Phi Delta Theta Fra­ternity members make their annual trip to the Hillsdale County Fair.

Imagine living in a world before phones, before the internet, before even radio existed. It is in this world that fra­ter­nities and their pre­de­cessors, lit­erary soci­eties, thrived.

From 1882 to 1898, a fra­ternity named Phi Delta Theta became the first faculty-approved Greek society on Hillsdale’s campus.

Despite its short-lived time at the college, this house had a sur­pris­ingly large impact on the Greek life to come and on-campus life as a whole. Simply by existing, it cat­a­pulted fra­ter­nities into the center of student life, because, despite the fact that mul­tiple fra­ter­nities were formed before Phi Delta Theta, in those days Greek orga­ni­za­tions were not per­mitted on Hillsdale’s campus.

“They had to operate sub rosa,” said Linda Moore, the public ser­vices librarian at Mossey library, “kind of off campus; hidden because the faculty was con­cerned about secret soci­eties, and people not being loyal to the insti­tution, but rather to their secret society.”

Even before the faculty allowed them on campus, Phi Delta Theta played a major role in forming Hillsdale’s first unof­ficial sorority.

“When Phi Delta Theta was still active at Hillsdale in the year 1887,”  the 1951 edition of the Winona Yearbook printed, “its members insti­gated the founding of Michigan Alpha Chapter of Pi Beta Phi, known then as I. C. Sorosis.”

They too had to operate in secrecy though, posing as a lit­erary society.

“The meetings were held in the girls’ rooms,” the Winona Yearbook printed, “and were only lit­erary enough to conform to reg­u­la­tions.”

Before the faculty finally gave in and allowed fra­ter­nities at the college, it was these lit­erary soci­eties that ruled campus.

“Those lit­erary soci­eties weren’t merely social,” Moore said. “They were helping people to prepare for typical careers at that time”

Without the many oppor­tu­nities that stu­dents have on campus now, members would rely on these lit­erary soci­eties for much of their enter­tainment and aca­demic support, which gen­erated a great deal of devotion for one’s society.

“They were more devoted to the lit­erary soci­eties than nec­es­sarily the college,” Moore said.

This same kind of ded­i­cation was found in the up-and-coming fra­ternity houses as they arrived on campus, which led to a fracture in lit­erary soci­eties as the college knew them.

“The Greek system, fra­ter­nities, and soror­ities,” Moore said, “led to their ultimate downfall.”

With the lit­erary soci­eties losing their support, the more socially ori­ented Greek houses took control.

The fra­ter­nities and soror­ities were rev­o­lu­tionary in their time; they fielded football and baseball teams, hosted parties, and fos­tered a broth­erhood or sis­terhood that the lit­erary soci­eties couldn’t develop in its members.

“There’s a smaller group, and there’s a smaller goal, and people feel a kind of loyalty to that,” Moore said. “There was the same devotion, and a kind of com­pe­tition between the orga­ni­za­tions.”

Just as it did by founding Pi Beta Phi, Phi Delta Theta impacted campus in its early days of Hillsdale Greek life. Even more than 65 years after the national fra­ternity revoked its charter for the Hillsdale chapter, its tra­di­tions were still firmly rooted on campus.

“The brothers of Delta Tau Delta take time from their aca­demic activity to go for a spin in their old, but col­orful, fire engine,” the Winona Yearbook printed in 1964. “Just as the men of Phi Delta Theta did, many years ago, as they traveled to the Hillsdale County Fair.”

Even though it only stood on campus for 15 short years, the impact that Phi Delta Theta had on campus Greek life was immense, and it’s clear that The Collegian’s response to Hillsdale’s charter being revoked on the grounds of ‘low standing’ still holds true today: “We can, therefore, state with a con­viction derived from obser­vation and expe­rience that its courses have never been stronger, its entrance and grad­u­ation require­ments never more rigid, its faculty of instruction never more effi­cient, and its facil­ities and equipment for college work have never been better or more com­plete.”