America's 10th Oldest Fraternity
THE FOUNDING OF ALPHA SIGMA PHI
Louis Manigault, Alpha Sigma Phi's principal Founder, and Stephen Ormsby Rhea, one of the co-founders, first met and became friends at St. Paul's College, a preparatory school for boys in Flushing Meadows, New York. Rhea was two years older and had already spent a year at St. Paul's when Manigault entered. There they joined a local fraternity, the Phi Theta Kappa Society. Both Manigault and Rhea arrived to enter the freshman class at Yale in the fall of 1845, and neither of the men chose to join a freshman society. Louis Manigault found the attitude of the members of the sole sophomore society, Kappa Sigma Theta, toward their fellow students condescending and obnoxious. As a freshman, he had visions of starting a rival sophomore fraternity. For his freshman year, Louis Manigault lived in a college boarding house that sat at the intersection of Temple and Chapel Street, overlooking the green and college buildings on the other side. The boarding house gave Manigault the privacy and freedom to concentrate on planning the creation of Alpha Sigma Phi. He did not hide his disdain of Kappa Sigma Theta writing:
"Standing alone in the Sophomore Class, guarded by her Patron Saint Minerva, the Kappa Sigma Theta seemed not only to scorn, but to behold with contempt all outside members as hardly worthy of being their classmates."
THE YALE TOMAHAWK IS BORN
The rivalry between the sophomore societies spilled over into print, as Kappa Sigma Theta attacked the new society in The Yale Banger. The name "banger" came from the name used at Yale in that era for a club or bludgeon, and Yale sophomores often used bangers to torment freshmen. When sophomores would go out, usually en masse, these bangers would be dragged along the ground as a warning to any freshman in the neighborhood to retreat to a place of hiding or face a beating. Theoretically, The Yale Banger had been the paper of the sophomore class, but in actuality, it was created and controlled by Kappa Sigma Theta and served the sole purpose of voicing the society's propaganda. In response, Alpha Sigma Phi began publishing The Yale Tomahawk in November 1847. The Yale Tomahawk was printed on a page twelve by eighteen inches and folded to form a four-page, by-12 folio, costing six cents per copy. In the text, the paper attacked Kappa Sigma Theta and The Yale Banger, calling the latter: "A most shameful outrage upon good breeding, prudence, and common sense. Such abominable bawdiness, such groveling sentiment, such mawkish nonsense, we never saw before among the writings of the civilized and educated."
Aside from attacking its rival, The Yale Tomahawk always included editorials, articles about Yale life, Fraternity announcements, poems, and others' essays. It usually contained lampoons against other Yale organizations. Several subsequent issues of The Yale Tomahawk contained articles and short literary works of notable quality. An Alpha alumnus, writing an article for The Tomahawk about the early editions of the magazine, marveled at the literary quality of the early editions of the paper, noting that: "College editors of those days appear to have been more highly gifted in the art of versification [poetry] than their college literary descendants of the present generation."
In May 1852, The Yale Tomahawk appeared for the last time until 1909. The publication reverted to an earlier policy of scathing criticism aimed at The Banger, the freshman class, the faculty, and the college in general. That edition was published against faculty orders, and eight members of the Fraternity involved in its preparation, editing, and printing were expelled from Yale. Two years later, the faculty rescinded the decision and offered to allow the students back to finish their studies.