loosely bound as a national organization, individual chapters were very powerful machines of change on campus. Members often had the controlling vote in student activities, and more often, shouldered the responsibilities for the major student activities of the undergraduate body.
The 1917 convention was held at the Allegheny Chapter. The chief point of interest at this gathering was the beginning of the sentiment that there should be a more closely organized, somewhat stronger organization. The Federation’s mother chapter at Wesleyan University proposed changing the name of the Federation to Phi Mu Delta; however, they were opposed to operating like traditional fraternities of the day. Some chapters were supportive of forming an all out Greek letter organization, while others were undecided. Lengthy letters in The Chronicle discussed whether or not the Federation should become more exclusive. One chapter, very early on, decided to leave the Federation and form the founding chapter of Kappa Delta Rho at Middlebury College in Vermont.
The Commons Club grew to an impressive 19 chapters from Washington State to Maine prior to the formation of Phi Mu Delta. At the 1918 Conclave, held at the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts at Amherst), many Clarence Dexter Pierce supporters petitioned to the assembly for the formation of a Greek letter fraternity. Only a year prior, Clarence Dexter Pierce put forward the petition to form Phi Mu Delta. This petition was adopted on March 1, 1918, and the original plan was in favor of all chapters of the Federation to join Phi Mu Delta. However only four chapters did so: The Universities of Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut, as well as Union College.
THE FORMATION OF PHI MU DELTA
The Beginning: 1918-1920 The formation of the new fraternity was met with some early resistance when the alumni of the Union chapter refused to join Phi Mu Delta. So, the Universities of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut went on to become the founding chapters. Chapter designations were determined by a lottery. The Connecticut chapter drew number one, and therefore became the Nu Alpha chapter, New Hampshire drew the number two ticket and became Nu Beta, and Vermont became Nu Gamma. The Nu prefix was determined by the location of the chapter, in this case the New England Region.
Years of Growth: 1920-1940 Expansion efforts were conservative at first with our first new chapter at Northwestern University (Gamma Alpha) in 1921. Chapters at the University of Michigan (Gamma Beta) and M.I.T. (Nu Delta) soon followed this in 1922. Mu Alpha at Susquehanna University was our first expansion into the Mid-Atlantic Region, and Pi Alpha at the University of California, Oakland (now Berkeley), was our first Pacific Region expansion. The decade ended with the additions of the Nu Eta Chapter at Rhode Island State College (now the University of Rhode Island) in Kingston, Rhode Island, and Nu Theta Chapter at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. In addition, we merged with Delta Alpha Pi in 1934, acquiring one chapter at NYU and merging with our chapters at Ohio State and the University of Illinois.
The War Years and Thereafter: 1940-1950 The war was especially tough on Phi Mu Delta. While many PMDs enlisted and fought in the war, their chapters crumbled away. As many as 800 Phi Mu Deltas took part in the war effort, and about 90 made the ultimate sacrifice. Nu Alpha did not survive the war and to this day has remained closed. Phi Mu Delta did not add any new chapters during this period.
The Golden Age: 1950-1970 Expansion began to take off during the “Golden Age” of fraternities from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. Several new chapters were started in New England, including Nu Zeta at UMass-Amherst was founded from a local organization known as Zeta Zeta Zeta. The Nu Epsilon Chapter at the University of Maine helped to establish a new chapter at The University of Southern Maine (Nu Xi chapter) from a very old local organization called Alpha Lambda Beta. Also, a local Latin letter fraternity, QED, had established itself at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, after a schism in the local Delta Phi chapter. QED approached Phi Mu Delta in 1964 and became the Nu Lambda Chapter. This chapter went on to win several scholarship awards before closing in the mid-1970s due to anti-fraternity legislation on the Trinity campus. In addition, The Bald Eagle Club at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania became the Mu Zeta Chapter and the Sigma Delta Chi Fraternity, a young local organization from Keene State College in New Hampshire became the Nu Omicron Chapter in 1970. We begun to prosper in the 1960s and opened our first National Headquarters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with professional staff and a traveling consultant.
A Decade of Challenge: 1970-1980 Unfortunately, in the early 1970s, fraternity membership began to decline all around the country. Phi Mu Delta was not immune. With the declining membership, it became difficult to maintain the National Office. While several new chapters were started in the 1970s, they all closed due to lack of support and membership. Phi Mu Delta began to look for solutions for the declining membership. In 1974, another small, financially strapped national organization, Delta Phi, approached Phi Mu Delta about a merger. Plans were made and both organizations planed to merge under the name, Delta Phi. However, Phi Mu Delta’s crest and colors were to be retained. All looked well, for about a year, and then things went sour. Due to an impending lawsuit against Delta Phi, the merger was called off. Instead, a new innovative plan was established whereby Phi Mu Delta and Delta Phi would remain separate organizations, but share a National Office and share other resources. In fact, this plan looked so successful, that another small, national organization, Alpha Delta Gamma, entered into the deal. Unfortunately, this had its own problems, when one of the organizations could no longer afford their portion of the financial commitment. In 1977, the cooperative was disbanded and Phi Mu Delta closed the National Headquarters and laid off the staff. Phi Mu Delta was on it's own again.
A Decade of Rebuilding 1980 1990 The late 1970s looked bad! It appeared that Phi Mu Delta would dissolve. In fact, many alumni and undergraduate members were calling for this. The chapter at MIT left Phi Mu Delta in 1977, and continues to exist as a local, Nu Delta, to this very day. However, a group of young alumni, led by the more experienced alumnus, Eli Henry, began to rebuild the national organization. A new National Office was established in State College, Pennsylvania, and we hired Stewart Howe Alumni Service to run our daily affairs. The Triangle began to be published again and the chapter at the University of Vermont was reestablished. The 1980s began as a time of rebuilding. Phi Mu Delta re-wrote its constitution, re-established the Phi Mu Delta Foundation, and began to invest more time in its remaining chapters. The only new chapter during this period was established at California University of Pennsylvania. The Mu Pi Chapter was once a part of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. However, in 1979, the group separated from Theta Delta Chi to form Pi Triton local fraternity. This group then petitioned Phi Mu Delta in 1985.
A Time of Great Optimism: 1990-2005 The 1990s were a great time of growth for Phi Mu Delta and a return to our core values. Our chapters were extremely strong and active in their communities. The Nu Beta Chapter at New Hampshire had closed its doors in 1981. In the spring of 1995, the chapter was re-activated and renewed our interest in quality expansion efforts. The fraternity continued to focus on growth with an all-volunteer organization but it proved to be difficult.
The Renaissance: 2005-Present By early 2005, the fraternity was at a crossroads. We looked into several opportunities to support the fraternity, including merging with a stronger fraternity. In 2006, after much deliberation, the National Council voted to re-establish the position of Executive Director and move the National Office to New Jersey. This position would be a full-time paid position with the responsibility of running the daily operations of the fraternity and offering support and training to the chapters and colonies. The results of this plan were quickly realized! By 2014, Phi Mu Delta had seen its membership grow by 300% and hired additional staff to support the membership.
The last twenty years have been slow and steady. Phi Mu Delta has come back from a near financial disaster and grown to be known today as one of the strongest small national fraternities in the U.S.