The Indiana Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon started as the Philoneikean Society. It is believed that it was formed by a group of young men in 1853 anticipating the opening of Moore’s Hill College in 1854. There are a few documents available from the mid-1860’s which suggest the literary and debating society was actually founded on September 26, 1855. Other literary societies at Moore’s Hill College were the Sigournean (later a chapter of Chi Omega sorority), the Photozotean (later a chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity) and Castalian (later a chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority). These four societies were the dominant extracurricular organizations at Moore’s Hill and later at Evansville College, which relocated in 1917.
In the middle and late 1920’s, the literary societies were undergoing radical changes; by the early 1930’s they had shed their literary character and were almost entirely social fraternities and sororities at Evansville College. This did not happen without running into administrative roadblocks, as the college’s administrators resisted these changes. In 1928, Evansville College President, Hughes turned down requests by several of the literary societies to adopt Greek letter names. In October 1929, however, the administration relented and allowed the organizations to adopt Greek letter names. In October 1929, the Philoneikean Society became Pi Epsilon Phi Fraternity. The fraternity’s ideals were embodied in its name and in the fraternity’s badge’s guard.
The flower of the fraternity was the yellow rose, the fraternity colors were black and gold, and the fraternity’s motto and rallying cry was “Excelsior!”
Through the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s, the campus was dominated by two greek “alliances.” The Pi Epsilon Phi fraternity (commonly known as the “Philos”) and the Castalians were pitted against the Phi Zeta fraternity and Gamma Sigma Epsilon sorority.
Campus politics were dominated by these two alliances, who each put forth full candidate slates annually. Elections were generally very close and voters tended to follow these “party lines”. In one election the entire Philo-Castalian slate was elected with a one vote margin in every election, except there was a tie in the Student Council President race. (One ballot was not marked for that race.) In the runoff election, the Philo-Castalian candidate was elected President by one vote.
Pi Epsilon Phi was a dominant force in intramural sports in the 1940’s and 1950’s, also. An example of this is their one point victory over Phi Zeta in 1955 to secure their 8th straight intramural football championship.
The Philo’s sponsored annual “Blackouts” to raise funds for charity. These were entertainment programs held on campus featuring nationally known performers as well as campus groups and individuals.
As early as 1902, the group had petitioned the administration for permission to have a chapter house. The petition died in committee. It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that fraternities at the college did establish chapter houses. Pi Epsilon Phi purchased a former funeral home at 1723 Lincoln Avenue on November 22, 1952. In 1957 they purchased the house next door, formerly the Acacia fraternity house. This additional space was necessary for the growing fraternity. The first house was commonly referred to as “Temple I” and the additional house were known as “Temple II”.
By the mid-1950’s most of the fraternities and sororities on campus had merged with a national greek organization, or had come to campus as a colony of a national Greek organization. In 1956, the lone holdout was Pi Epsilon Phi. The Philo’s had not felt a great need for national support, etc., provided by the national fraternities, but eventually they began to look at the possibility of merger with a national fraternity. They investigated all the national fraternitiesʼ not currently on campus and narrowed the list of prospective candidates down to five that were of most interest and were of caliber most conducive for Pi Epsilon Phi. The final decision was made to court the largest, richest, and strongest national fraternity in the country, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. However, the Philo’s had to convince the national fraternity that the Pi Epsilon Phi fraternity was worthy of a merger with Sigma Alpha Epsilon
The Philo’s were accepted into the merger with Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and on December 14, 1957, Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Eminent Supreme Archon, Leo S. Cade, installed the Indiana Epsilon chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Indiana Epsilon started as one of the strongest fraternities on campus, but fell into decline in the mid-1960s due to behavioral problems. They were placed under alumni commission in the late 1960’s subsequent to a series of “mysterious” fires which demolished both houses. The behavioral problems, suspensions, and expulsions during the alumni commission, and the loss of chapter housing resulted in a drastic membership decline. The fraternity started in 1970 with only eight active members. Fortunately, the fraternity did recover, and after the construction of “Temple III” in the summer of 1972, Indiana Epsilon entered into a new era of growth. The fraternity reached its membership peak of about 50 members in 1978 before behavioral problems, especially illegal drug use, began to pull the chapter apart again. The chapter was once again placed under an alumni commission in the mid-1980’s when it’s membership dropped to only seven active members. The alumni commission was in place for ten months, enough time for the fraternity to rid itself of all detriments and re-establish its ideals and standards.
The 1990’s were prosperous times for Indiana Epsilon as the brotherhood grew at one point to over 80 men. Temple IV, a beautifully structured house, was built in 1998 and is now the newest, biggest, and only suite-style fraternity house on campus.
Up to this point of the new millennium, ΣAE at the University has maintained a membership of between 50 and 75 brothers andcontinues to lead campus with members serving as Orientation Leaders, Admission Ambassadors, Division I Athletes, Leadership Academy Representatives, Members of the Interfraternity Council, and with offices in the Student Government. In addition, the chapter has won many awards and achievements such as the 2011 and 2019 Zeal Award, which recognizes the strongest chapter in Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
The chapter continues to be proud of its origins and traditions while moving forward to face new challenges and to maintain its high standards of academic and social success.