The founder of the Alpha Delta Phi, Samuel Eells, expressed the principle purpose of the fraternity at its founding at Hamilton College in 1832. It was his intent that “this new association, with a true philosophical spirit, looking to the entire man, develop his whole being- moral, social, and intellectual.” This intent is still alive and prevalent throughout the Bowdoin Chapter today.
In 1841, the Harvard Chapter of the Alpha Delta Phi was given the authority to colonize at Bowdoin College. Because Bowdoin had no fraternities, there was some fear that founding such an organization would meet great resistance; instead, the college supported the new organization. On October 16, 1841, Bowdoin student Frederic Gardiner and four friends held the first meeting of the Bowdoin Chapter of the Alpha Delta Phi. Not only was the Bowdoin Chapter the first fraternity at the college, it was also the last chapter of the Alpha Delta Phi to be established in the founder Samuel Eells’s lifetime.
Within the first decade the Bowdoin Chapter initiated its most famous member, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ’52. Initiated on April 12, 1848, he went on to be a Brigadier General in the Union Army during the Civil War, President of Bowdoin College, and Governor of Maine. General Chamberlain was rediscovered by the nation in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Killer Angels,” which was later made into the motion picture “Gettysburg.” Ken Burns also featured Chamberlain in his award-winning PBS documentary on the Civil War. Chamberlain’s 20th Maine played a major role in the Union’s success at Gettysburg and Chamberlain was chosen by Union General Ulysses S. Grant to accept Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. While Governor, he single handedly kept the government of Maine from being overthrown by disputing political foes during a disputed election. As Bowdoin President, he instituted mandatory military drills for students. Gen. Chamberlain said that he had seen too many unprepared young men die in the last generation to let the men of coming generations suffer the same fate. The drills were very unpopular with the students and facility, and the Trustees overruled Chamberlain a few years after he began them. He also expanded the courses of study at Bowdoin to include the social and physical sciences, and explored admitting women to Bowdoin (an idea rejected by the Trustees at the time). Following the war until the end of his life, Chamberlain traveled the country advocating for veterans rights.
In 1898, the Bowdoin Alpha Delta Phi purchased the property at the corner of Potter and Maine Streets in Brunswick to serve as its Chapter House. The house on the property would serve as the home for the Alpha Delts at Bowdoin until 1924. In that year, the old house that was purchased with the land was torn down, and the following year a much larger chapter house was erected in its place, topped with the Greek letters in its wood trim. Forty years afterwards, the chapter continued growing and so the house added an additional dining room, a new library, and new living quarters, assuming its modern appearance.
During the First World War, 116 members of the Bowdoin Chapter served and 6 lost their lives. Two decades later, seven Bowdoin Alpha Delts were lost from the two hundred who served in the Second World War.
In addition to Joshua Chamberlain, the Bowdoin Alpha Delta Phi has initiated many members who would go on to prominent roles in the Bowdoin community. Geoffrey Robert Stanwood ’38 founded the Bowdoin a capella group the Meddiebempsters and was an advisor to several college presidents. Daniel L. Dayton ’49 was a great friend of the college and its hockey team and, after his death; the college hockey arena was renamed in his honor. Roger Howell Jr. ’58, a beloved professor and Bowdoin’s tenth president, was the first American to teach British history at Oxford.
The late sixties and early seventies were a tumultuous time for the nation, and Bowdoin and the Alpha Delta Phi were not spared from the unrest. In 1971, the Bowdoin Chapter was shut down; official sources cite lack of interest and insufficient funds. After four years of dormancy, Peter Emmons ’77 and Larry Halle ’79 and a host of alumni reopened the Bowdoin Chapter as a coeducational fraternity. By 1991, the Alpha Delta Phi International included five coeducational chapters, yet still refused to admit women as full members of the international organization, despite the fact that women were full members at the local level for all five coed chapters. Because women were barred from holding roles in the parent organization, the Bowdoin Chapter was forced to separate from the International Fraternity.
On August 5, 1992, an agreement was met between the coed and single-sex chapters of the Alpha Delta Phi to separate the International Fraternity into the single-sex Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity and the coeducational Alpha Delta Phi Society. On July 14, 1993, the Bowdoin Chapter applied for membership in the Alpha Delta Phi Society, and was accepted on August 27, 1993, as the first expansion chapter of the Society. Many female members of the Alpha Delta Phi Society prefer to be referred to as “Brothers” but this preference is not universal. Among other reasons, most cite that the term “Brother” indicates that the individual has all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities as every other member, regardless of gender, and emphasizes that female members are not “little sisters” like those found at all-male fraternities.
In the 1990s, Alpha Delta Phi stood out among all the fraternities at Bowdoin. The level of alumni-undergraduate interaction was unparalleled anywhere else on campus. We continued in the tradition of the Literary Society founded in 1832 by Samuel Eells. Literature and the pursuits of the mind – morally, socially, and intellectually – could be found in every aspect of the chapter. Our organization continued to help the community, whether through volunteering at Habitat for Humanity or helping sponsor the American Heart Association walk to fight heart disease. In November 1997, the President of Bowdoin College, Robert Edwards, stated that AD stood alone as what he hoped all fraternities at Bowdoin would become — a residence that brings academics into the social life of the College.
In February of 1997, the Bowdoin College Board of Trustees voted to close all fraternities and to ban students from joining any “self-selecting, self-perpetuating” organizations. In place of the fraternity system, the college created residential social organizations to which students are assigned. The college frequently claimed that AD is the model upon which it based the new houses; sadly, the college has neither made room for this “model house” to persist nor sought any input from the Alpha Delta Phi undergraduate or alumni board as to how the college might replicate AD’s success.
Now, as Bowdoin College attempts to redefine its residential life system and the interdependence of students’ intellectual and social lives, Alpha Delta Phi stands out as an example of how, over one hundred and sixty years, an association, with a true philosophical spirit, looking to the entire humanity of the student, can develop his or her being- moral, social, and intellectual. Samuel Eells would expect no less.
– Prepared by Thomas McKessey Clark ’99