The history of Eastern Kentucky University begins with the 1874 opening of Central University in Richmond, Kentucky. As at VMI in Lexington, Virginia, the ramifications of the Civil War were creating many rifts in the community. At Centre College in Danville, Kentucky a faction of the Presbyterian leaders broke away from the parent college and founded Central University. The Sigma Nu history for EKU begins shortly thereafter.
Central University had been hostile to fraternities and remained so until 1883 when a ban was lifted and several groups petitioned for charter. Among that group was a band of future Sigma Nus and on May 1st, 1883, Walther Lee Northcutt of Washington & Lee opened the Zeta chapter of Sigma Nu Fraternity. In just the second year of the Zeta chapter’s existence, the chapter pledged a young man named Clarence Woods of Lebanon, Kentucky. At this point, the story of Sigma Nu and Central University becomes Clarence Woods’ story.
Woods had been working for the L&M Railroad but decided he wanted to pursue a career in journalism and so he enrolled at Central. During his second semester he found a group of like minded gentlemen who could offer him the opportunity for a great deal of personal service and so he pledged Sigma Nu in 1884. Woods would become Zeta16 and during his membership the Zeta chapter established itself as a leader in the ranks of Sigma Nu. In 1886, the brothers moved into the first fraternity lodge in the state and his chapter brothers rewarded his service with a beautiful jeweled badge that now sits in the museum at national headquarters. Clarence Woods graduated in June 1886 and he was immediately assigned publicity for the second National Convention in Lexington, Kentucky.
Woods worked for a newspaper in his hometown for roughly a year before returning to his alma mater as editor of the Richmond Register. Upon his return he found the Zeta chapter in dire straits as a fire had destroyed most of the files and membership was at an all time low. Woods immediately went into action and asked for help in the next issue of the Delta. His efforts were a success and by 1889 the struggling chapter was revived. Woods service to the fraternity continued as he accepted the position of Division 3 Inspector over chapters in Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1894 Woods accepted the position of Grand Recorder and Editor of the Delta while somehow maintaining his position at the Register.
As Grand Recorder and Delta Editor, Clarence Woods pursued a vigorous 19-year growth plan that earned him the nickname “Rapid Expansionist.” In all, 40 chapters were added during Woods tenure where he was said to always be “Building, strengthening, reviving, adding, solidifiying…” His record for continuous service to the fraternity serves as a source of inspiration. Founder James F. Hopkins referred to him as “the noblest Greek of them all” and went on to say that “he did more for Sigma Nu Fraternity than any man living or dead.”
However, Woods was presented with a dilemma when Central University merged with Centre College in 1901. Many fraternities at Central were transferring to Centre College but Woods felt that Zeta should close her doors forever. He once wrote that “The colors of our fraternity will have struck only when the parent institution ceases to exist” and for Woods, Central had ceased to exist and so in 1901 the Zeta chapter closed for eternity. However, Woods was presented with a dilemma when Central University merged with Centre College in 1901. Many fraternities at Central were transferring to Centre College but Woods felt that Zeta should close her doors forever. He once wrote that “The colors of our fraternity will have struck only when the parent institution ceases to exist” and for Woods, Central had ceased to exist and so in 1901 the Zeta chapter closed for eternity.
But as Woods was closing Central and the Zeta chapter, he was laying the ground work for what would become Eastern Kentucky University. As Mayor of Richmond, Woods worked with a team of individuals to give the Central campus to the state of Kentucky, free of charge. The campus became Eastern Kentucky State Normal School in 1906.
Woods would sever his ties and move to Florida before retiring from fraternity service in 1920 at the age of 55. He donated his famous jeweled badge to the national headquarters. On February 28th, 1940, Clarence Woods joined the founders in Chapter Eternal. At the 33rd Grand Chapter, Woods was inducted into the Hall of Honor alongside the founders and other dedicated Alumni.
And now the story of Sigma Nu in Richmond returns to Eastern Kentucky State Normal School. The campus in Richmond would undergo many changes before it would again host a Sigma Nu Chapter. The first of these changes was the transition to Eastern Kentucky State Normal School and Teachers College in 1922. This transition marked the first of many that would lead to Eastern Kentucky University. In 1935 the Normal School and Teachers College would become Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College before becoming simply Eastern Kentucky State College. Finally, under President Robert Martin, the campus became Eastern Kentucky University in 1965.
The story of Sigma Nu continues under President Martin with the foundation of Sigma Chi Delta local service fraternity in December of 1963. Founded on the principles of service, character and duty, Sigma Chi Delta was the first male service organization on campus. Re-chartered in 1966 to become the campus’ first local social fraternity, Sigma Chi Delta began to pursue a national affiliation in 1968. Later that year, the chapter became an official colony of Sigma Nu and would receive a charter in 1970. With the designation of Theta Theta, the new Sigma Nu Chapter would become known for campus leadership and would initiate over 300 brothers before closing its doors in the early nineties. Now, 120 years after the founding of the Zeta Chapter, 40 years after the founding of Sigma Chi Delta and 33 years after the initial opening of the Theta Theta Chapter, Sigma Nu Fraternity is ready to return to Richmond, Kentucky.