The first years
In the fall of 1919, William A. Scroggs approached Oklahoma A&M Director of Bands Bohumil Makovsky with an idea for a national organization to form closer ties between the bandsmen of the country’s universities. Professor Makovsky saw the great potential for such an organization and recommended the top 10 bandsmen to form it.
After its founding, the charter members worked to spread excitement for the organization first on campus and then nationally. They mailed informational letters to 10 universities and received back five letters of interest. In the fall of 1920, Montana State University and the University of Washington were the first to send petitioning documents, becoming the Beta and Gamma chapters in December 1920.
With steady growth, preparations were made to host the first National Meeting of Kappa Kappa Psi at Oklahoma A&M in January 1922. Shortly after the close of the convention, the organization offered membership to John Philip Sousa. He enthusiastically responded, saying, “Brothers, I have received medals and honors from every civilized country, but I feel this honor above all, due to the fact that this was given me by a group of university bandsmen who are furthering the great work that I have dedicated my whole life to.” Though voted on as a national honorary, Sousa’s membership was assigned to the Delta chapter.
The movement grows
Kappa Kappa Psi grew rapidly during its first 10 years, with 27 chapters that spanned from Duke University in the east to the University of Washington in the west. The petitioning document was very important in the early days of the fraternity because it was mailed to each chapter as a way to introduce a new colony to the national organization. Each chapter would then vote on whether or not to accept the colony to the fraternity.
At the 1927 National Convention, Grand President J. Lee Burke presided and helped to stabilize the constitutional framework and administrative structure of Kappa Kappa Psi. He brought the young organization its first set of comprehensive bylaws and parliamentary procedures. Additionally, he created the office of National Executive Secretary.
Fortunately, the National Organization left that convention on good footing as growth slowed during the Great Depression and almost ground to a halt during World War II.
World War II
Before World War II, most college bands were exclusively male. When the war began, band members left to serve in the armed forces. This greatly strained the fraternity to the point that 90 percent of chapters were forced to suspend activities. The national organization granted those chapters a “war furlough.” Instead of treating the chapter as inactive, their military service would be honored. Only five chapters remained active during the war.
Because of the diminished numbers due to the number of men serving in the military, many band programs opened up to women. At Texas Tech, a local sorority for bands women was established as Tau Beta Sigma. The sorority petitioned Kappa Kappa Psi to be chartered as an auxiliary chapter of the fraternity, which was supported by founder A. Frank Martin, who was serving as National Executive Secretary, and Max Mitchell, Grand Second Vice President. However, due to the severely reduced numbers of members, the fraternity was unable to decide whether or not to accept Tau Beta Sigma’s petition.
Ultimately, Tau Beta Sigma decided not to become an auxiliary chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi and chartered as a national organization on March 26, 1946. They were officially recognized and accepted as a sister organization of the fraternity at the first national convention following the war in 1947.
After the war, the fraternity began an ambitious expansion program to reactivate old chapters and install new ones. The program was quite successful. In the 10 years following the fraternity’s reorganization in 1947, the fraternity more than doubled the number of installed chapters, growing from 45 chapters installed before the war to 98 by the end of 1957.
In 1947, the signature program of the fraternity, the National Intercollegiate Band, became a reality. The idea dates back to 1922, with the following statement appearing in The Baton:
“Sometime within the next two years the Kappa Kappa Psi Fraternity will hold a National Intercollegiate Band Contest. This enterprise will be the first of its kind ever attempted. As Music is becoming the foremost Art in America, our Fraternity aims to assist in so spreading the good work.”
Starting In the 1930s, local chapters of Kappa Kappa Psi in Colorado and Wyoming sponsored a regional Intercollegiate Band, with F. Lee Bowling serving as manager. When Mr. Bowling served as National President in 1941, he presented a plan to hold an NIB concert at the 1943 National Convention. However, the war prevented it. The first concert of the NIB was held on March 7, 1947 and has been a part of every national convention since.
The Fraternity Turns 50
From August 17-22, 1969, brothers gathered “Where It All Began,” at Oklahoma State University to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kappa Kappa Psi. Five of the 10 charter members were present, including William A. Scroggs, A. Frank Martin, Carl Stevens, George (Ashur) Hendrickson and Ira H. Nelson. Additionally, a bronze bust of Bohumil Makovsky was presented to the Oklahoma State University School of Music. More than 500 brothers and sisters participated in the five-day event. During the convention, a financial scandal was shared with the delegation. This issue left both organizations on shaky footing. To help ensure the organizations’ future, many past national leaders committed funds to secure both organizations’ finances.
Building the modern fraternity
Prior to World War II, the national constitution stated that only white males could be members. With many organizations, including the military, integrating after the war, the fraternity followed suit and the language was changed in 1947. In May 1957, the first chapters were established at historically black universities. In May, the fraternity chartered the Delta Alpha chapter at Langston University and the Gamma Omega chapter at Texas Southern University. Today, there are over 25 chapters at historically black colleges and universities.
Title IX and Women in the Fraternity
In 1972, Title IX, which prevented organizations from excluding members based on gender, was enacted and had tremendous repercussions for women’s rights. Although social fraternities were exempt from the law, Kappa Kappa Psi, as a recognition society, fell under its purview. At the 1973 national convention, the issues presented by Title IX were discussed. The jurisdiction committee considered several options that would bring the fraternity into compliance, but the delegation was not receptive of the general idea. Ultimately, an amendment was proposed and approved that changed the national constitution’s wording to say, “All active, alumni, inactive, and life members of the Fraternity be of the male sex.” This amendment was worded so that fraternity could initiate women as honorary members
During the 1973–1975 biennium, institutions put pressure on chapters to comply with Title IX, so the issue was brought up at the 1975 national convention. A joint committee consisting of an equal number of members from Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma was formed to explore the legal possibilities of a corporate merger of the two organizations. At the 1977 national convention, the committee shared its results and a vote for merger was cast by both delegations. Ultimately, while the idea of a merger was soundly defeated, the fraternity’s delegation voted to remove all references to gender from the constitution, allowing women to become active members in full and regular standing.
The first women to join the fraternity were sisters of the Sigma chapter at Arizona State University, who merged with the Beta Omicron chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi after a unanimous vote of both organizations.
The National Headquarters at Stillwater Station
For many years, the organizations’ headquarters were in the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University. In November 1991, five Stillwater residents, including three Alpha chapter alumni, purchased the Stillwater Santa Fe Depot. This group approached the national organization, which was already looking for a new place for headquarters, and sold the station to the fraternity and sorority. Today, the organizations share office space, a conference room, and storage space in the converted station, which also hosts the organizations’ archives. The brick path leading to the building’s entrance has become a “Walk of Fame” with engraved bricks purchased by individuals or chapters.
Chapter Field Representative Program
The National Chapter Field Representative Program began in 1992 to provide a direct and vital link between chapters and the national organization. In 2006, the program was expanded to two representatives to accommodate growth. The CFRs are each hired for a two-year term. The CFRs are the principal point of contact with all chapters with the national council. They travel around the nation to conduct field visits with chapters and serve as a vital member of the headquarters staff.