Early Fraternity History
In the history of the United States, 1913 was an eventful year. Only a year before, Arizona had been admitted to the Union as the forty-eighth state, completing the continental bounds of the country. Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated President; the Federal Reserve System was established to strengthen the banking system; and the 16th amendment to the Constitution was adopted, providing for the progressive tax on income. The Panama Canal, one of the greatest engineering feats of modern times, was nearing completion and would be in operation in 1914. In that same year, at the School of Commerce of New York University, Alpha Epsilon Pi officially made its appearance in the fraternity world.
There have been rumors that preliminary organization may have taken place as early as 1911. This seems unlikely. However, it is fairly certain that the work of establishing a new fraternity at New York University began in the 1912-1913 academic year. Founder Charles C. Moskowitz, speaking at a banquet in his honor on November 13, 1952, indicated that the winter of 1913 was the time when organizational activity got into high gear. It appears certain, therefore, that by late 1912 or early 1913 the founding of the new fraternity was well under way.
Its Founders were all young men of serious purpose, employed during the day, coming from middle-class homes, who sought to get ahead by obtaining the formal training offered at New York University in the evening sessions. The catalyst for the founding of Alpha Epsilon Pi was the transfer of Charles C. Moskowitz from the College of the City of New York to New York University’s School of Commerce.
While enrolling at C.C.N.Y.,Charles Moskowitz, a fine basketball player, was heavily sought after for his athletic skills. When he enrolled at New York University, his reputation had preceded him, and he was immediately rushed and given a bid by one of the fraternities. Which fraternity is not known, and nothing exists to indicate its name. It is known that in 1913 the following fraternities were in existence at the School of Commerce: Alpha Kappa Psi, founded in 1905, and today one of the leading professional commerce fraternities, with a chapter roll of 144 (1977); Delta Sigma Pi, founded in 1907, and today Alpha Kappa Psi’s chief rival, with a chapter roll of 132 (1977); Lambda Sigma Phi, a local, founding date unknown; Phi Sigma Pi, a local founded in 1911; Phi Delta, a local, founded in 1912; Phi Sigma Delta, which had placed its Delta chapter at N.Y.U.’s School of Commerce in 1913, and which was later to relocate at the Heights campus; Phi Delta Sigma, founded in 1913.
One of these seven fraternities rushed the young basketball star intensely. However, when Charles Moskowitz asked whether bids could also be extended to his friends, he was immediately told that the bid was for him alone. Brother Moskowitz had a circle of close Jewish friends which met after work for dinner before going to class. Evidently, Founder Moskowitz discussed this with his friends, and they decided that fraternities were good for the students, and since there was no patent on the idea, they would start one of their own.
The group had its meals at German rathskellar on Second Avenue, within walking distance of the university. The specialty was frankfurters and sauerkraut, and the price was fifteen cents. The basement, was open to the public only in the evenings was business was especially brisk. The young men talked with the owner who agreed that if six or eight men would eat their regularly every school night, he would give them a private area in the rathskeller. And that is how Alpha Epsilon Pi began.
One of the topics of conversation was “fraternity”: its pros and cons. Could this impecunious group of young students, busy with their daytime jobs and nighttime studies, successfully launch a new fraternity when there were already seven well-established groups at the School of Commerce, three of them nationals? They decided to try. Brother Moskowitz is quoted as saying, “Our aim was mutual assistance in our intellectual and social life – to strengthen the democratic character of student life.”
When the founding group finally jelled, there were eleven founding members: I.M. Glazer, Herman L. Kraus, Arthur M. Lipkint, Benjamin M. Meyer, Hyman Schulman, Emil J. Lustgarten, Arthur E. Leopold, Charles J. Pintel, Maurice Plager, David K. Schafer and Charles C. Moskowitz. Charles Moskowitz was chosen as the first master.
