Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/September 1906/Shorter Articles



Conspicuous among the events that attended the recent Ithaca meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was the twentieth celebration of the founding of the Sigma Xi, and, as so little is known about this organization, I venture to give a brief description of its history.

The career of the Phi Beta Kappa Society has been a long and honorable one, having been founded at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va., on December 5, 1776, and it is, therefore, the oldest of the so-called Greek letter societies. This organization, as is well known, admits to membership honor students in the humanities who are about to graduate, and the lack of any organization that should similarly recognize distinction in the study of the scientific branches led in 1886 to the organization in Ithaca of the Society of the Sigma Xi, which has as its objects to encourage original investigation in science, pure and applied, and by meeting for the discussion of scientific subjects, as well as for the publication of such scientific material as might be deemed desirable; and also to establish fraternal relations among investigators in scientific centers. Its name is derived from its motto Σπονδᾢν Σννᾤνες, signifying Companions in Zealous Research.

The success of the organization led to the establishment of a chapter in the Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy and in Union University in Schenectady a year later. A chapter in the University of Kansas in 1890 and one at Yale University in 1895 followed. In 1896 a chapter was established at the University of Minnesota and one at the University of Nebraska in 1897. The Ohio State University came next in 1898, and the University of Pennsylvania in 1899. With the opening of the new century came chapters at Brown and the University of Iowa, and then Stanford University and the University of California, and Columbia University in 1901 and 1902. Three chapters were established in 1903, namely, at the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, and the University of Chicago, and a year later organizations were effected at the Case School and in the University of Indiana.

Application for a chapter is now before the council for the University of Wisconsin. Thus it will be seen that this organization has already secured a good foothold and has been established at nearly all of the larger universities.

The first president was Henry S. Williams, of Cornell, one of the founders, who was succeeded by S. W. Williston, of the University of Chicago, who two years ago gave place to E. L. Nichols, of Cornell. Biennial conventions are usually held in connection with the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the next of which will be held in December, 1906, many of its members being prominently connected with that organization. The membership is already a large one, numbering more than a thousand persons, most of whom are either teachers of or advanced students of science.

The different chapters hold public meetings at which speakers of eminence are invited to address the organization. The badge or insignia is a watch charm or pendant consisting of the monogram formed in gold of the Greek letter Sigma superimposed on the greek letter Xi, the former being somwhat smaller than the latter. On the reverse side of the badge is engraved on the upper bar the name of the college in which the owner was initiated, together with the date of such initiation; while on the lower bar is the name of the owner with the numerals of the class in which he was graduated. The society has adopted as its colors electric blue and white. Its seal consists of a wreath of laurel, typifying the honorary character of membership in the society, arranged as an oval enclosing the words 'the Society of the Sigma Xi' at the top and the Greek motto at the bottom. These words form an inner oval concentric with the first, punctuated with ten stars enclosing a field illuminated by the lamp of research. Above the lamp in the field of illumination is placed the monogram composed of the two Greek letters Sigma and Xi. and below it the date of the foundation, 1856.

At the celebration of the twentieth anniversary, representatives of nearly every chapter were present, and under the auspices of the local chapter a public address, commemorative of the occasion, on 'The Recent California Earthquake' was delivered by Professor John C. Branner, of Stanford University. Subsequently a dinner was tendered to the visiting members which was presided over by Professor E. L. Nichols, when addresses were made by Dr. L. O. Howard, who spoke of the affiliation of the Sigma Xi with the American Association, and by Professor Henry S. Williams who described its founding, and by other members of the society. M. B.