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We are Cornell.

'Cornell in my day was the first four years of the rest of our lives;
the University has turned it into the last four years of your childhood.'

-- Brother Joe Doan '20, Architect

He was a great guy, Joe, and from a generation of Cornellians who would tell undergraduates and university administrators, alike, when they were full of . . . well, he would not have used foul language in the process, but you'd have gotten the message.

Fraternity histories can be odd. They are not simply a list of where the old Houses stood. The New York Alpha Chapter of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity was founded as the Irving Literary Society in 1868, just a few days after the University opened. The charter from the Grand Chapter arrived shortly thereafter and was exercised in January, 1869, with the house's first Cornell rush.

With respect to undergraduate institutions, we are the oldest at Cornell.  What became the Glee Club met a few days earlier in 1868, but they did not formally organize until 1871. So from our immediate predecessor--the Irving Literary Society (1868)--we have inherited a fine sense of Cornell tradition, and understand our role in protecting Cornell as not only an institution, but as a community of young scholars connected in time. 

But we are also a House that turns on its youth and its fresh attitude. We have lived in five houses of our own construction, placed at various spots around East Hill. These homes were designed by Cornell architects, and made for the most part, from local materials.  We have tended to support New York States native arts in our furnishings, in order to execute our mission as stewards of the Irving Literary Society. 

From our quarters, Phi Psis have trekked the "tool trail" to class through Collegetown, over Triphammer Gorge, and up that Libe Slope twice --- in our houses construction in 1895 and 1964. We are pretty loyal to the current site of the Gables. In 2014, we will have been here a half century. That will be the longest physical seat we have had on the Hill.

We "busted out" once in 1877, and were off the Hill until 1885. The cause was infighting, and the dissenters who left formed another fraternity, the Chi Colony of Psi Upsilon across the Franklin C. Cornell Residential Quadrangle, our dark twin.

But Houses are more about brothers, not boards and bricks. We tapped our 2,000th brother in 2007: one hundred and thirty-nine years after our first rush down on Aurora Street in Ithaca, where it all began. During those years, we have produced hundreds of loyal active and alumni brothers. Associate Professor Thomas Woodrow Wilson (Va. Delta 1879; NY Alpha 1886) was tapped into New York Alpha during a dinner at our Gargoyle House (the site of present-day Dinos) when he arrived to interview for a job at Cornell. The Faculty dissed him; he went on to be President of the United States.

The House was founded by three Ohio Buckeyes, strangers in a strange land hosting a stranger institution: the new Cornell University. All three were initially brought together by the fight at the Third Battle of Chattanooga in 1863. One was there, one lost a brother on that field, and the third was cousin to a soldier in that fight.

Two other brothers went on to become fathers of academic movements. Brother Frank W. Clarke (1871) left Cornell to teach at Howard University and the University of Cincinnati, becoming the father of geochemistry. The Periodic Table of Elements is, in part, his work. It was Frank who calculated the composition of the Earth's crust using the chart elements. Right on his heels, Brother Harris J. Ryan (1886) was Cornell's first electrical engineer, the founder of Cornell's Electrical Engineering Department, and the father of the American electrical power distribution. He went on to teach at the newly founded Leland Stanford Jr. University. This tradition is carried on by many fine alumni faculty members across the country, including professors at Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Georgetown, etc.

The house itself had a number of firsts. During Prohibition, we organized "the Fraternity Run" to downtown Ithaca, where rum runners would sell us hootch to fill our acid jars. All the House social chairmen had a set of vials, each with a separate flavor: gin, whisky, and rum. We were the first to hold a keg party (1948) at Cornell, featuring 48 kegs at a house party in honor of the class of 1948. This high social tradition led eventually to the creation of the Phi Psi 500 in 1974. Oddly enough, we were also the first to import “pong”, bringing the venerated Dartmouth game to Cornell in the early 1990s, after the administration banned drinking games. For some reason, the brothers of that period did not regard pong to be a drinking game, but rather a form of athletics. All of this is very definitely history at this point, as none of this behavior meets the risk management guidelines we follow under the guidance of our National, the Dean of Fraternities and Sororities at Cornell, and the Inter-Fraternity Council.

In politics, the actives and alumni have been pretty decidedly Republican, with a strong minority of brothers in the Democratic, Progressive ,and Independent parties. Brother Wilson, after all, was a Democrat. Founder Joseph Benson Foraker (1869) was United States Senator from the State of Ohio and a presidential contender, the Bob Dole of his day. A century later, we graduated brother Stephen Hadley, national security adviser to President George W. Bush. This did not keep Democrats from our doors, such as brother John Purroy Mitchell (1914), the “boy mayor of New York City” and Henry Jerome Bruere (1899), his chamberlain of the City of New York. Both were supporters of brother and President Woodrow Wilson (NY Alpha 1886).

But if you were looking for the most consistent presence in the house over the past century, it would probably be the College of Engineering. When we built on McGraw Place (1895), the Engineering College was in Sibley Hall. So from 1895 to 1950, we were in close proximity to the college and freshman engineers found us accordingly. When we move back to West Campus (1964), we were once again one of a hand full of houses next to the new Engineering Quad on Cascadilla Gorge. New York Alpha followed the Tool trail, as it move to the other side of the campus. This house tradition has produced entrepreneurs and technologists in many American industries.

In addition to the engineering college, we have had a presence in the School of Hotel Administration since the 1940s. This tradition includes brother Robert W. Miller '54, patron of the Gables and grandfather to the son of the Crown Prince of Greece. Bob pretty much cornered the global market in luxury goods and services for the rich and famous. Brother Richard A. Compton '49 was a professor in the Hotel School for many years, specializing in facilities management. In a younger generation, Bob has been followed by brother Andrus Laats '99, co-founder and chief operating officer of Nixon, Inc., maker of extreme men's and woman's time pieces.

The College of Arts & Sciences has produced brothers in a strong line of teaching faculty, notably in the fields of Anthropology, Political Science, Sociology and Mathematics. Our doctors come out of Arts, as well. A&S has also teamed up with ILR and HUEC to produce a mammoth number of attorneys for us. Swing a fish at a house alumni function, and you'll hit three or four attorneys.

Our House was designed by a brother architect, who followed in long tradition dating to the founding. The Chair of the Cornell Department of Art & Architecture for many years, John Hartell '24, was a brother.

We could ramble on a bit more: The house has lost brothers in every American war since the Civil War, and if we add relatives, our long Hammerin' line goes back to the American and French Revolutions. We have produced five generals and are working on our first admiral. Good luck, Frank. We have two brothers who are veterans of the Iraq War, one did admirably at Falujah and another is hunkered down in the Green Zone for 2007-2008. We have been closely allied to the Army and Navy, with some notable exceptions in the Air Force. Two Marines in 139 years, but we are always interested in more.

This gives you an insight into our house through the years. Come down to the house to meeting the core of our existence at any time in our history: the active, undergraduate brothers. We will make our history over the next 60 years. "House" is all about narrowing a circle of friends at a Cornell, which is way too large an institution in which to define a group of friends.

So the prudent Cornellian finds his band of brothers, his strong band, gets them organized, and squeezes every drop of joy and anguish from his life on the Hill. Done correctly, and you'll have buds for life. Blow it, and you'll join the workforce three years earlier than you planned. Or you'll just be a consumer of services offered up by university administrators to justify the whopping tuition you are now paying.

Be yourself; be House.

 

 

 

 


 

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