By common consent, the name Alpha Epsilon Pi had been chosen as best representing the ideals the founders wanted to express. Coincidentally, just four years earlier, a Jewish sorority had formed at Barnard College, a college for women related to Columbia University, and had chosen for itself the name Alpha Epsilon Phi. An even more remarkable coincidence, for coincidence it seems to have been, is that the badges of the two organizations were very similar. In both the three Greek letters are horizontally attached, and the only major difference is that there is a bar through the letters of the women’s group. Research has failed to discover any link between the two groups, and it now appears that the young men at New York University who founded Alpha Epsilon Pi were completely unaware of the existence of Alpha Epsilon Phi.
After months of meetings and perfecting the organization, the young group decided it was time to obtain recognition from the university as an official School of Commerce fraternity. To gain recognition, it was decided to address a letter to Dean Joseph French Johnson of the School of Commerce, outlining the aims and ideals of the fledgling fraternity and asking of his consideration and approval. David K. Schafer was the only member who could type, so he, as secretary, was chosen to draft the request and type it, to give it a businesslike appearance. The letter was submitted, probably about early October, after which the waiting period began. As is the case today, the wheels of the decision-makers turned slowly. At last, however, the long-awaited reply came on November 7, 1913. It was in the affirmative. Alpha Epsilon Pi was a recognized fraternity at New York University.
The Immortal Eleven
It is interesting to learn something about these earnest young men. Through the courtesy of Past Supreme Master and Founder David K. Schafer, the fraternity archives have been enriched with copies of the 1915 and 1916 Violet, the yearbook of the School of Commerce.
It has already been stated that Founder Charles C. Moskowitz was an outstanding basketball player, and he played on the Commerce team for three years and managed it for one of those years. Charles J. Pintel was a publication man. He was circulation manager of both the Commerce Record and the Washington Square Dealer, the downtown campus newspaper. The staff of the Commerce Record, a weekly paper devoted to the activities of that school and its students, listed Brothers Lustgarten, Shulman, and Kraus as staff members. Founder Herman L. Kraus was a debater and helped the N.Y.U. Commerce team achieve victory in a debate over the Wharton School team of the University of Pennsylvania. He served as secretary of the Commerce debating society, of which founders Lustgarten and Shulman were also members.
In voting for class personalities in the 1914 class, Brother Moskowitz ranked third for best athlete; Brother Shulman second for best nature. Founder Kraus was also a member of the staff of the Violet, a member of the Triad League, an advertising society, and editor for the Menorah Society, while Founder Shulman was the class historian.
The young fraternity lost no time attracting new recruits. The first pledges were Aaron Rubin, Samuel Epstein, Morton Davis, Nathan Katz and Sidney Picker. Tradition has it that Aaron Rubin was the first pledge, although there is some reason to believe it may have been Samuel Epstein.
Of the five pledges, Samuel Epstein was a member of the debating society and of Delta Mu Delta, the honorary scholastic fraternity; Morton I. Davis was already working as an accountant, and was to become a very successful C.P.A. heading up a very prominent firm; Aaron Rubin was to become a very successful investor and real estate tycoon, and one of the great names in Alpha Epsilon Pi; and Sidney Picker was also destined to make his mark in the fraternity, as he did at Commerce, where he was on the Executive Committee of the Class of 1915 and vice-president of the Debating Society. Very little is known about Nathan Katz. Later that year Henry Rosenblum appears to have been added. He became a successful C.P.A. and attorney.
In 1914 the following men graduated, leaving the fraternity with a nucleus of eight men to carry on: Morton Davis, Samuel Epstein, Nathan Katz, Benjamin Meyer, Charles Moskowitz, Charles Pintel, Maurice Plager and Hyman Shulman. Weaker men might have faltered at this mass exodus which included many of the leaders and founders of the fraternity. This was not the case with the men of Alpha Epsilon Pi.
Although the treasury was quite small, Founder Schafer recalled later that dues were fifty cents a month, the men pressed ahead with what had been their goal from the outset, the founding of a new national fraternity. Plans toward this end had actually started when the fraternity was first organized, and the Violet carries the designation “alpha chapter” with the listing of members in the very first edition (1915) where Alpha Epsilon Pi is included. A young law student, unfortunately nameless, agreed to draft articles of incorporation for Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Inc., under the Act of the Legislature of the State of New York, Chapter 40, Laws 1909, entitled “An Act Relating to Membership Corporations.” Evidently the founders were most impressed with the organization and growth of Alpha Kappa Psi and Delta Sigma Pi, which limited their membership to students in the Schools of Commerce of the universities where their chapters were placed, and decided to emulate them.
