50. Phi Beta Delta: Oldest of Them All?

Sometimes when people are discussing honorary Greek societies such as Phi Beta Delta, you will hear them referring to them as "learned societies". Phi Bea Delta is a special kind of learned society, but it does belong to that broad class of academic and scholarly organizations that fall under the description of learned societies.

One debate when scholars get together is over which of these societies is the oldest. The American Historical Association was established in 1884, but the Modern Language Association began a year earlier in 1883. The American Philological Association trumps that as it was founded in 1869, and the American Oriental Society was organized in 1842. The arguments over which is the oldest are complicated by other societies that pre-existed the formal founding of many of the major present day ones and were merged into them.

However, there is no question but that Greek honor societies are far older still. They all can at least date their family tree from the establishment of the first chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, on December 5, 1776. Since the majority of the founders of that first chapter were freemasons, an even earlier origin can be claimed, although that is somewhat tenuous. In any event, Greek honor societies certainly have a history of more than two centuries. So Phi Beta Delta has an impressive genealogy.

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