The National Federation of Commons Clubs
Phi Mu Delta traces its roots to the National Federation of Commons Clubs. The Commons Club was founded at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1899. The Commons Club grew to an impressive 19 chapters from Washington state to Maine prior to the formation of Phi Mu Delta. At the 1918 Conclave, held at the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now UMass), Clarence Dexter Pierce and many of his supporters petitioned the assembly for the formation of a Greek letter fraternity. The petition was adopted and the original plan was in favor of all chapters of the Federation to join Phi Mu Delta. However, only four chapters did so: The Universities of Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut, as well as Union College.
The First Years
The formation of the new fraternity met with some early resistance when the alumni of the Union chapter refused to join Phi Mu Delta. So, the Universities of Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut went on to become the founding chapters. Chapter designations were determined by lottery. The Connecticut chapter drew the number one and therefore became the Nu Alpha chapter, New Hampshire drew the number two ticket and became Nu Beta and Vermont became Nu Gamma (the Nu prefix was determined by the location of the chapter, New England Region).
Expansion was conservative with the first new chapter at Northwestern University (Gamma Alpha) in 1921. This was soon followed by chapters at the University of Michigan (Gamma Beta) and M.I.T. (Nu Delta) in 1922. Mu Alpha at Susquehanna University was the first expansion into the Mid-Atlantic Region and Pi Alpha at The University of California, Oakland (now Berkeley), was the first Pacific Region expansion. The end of the 1920s came with two new chapters. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Nu Theta Chapter was formed and a merger with a local fraternity at Penn State, Omega Delta Epsilon, became the Mu Epsilon Chapter in 1930.
Depression and War Years
Both the Depression and World War II hit Phi Mu Delta chapters hard. They merged with Delta Alpha Pi in 1934, acquiring three chapters, but these chapters were short-lived due to the Depression. The University of Vermont chapter closed its doors for 21 years beginning in 1936.
The war was especially tough on Phi Mu Delta. While many PMDs enlisted and fought in the war, their chapters crumbled away. As many as 800 Phi Mu Deltas took part in the war effort, and about 90 made the supreme sacrifice. The last chapter casualty of this period was the Connecticut Chapter, which remains closed.
The Golden Age
Expansion began to take off during the “Golden Age” of fraternities of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Several new chapters were started in New England. Nu Zeta at UMass-Amherst was founded from a local organization known as Zeta Zeta Zeta. The Nu Epsilon Chapter at the University of Maine helped to establish a new chapter at The University of Southern Maine from a very old local called Alpha Lambda Beta. Also, a local Latin letter fraternity, QED, had established itself at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, after a schism in the local Delta Phi chapter. QED approached Phi Mu Delta in 1964 and became the Nu Lambda Chapter. This chapter went on to win several scholarship awards before closing in the mid-’70s due to anti-fraternity legislation. In addition, The Bald Eagle Club at the Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, became the Mu Zeta Chapter. The Sigma Delta Chi fraternity, a young local from Keene State College in New Hampshire became the Nu Omicron Chapter in 1970.
Decline and rebirth
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, fraternity membership began to decline all around the United States, a trend which did not spare Phi Mu Delta. They had begun to prosper in the 1960s and even opened their first National Headquarters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There was a complete professional staff and traveling consultant. However, with the declining membership, it was getting harder and harder to maintain the office. While several new chapters were started in the 1970s, they all died due to a lack of support and membership.
In 1974, another small, financially strapped national, Delta Phi, approached Phi Mu Delta about a merger. Plans were made and both organizations planned to merge under the name, Delta Phi. However, Phi Mu Delta’s crest and colors would be retained. All started well, but due to an impeding lawsuit against Delta Phi, the merger was called off. Instead, a new innovative plan was established. Phi Mu Delta and Delta Phi would remain separate organizations, but share a National Office and pool other resources. In fact, this plan looked so successful, that another small, national organization, Alpha Delta Gamma, entered into the deal. This deal also had its problems when one of the organizations could no longer afford their percentage of the agreement. Phi Mu Delta was on its own again.
In the late 1970s, it appeared that Phi Mu Delta would dissolve. Many alumni and undergraduate members were actually calling for such an action. The chapter at MIT left in 1977 and has continued to exist as a local, Nu Delta, to this very day. However, a group of very young new alumni, led by the more experienced alumnus, Eli Henry, began to rebuild the organization. A new National Office was established in State College, Pennsylvania, when they hired Stewart Howe Alumni Service to run their daily affairs. The Triangle began to be published again and the chapter at the University of Vermont was reestablished.
The 1980s began as a time of rebuilding. Phi Mu Delta rewrote its constitution, re-established the Phi Mu Delta Foundation and began to invest much time in its remaining chapters. The only new chapter of this period was established at California University of Pennsylvania. The Mu Pi Chapter was once a part of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. However, in 1979 the Pi Triton local fraternity separated from Theta Delta Chi and petitioned Phi Mu Delta in 1985.
The 1990s were a great time of growth for Phi Mu Delta. Their chapters were extremely strong and active in their communities. The Nu Beta Chapter at the University of New Hampshire had closed its doors in 1981. In the spring of 1995, the chapter was re-activated and has helped renew PMD’s interest in expansion efforts. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and Lycoming College were added to the fraternity in the late 1990s. In April of 1999, Mu Pi chapter was closed for an inability to maintain viable chapter operations.
A New Millennium
Phi Mu Delta was the first fraternity to form at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, a Penn State affiliate campus, in 2001. The fraternity was invited to colonize at SUNY Plattsburgh. Phi Mu Delta was sought after by a group of men at Frostburg State University and in 2006, the Mu Omicron colony was formed. On April 15, 2009 the Mu Omicron chapter at Frostburg State University became a full chartered member of Phi Mu Delta, and on April 17, 2009 the Mu Alpha chapter was also re-chartered at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. The Nu Theta Eta Colony at New England College was added in April of 2009 and we re-colonized our Founding Chapter at the University of Vermont in October of 2009.
In addition, The National Fraternity implemented the “Vision for Excellence” standards program to ensure that members are living the values of the organization. Phi Mu Delta created an Executive Director position and moved their headquarters to Cherry Hill, NJ.
Phi Mu Delta has maintained that its strength lies in its manageable size and the overwhelming commitment of its alumni. The last thirty years have been slow and steady, but they have come back from near financial disaster to become one of the strongest small national fraternities in the United States.