Contact was soon made with a group of men at Cornell University who had organized a local fraternity there called Phi Tau. They and the brothers at NYU had a meeting of the minds and formed the Beta Chapter – truly our fraternity could now be called a national fraternity.
A new national fraternity, probably the only major social fraternity in existence today for undergraduate men which was founded in an evening school, had come into being, less than one year after its official recognition by Dean Johnson of New York University.
The Survival of Alpha Epsilon Pi
It must be taken into consideration that our fraternity was a World War I phenomenon. Counting the Beta Chapter only 52 men had been initiated by April 6, 1917, the date the United States formally declared war on Germany and her allies. Almost every undergraduate and alumnus answered the call of the colors causing the fraternity to become nearly inactive during the war years. The fraternity would have easily disappeared, like so many other locals, if not for the efforts of brothers Theodore Racoosin and F. Nathan Wolf who shouldered the burden of keeping the fraternity alive and planning for the future.
In the years between the world wars, Alpha Epsilon Pi had grown to 28 chapters. But tough times were known to be forthcoming at the 1941 convention, and many knew that undergraduate and alumnus would again be called to duty. Expansion remained dormant throughout World War II.
With the end of the war, the fraternity gained new life and momentum in its reopening of inactive chapters, expansion to new campuses and the merging with other locals that had been hit hard by the war.
The next two decades were a time of steady growth and prestige for Alpha Epsilon Pi as well as other fraternities. Expansion was occurring at an incredible rate for the Greek system as a whole. However, with the onset fighting in Vietnam in the early 60′s, fraternity life faltered. Liberal student bodies revolted against authority and the Greek system, which was seen as a conservative, elitist group.
Ironically, the roots of fraternity itself lie in revolution against authoritarianism. Membership plummeted and nearly half the chapter roll was lost. It almost looked as if it might have been the demise of Alpha Epsilon Pi. However, due to perseverance and outstanding leadership, the fraternity was able to reverse the trend and stabilize following the Vietnam War. Re-identifiying with its Jewish heritage, the fraternity refused to say die. Possessed with faith and courage to believe this too would pass, they were determined that the national strength could be regained and that the fraternity would once again be able to pursue its mission of shaping young Jewish men into community leaders. In honor of its 75th Anniversary, the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation constructed a building in Indianapolis, Indiana to serve as the headquarters for the fraternity. For the first time, Alpha Epsilon Pi had a permanent home.
It has been nearly 83 years since Alpha Epsilon Pi began to build its special form of brotherhood. The fraternity has survived four wars, the great depression, several recessions, changes in the standards of morality, and a revolution in personal behavior and conduct. It has seen more changes occur in this time than had occurred in the entire history of the world prior to its founding. It has seen the birth of television, the jet plane, space travel, and the computer. Through it all the fraternity had remained true to the ideals of the founders – honesty, courage, brotherhood, love of country, and faith in Jewish ethics and values. If these ideals continue to have meaning in the years to come, then Alpha Epsilon Pi will be able to carry its message to college generations yet unborn. It will have been true to the ideals expressed in the motto emblazoned on its coat of arms,ESPONDA.
Recently, Alpha Epsilon Pi celebrated its 86th anniversary, with 106 chapters and colonies on its roll. Its membership had grown to over 70,000. The greatness Alpha Epsilon Pi has achieved springs from the vision of that group of 11 young Jewish men going to night school in pursuit of a better life. Many times a chapter will blame its lack of success in part because of low membership. But if there is one thing that every brother should learn from our history is that Alpha Epsilon Pi started with elevenmen, ended the first year with eight due to graduation, and flourished into the fraternity it is today. It’s not the numbers that make us great, it’s the spirit and motivation to create something unique and the ability to implement a positive program based on Jewish ethics and values.