The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity was founded on February 19, 1852, by William H. Letterman and Charles P.T. Moore, two Jefferson College students in the little college town of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. They were caring for their friends stricken during an epidemic of typhoid fever at the college. Through their experience, an appreciation of the great joy of serving others came into their lives. They called on others to join them, and a brotherhood was founded. It flourished and gradually grew to other colleges and universities throughout the country. Idealists all, the Phi Kappa Psi founders believed the fraternity should complement the work of the university by cultivating those humanities without which the educated man fails of his greatest usefulness.
Phi Kappa Psi recognizes the need and value of the best and broadest education possible and encourages that goal within our membership. But unless actuated by a proper love for and service to mankind, the educated man may often waste his talents. It is to counteract this tendency that Phi Kappa Psi was founded to encourage the best in men, to inspire and assist them to reach their potential as students, brothers, men, and citizens.
In 1855, the first Grand Arch council was held in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although little seems to have been accomplished, it is evident that the delegates from Virginia Alpha exerted a strong influence and were the dominant figures. The second Grand Arch Council was held the following year in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and at this meeting, Virginia Alpha was formally elected to be the executive head of the fraternity, succeeding Pennsylvania Alpha. Virginia Alpha continued as Grand Chapter until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, when it, together with the other southern chapters, suspended operations.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Phi Kappa Psi claimed a membership of approximately 600; 452 of these men enlisted. By the end of the war and with a membership then of nearly 800, 552 had been in service, 254 in the Union Army, and 298 in the Confederate Army. Of this total, 292 became commissioned officers, including three major generals, seven brigadier generals, 10 colonels, and 16 lieutenant colonels. More than 100 of these brave lads joined the eternal bivouac of the dead in this terrible conflict. The late C.F. "Dab" Williams donated to the Fraternity an unidentified, antique, handmade Phi Kappa Psi badge found on the Hagerstown pike near Gettysburg the day after the decisive Civil War battle ended there.
In 1885, at the Grand Arch Council, a special committee was appointed to draft an entirely new system, providing for a strong, centralized executive council. Graduates would serve as officers and undergraduates would then be elected to serve as the heads of each district of the fraternity. A special Grand Arch Council was called, to meet at Indianapolis in April, 1886, to pass upon the report of the committee. The report was adopted, and the fraternity government system was completely revolutionized. The plan is in force today, with only such amendments as the growth and development of the fraternity have made advisable.
In the fraternity’s first 100 years. Phi Kappa Psi had grown to about 100 chapters, 51 alumni associations and more than 124,000 lifetime initiates.