History of Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity

Some material from the main Sigma Alpha Mu National Fraternity website has been incorporated into what is presented below.

The American college fraternity made its first appearance when Phi Beta Kappa was founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776. From that time forward until the Civil War no appreciable changes occurred in the fraternity system; however, starting in 1865, fraternities became more and more popular. Over time these organizations earned the respect of the university and surrounding community. The chapters became self-governing campus units which aided in faculty administration and today Greek-letter fraternities are recognized as an important integral part of the American educational system.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, some older fraternities modified their policies and began to admit larger numbers of male students. In addition newer fraternities came into being and they were sponsored by leaders with foresight, great zeal, and high ideals. Like many other organizations, Sigma Alpha Mu owes its founding over 100 years ago to mere chance. Indeed, even the meeting at which it was founded was called with no intention of the establishment of some permanent organization.

In the fall of 1909, the sophomore class at the College of the City of New York (CCNY) felt embarrassed by "lowly freshmen". At a school where "warfare" between freshman and sophomore class was a tradition, the sophomores found it necessary to regain their fallen honor. Class Marshal Lester Cohen called a meeting of sophomore leaders on November 26, 1909 to decide on a plan for redemption. Eight individuals appeared- Cohen, Hyman Jacobson, Adolph I. Fabis, Samuel Ginsburg, Abram N. Kerner, Jacob Kaplan, Ira N. Lind and David D. Levinson, who are now known as the Founders of Sigma Alpha Mu.

None of these young men knew all the others. During their discussion lofty ideals were expressed and these inspired the formation of a fraternal organization. It was first suggested that the Greek Letters "Kappa Phi Omega" be used to symbolize the words "Cosmic Fraternal Order" as the fraternity’s new name. One week later this was revised and from that time forward the fraternity was to be known as Sigma Alpha Mu.

The new fraternity settled down to accomplish the ideals which had promoted its creation. Its main aim was to prove to the world outside that criticism and objectives leveled against fraternities in general were not applicable to Sigma Alpha Mu. The founders decided to plan and grow along lines different from those of existing fraternities.

Sigma Alpha Mu began to grow and soon Beta chapter was started at Cornell University, its growth patterned as Alpha had and the two chapters, in a bond of brotherhood, were as one. Gamma chapter at Columbia soon followed. Then slowly but surely, Sigma Alpha Mu expanded North, South, East and West. Sigma Alpha Mu continues today to maintain its commitment to growth and attends and assists both the old and new chapters.

The eight Founders of Sigma Alpha Mu were all of the Jewish faith, and it naturally followed that they would attract to their brotherhood men of similar background. They believed in fraternalism among Jewish college men, convinced that without it, a large number of Jewish students would be deprived of the pleasant associations and companionships they now find in most colleges.

Sigma Alpha Mu has always acknowledged with deep appreciation its Jewish heritage and the ethical values of Judaism which have enriched its life and the lives of its members. At its 1953 Convention the Fraternity amended its constitution, making eligible for membership any male student of good moral character who respects the ideals and traditions of the Fraternity. It then expanded beyond only those of the Jewish faith.

Sigma Alpha Mu's profound interest in matters of culture and education has also been clearly manifested for many years. SAM’s member’s willingness to serve has typically extended beyond campus limits to embrace the community in which the particular college chapter is located. Many of these civic and community endeavors have been significant, because these activities enrich each participant with an inner joy of altruism. Collective efforts have been undertaken with genuine concern for the welfare of others. Today, Sigma Alpha Mu's commitment to service continues through the support of a significant group of large recognized national service projects.

Sigma Alpha Mu's mission has always been to foster the development of collegiate men and alumni by instilling strong fraternal values, offering social and service opportunities, and teaching leadership skills. This organization continues to attract members of all beliefs who appreciate SAM’s great heritage as a fraternity of Jewish men. In keeping with its cherished tradition, Sigma Alpha Mu will continue to develop men who will stand forth as leaders of their communities, respecting the faith of others, walking with the dignity befitting a great heritage, and serving mankind.

1)  Link to the Centennial Issue of the Octagonian that contains a historical overview of the Fraternity.   


2)  Link to Sigma Alpha Mu Centennial Video