Historical Articles

An Italian Band of Brothers

As part of the Cultural Heritage Initiative, we are putting together an on-line history of anything written about Alpha Phi Delta. Please reach out to the cultural heritage committee at this link to add to this archive.

A century ago, a handful of Italian American college students came together to create the national Alpha Phi Delta fraternity, which has inducted 22,000 members.

By John Russo, La Nostra Voce

In the early 1900s, diversity was not a word that was tossed around in the newspapers – or anywhere during that period. White men dominated most aspects of America. And not just white men, but white Anglo-Saxon Protestant men. Women would not even get to vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.The Great Arrival in the United States spanned from 1880 to 1920, as more than four million Italian immigrants poured into Ellis Island to find work. In 1924, the government scaled back and limited immigration to 2% of a nationality’s existing residents in America.

Many Italians in America in the early part of the 20th century were immigrants or first-generation Americans who were laborers with little opportunity to attend college. Many were lucky to graduate with an eighth-grade education. Few went to high school and fewer still were able to attend college without financial backing. In 1910, only about 13% of the population finished high school (data for men and women is not available). About 4% attained a college diploma.

Amidst this exclusionary time, a rare lot of olive-skinned men of Italian ethnicity with strange names were struggling to fit in at the collegiate level. Ferdinand DiBartolo, Cesidio Guarini, Anthony Frascati, Dominic Ciolli, Nicholas Frunzi, Otto Gelormini and Joseph Cangiamilia found one another and banded together in 1911 at Syracuse University. They found a professor in the department of Romance Languages who took an interest in them and helped them create an organization named Il Circolo Italiano. Its initial purpose was to bring together lovers of Italian culture. It was the first foreign language club at the school.

As graduation drew closer, the boys wanted to find a way to perpetuate their staunch friendship. On November 5, 1914, they took an oath to become brothers and the Alpha Phi Delta fraternity was born. They soon created other items deemed necessary: a pin, a constitution, a ritual, a coat of arms, a pledge, whistle and handshake, and they elected officers.

Less than a year later, in 1915, a similar group of Italian heritage men at Columbia University in New York City also had started a club, Il Circolo Italiano. Similar cacophonous names of Salvatore LaCorte, Ernest DeMaria, William Liccione and Anthony Pascarella wanted to extend their bond and created the Sigma Gamma Phi fraternity just for Italian students. In a stroke of luck, one of the Syracuse boys transferred to Columbia in 1916 and met this group. He was overjoyed to find a reproduction of the fraternity he had left behind. He became friendly with the new boys and proposed an amalgamation to start a national fraternity for students of Italian heritage. He arranged a meeting of the two groups. While there were heated discussions over which name should become the new national group, the boys from Columbia conceded the issue to the boys from Syracuse for being established earlier. Thus, Alpha Phi Delta National Fraternity was born.

In the coming years, similar college groups were discovered and added to the national fraternity at Yale, Brooklyn Polytechnic, SUNY Buffalo, Rensselaer, City College of New York, Union College, Case Western, Pennsylvania, Cornell, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Carnegie Tech, Boston, MIT, Harvard, Alabama, Penn State and Duquesne – all by 1929. The fraternity had started from a seed at Syracuse in 1914 and grew to 24 universities by the end of the Roaring ‘20s.

​The fraternity since then has grown to over 100 chapters nationwide and has inducted over 22,000 men. For the first 50 years, the fraternity’s inductions were limited to men who had at least one grandparent of Italian descent. In 1965, it was changed to welcome all men while retaining its respect for Italian heritage. It is the only national fraternity of Italian heritage in the American collegiate system.