The founding of Sigma Chi began as the result of a disagreement over who would be elected Poet in the Erodelphian Literary Society of Miami University in Ohio.
Several members of Miami University’s Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter (of which all but one of Sigma Chi’s founders were members) were also members of the Erodelphian Literary Society. In the fall of 1854 this society was to pick its Poet, and a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon was nominated for the position. He was supported by five of his brothers, but four others (James Caldwell, Isaac Jordan, Benjamin Runkle, and Franklin Scobey) instead supported another man who was not a member of the fraternity. Thomas Bell and Daniel Cooper were not members of Erodelphian, but had aligned themselves with the four members. The chapter had twelve members and so was evenly divided. Other differences might have been forgotten, but both sides saw this conflict as a matter of principle and over the next few months there came a distancing of their friendship.
The matter came to a head in February 1855, when, in an attempt to seal the rift, Runkle and his companions planned a dinner for their brothers. Only one of the other brothers who supported the Delta Kappa Epsilon member as poet arrived, Whitelaw Reid. With him, Reid brought a stranger named Minor Millikin who was an alumnus of Delta Kappa Epsilon from a nearby town. Reid had told Millikin his side of the dispute, and the arrived to punish Runkle, Scobey, and the rest. The leaders of the rebellion (Runkle and Scobey) were to be expelled from the fraternity. The other four, after being properly chastised, would be allowed to stay a part of the group. Runkle resigned, and after the parent chapter at Yale University was contacted, all six men were formally expelled.
The six men decided to form their own fraternity along with William Lewis Lockwood, a student from New York who had not joined a fraternity. On June 28, 1855, the organization was founded under the name Sigma Phi Fraternity. Lockwood had business training, and helped to organize the fraternity in its early years. The theft of Sigma Phi’s constitution, rituals, seals, and other records from Lockwood’s room in Oxford in January 1856 prompted the change of the name of the fraternity to Sigma Chi. Eventually, this action could have been forced upon the group as there was already a Sigma Phi Society.
Much of Sigma Chi’s heraldry was inspired by the legendary story of the Emperor Constantine from the Battle of Milvian Bridge against Maxentius. The White Cross and the motto “In Hoc Signo Vinces” are examples of the Constantine link. Although many of the symbols of Sigma Chi relate to Christianity, Sigma Chi is not a Christian fraternity.