Schenectady, New York was a tranquil place in the early 1800s. It was originally founded as a settlement at one of the last navigable points on the Mohawk River. The town grew after the Revolution, and finally grew large enough to support a college. The college founded was called Union and was intended to be someplace special. Unlike the colleges founded along the coast, such as Harvard or William and Mary, Union was founded as a non-sectarian institution. Union taught its students classical literature, Greek and Latin, but almost uniquely at the time, Union also offered history, science, modern language and mathematics. It was in this extraordinarily liberal environment that Psi Upsilon was founded. The early days of Union are well described by Dr. Dixon Ryan Fox, the twelfth president of Union College:
Most of the time from 1825 to 1850 Union College was the largest in the United States. Several different years Yale got ahead of it, but Harvard and Princeton were behind and Columbia was much behind. There is no question but that in 1833 Union was the leader. This was not due so much to its location or its fine buildings as to its faculty and particularly its President, Dr. Eliphalet Nott.
Union College’s student body of 232 made it the largest college in the country, and the men lived in boarding houses near the school. It was difficult for them to socialize outside of class, and there were few organized extracurricular activities. Six fraternities were founded at Union, more than any other school.
In the early 1800s, as at other schools, literary societies played an important role in the life of Union College. The faculty encouraged these groups; they presented debates and orations, produced plays and maintained libraries. They also provided forums for discussion and social interaction, which could not be found in the classroom. There was much rivalry for membership, literary supremacy, and political dominance on campus. The oldest of these, the Adelphic Society, was founded in 1792 and lasted into the nineteenth century. The Philomathean Society, which began in 1798, still exists.
Psi U Founders: Robert Barnard ’37, Samuel Goodale ’36, Sterling G. Hadley ’36, George Washington Tuttle ’36, Edward Martindale, (no photo for Merwin Henry Stewart ’37), and Charles Washington Harvey ’37.
The Delphian Society was started in 1819 and was known as more secretive and close knit than other societies. In 1833, five sophomore and two freshman members had become close friends. Their names were Samuel Goodale, Sterling Goodale Hadley, Edward Martindale, George Washington Tuttle, Charles Washington Harvey, Merwin Henry Stewart, and Robert Barnard. By the fall of 1833, the group of seven men had begun to meet regularly to read poetry and to exchange essays they had each written. It became a tradition to meet one night each week for these literary exercises. One night, after a particularly enjoyable session, Samuel Goodale said to Sterling Goodale Hadley, “Goodnight thine cordially.” In response, Hadley said, “Goodnight thine always.” This ritualistic farewell was repeated at each session thereafter.
By November, the seven men realized that they had something special: a group of people, with common interests and aspirations, sharing special times. They wanted somehow to capture these moments and make them permanent, not just as a club for themselves, but as a special association that would welcome new members, and that would continue long after they graduated from Union. Following the examples of the organizations founded at Union and Hamilton, they decided to found Psi Upsilon.
Expansion and Growth
All healthy organizations are in a continual process of growth, not only in size but in philosophy as well. Psi Upsilon’s relatively conservative expansion policy has yielded the chapters that today comprise our chapter roll. Psi Upsilon continues to grow for several reasons. Foremost is the fact that our members have benefited from their fraternity experiences and feel strongly enough about those experiences to want to share them with others. A second reason is that the resources of the fraternity, both financial and human, grow in proportion to the size of the fraternity membership. An increase in our resources is used to provide greater resources to our members.
This does not mean, however, that Psi Upsilon is involved in a headlong rush to become the biggest fraternity. Expansion is a carefully considered program designed to improve both the quality and quantity of our membership. It is expected that the members of the new chapters will perpetuate the ideals and traditions established by the Fraternity for its members and the communities where they are found. Each colony or provisional chapter must meet stringent standards before it is eligible for a charter of Psi Upsilon.
In 1837 Psi Upsilon began its expansion with the founding of the Delta chapter at the City University of the City of New York (now New York University). The third chapter, the Beta, was instituted at Yale in 1839, followed by the Sigma in 1840 and the Gamma in 1841. Two more chapters, the Zeta and Lambda, were formed in 1842. In the next year, Psi Upsilon grew to ten chapters by expanding to Bowdoin, Hamilton, and Wesleyan. Within a decade of its founding, and well before many fraternities were even in existence, Psi Upsilon had become a widely recognized intercollegiate fraternity. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Psi Upsilon boasted of having a dozen chapters.
The forty years leading up to the semi-centennial of 1883 saw the addition of the Alpha, Upsilon, Iota (first in the “West”), Phi, Omega, Pi, Chi, and Beta Beta chapters. Transfer students and friends of Psi Us at other schools established many of these chapters. From 1883 until 1949 the fraternity experienced a period of expansion to notable schools, including the establishment of chapters at Lehigh, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Cal-Berkeley, Illinois, Williams, University of Washington, Toronto, McGill, British Columbia, and Northwestern. Because of a conservative expansion policy, many petitioners were denied charters during this period. Since 1949, Psi Upsilon has added thirteen chapters to its roll, and is at present actively and aggressively pursuing expansion to the finest schools in the United States and Canada.