The History of Theta's Coat of Arms

Category: Heritage

Noraleen Duvall Young

Alpha Chi, Purdue

Adorning one wall of Theta's CEO's office at headquarters is a group of images that includes the Fraternity coat of arms. Alongside the familiar one we all recognize are others that preceded the current one. Each in its own way symbolizes the Fraternity.

Theta’s first "official" coat of arms was designed by a firm in Indianapolis in 1877, drawn up at Alpha Chapter’s insistence. Like all coats of arms, there was much in the way of symbolism. In this instance, the angel referenced guidance, curtains connoted secrecy, and the torch represented enlightenment and aspiration Not everyone liked the design, however, so chapters were encouraged to submit their own and the best features would be incorporated into one for use by all chapters. There are no additional references to the resulting design … maybe there were too many suggestions!

Additional designs appeared in college annuals and yearbooks of our various chapters. The shield-like design was used by Gamma/Butler in 1887 and Iota/Cornell in 1888. An arch with a pedestal was used by Lambda/Vermont and Tau/Northwestern in 1890. Sometimes there would be simpler forms such as the example from 1895, which included the fraternity name and badge or more ornate ones such as the one from 1897.

In 1895, Grand Convention voted to commission a new charter design. It was adopted by the 1897 Grand Convention and included a coat of arms insignia at the top. The change in design spurred Grand Council to recall all existing charters and issue new ones.

As the Fraternity grew, so did increased efforts to standardize insignia, including the coat of arms. In 1906, Grand Council appointed a committee to review and make recommendations concerning all Fraternity insignia. The committee reported to the 1907 Grand Convention its proposals concerning insignia, including a design for a new official coat of arms to be adopted and used universally by all chapters. Convention approved the resolution, and—except for one slight change—this is the coat of arms we use today. The field of ermine behind the shield gradually disappeared from use; by 1973, this more straightforward coat of arms appeared in many official documents and publications.

So the coat of arms Theta has used for the last 110 years grew from our earliest members' vision of the Fraternity. Our present coat of arms is a powerful connection to our past.