A Thing of the Spirit

"We stand on the shoulders of giants, brothers like Bones Lundberg, Gerry Wharton and Al Riester, who though they have passed have left a legacy for all to maintain and emulate."

- Henry D. Bignell, Rho 1977

Upon receiving the Distinguished Service Award at the Fraternity's National Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, August 4, 2007.

Our History


Fraternity life at Rutgers began as early as 1845. By the 1870s, seven national fraternities existed, but a small group of students sought a bond stronger than that offered by the fraternities then “On the Banks of the Raritan.” Fourteen men, 11 of whom were Phi Beta Kappa members, formed Alpha Theta, a local society, and sought national affiliation. The group selected Chi Psi through the influence of Alfred DeWitt Mason, Amherst 1877, then a student at the Theological Seminary. Chi Psi granted Alpha Theta’s petition for membership, and on March 14, 1879, Chi Psi initiated nine of the men into Alpha Rho.

Alpha Rho exerted leadership early by establishing the first fraternity house at Rutgers in 1887. The fledgling Alpha’s alumni purchased a building at 114 College Avenue, which formerly housed a girls’ school. The new Lodge was several blocks from the center of college life in those days, but today the Lodge occupies an enviable position in the heart of the College Avenue campus.


In the beginning, initiations were informal and might occur after any meeting, to be followed by ice cream and cake at Mammy Bradley’s, Bates’ or Wykoff’s. Now, the initiation ceremony is well attended by alumni and is an occasion for dinner and formal dress. Some initiations are particularly significant. A notable moment came during World War I, when the Lodge served as a barracks and the Brothers met in the New Brunswick law offices of Brother A. Dudley Watson, Rho 1915. The war had severely depleted the pool of possible members, 70 Rho members served in the armed forces and the survival of the Alpha was in question. Far more festive was the initiation of 1926, attended by John Martin Thomas, Middlebury 1890, shortly after his appointment as the only Chi Psi to serve as President of Rutgers. The Golden Jubilee in 1929 brought four of the six surviving founders, and each became the center of attention.

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The Early Years

The Early Years | Actives 1904Active Brothers of Alpha Rho in 1904. For a larger version of this picture, visit the Photo Gallery.