Miller’s Meanderings – Volume 7

And You Thought You Knew the Meaning of Prime

With the return of Phi Delta Theta to the campus of Central College (now Central Methodist University) in March, 2007, the question arises “Why is this chapter designated as Missouri Beta Prime?  Why not Missouri Delta, following Missouri Gamma, the most recently installed chapter (1891)?  If it is possible for an answer to be both simple and complicated, this response fills the bill.

PRIME is one of those English words that has many definitions; “That which is first in quality; the best; the pick” to name a few meanings in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  It can be a noun, an adjective, a verb transitive or a verb intransitive.  In all probability, there is not one Phikeia who considered any of these possibilities when he saw the word following a chapter identification in The Roll of the Chapters as recorded in his copy of Phikeia: The Manual of Phi Delta Theta.  The word is used to identify four chapters in Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and Texas.

The1875 Phi Delta Theta Convention held in Danville, Kentucky adopted a report that put all chartered chapters (38 chapters at the time) in proper chronological order in their respective states whether or not they were in operation at the time.  That would have avoided the “prime” problem had it been let alone.  Alas, that was not to be.  The 1880 convention held in Indianapolis, Indiana elected to pretend that the Fraternity had no dormant chapters ( 56 chapters had been chartered by this date) and decided to transfer the names of the inactive chapters to the functioning chapters.  For example, the defunct Georgia Alpha chapter at Oglethorpe University became Georgia Alpha Prime while the very lively Georgia Beta chapter at the University of Georgia was renamed Georgia Alpha.

The editors of the 1894 Catalogue, Frank D. Swope, Hanover ‘85 and Eugene H. L. Randolph, CCNY ‘85  “without official authority” placed the word prime after the titles of inactive chapters and moved the chapters that followed, up one letter in the Greek alphabet.   In their defense, they used one of the adjective definitions of prime, “first in order of time”.  All four “prime“ chapters were, indeed, chartered prior to those chapters with the same Greek designation.

Prime chapters that remain inactive are Ohio Gamma Prime at Wittenberg College, Texas Prime at Austin College and Georgia Alpha Prime at Oglethorpe University.

Robert J. Miller
Historian