The History of Constitution Day

Every year, Americans celebrate the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1787 by recognizing this important day in history on September 17th. Phi Kappa Psi chose to use the same day to recognize a similarly important day in our Fraternity's history. Nearly a century after the United States drafted its first set of governing documents, Phi Kappa Psi did the same...

Constitution Day is recognized within the Fraternity each year on September 17th to celebrate the founding of the Fraternity's modern governing document. Adopted at the 1886 Grand Arch Council in Indianapolis, the Constitution of Phi Kappa Psi provided a more formal foundation of leadership, laying the foundation for what would become the modern undergraduate controlled structure of today. This undergraduate leadership makes Phi Psi unique in the interfraternal world. The Constitution established the day-to-day control of the Executive Council, with a majority of the vote now controlled by the undergraduate Archons, elected by each District. The Constitution brought more alumni involvement back into the Fraternity, without jeopardizing the control of the undergraduates. Prior to a Constitution, the Fraternity was governed by a Grand Chapter, where an individual chapter on a college campus oversaw the governing of the national organization. An ever-evolving document, many of the same rules established in the Phi Kappa Psi Constitution 129 years ago still control how Phi Kappa Psi does business today.

To help unite brothers around the country, this day was honored by members of Phi Kappa Psi wearing their badges with pride.

2011 Phi Psi Constitution Day.JPG

 The entire Letterman family badge collection, on display on September 17, 2011 in honor of Phi Kappa Psi Constitution Day. Gordon Letterman (West Virginia '72) assembled the badges on this page of his great-grandfather's (Phi Kappa Psi founder William Henry Letterman) diary - September 17, 1871!

To help one better understand how and why this new observance came about, Phi Kappa Psi's national Historian, Mike McCoy Indiana '55 asked the following questions of our President who presided at the first two Constitution Days (2002 & 2003) , John V. Ciccarelli Cal State Northridge '72.

Q: Why do we observe Constitution Day?

Phi Kappa Psi Constitution Day was adopted on Feb. 19, 2002, at the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity Sesquicentennial Anniversary Executive Council meeting in Pittsburgh, Pa. It was created to annually honor the September 17th birthday of Brother William Clayton Wilson Allegheny 1879, who was the author of the Phi Kappa Psi Constitution, which was adopted at the 1886 Grand Arch Council.

Then-President SWGP Steven Nieslawski (who served from 2000-2002) presented the idea for a new Phi Psi calendar holiday to the Executive Council at said meeting and the motion was unanimously approved.

Q: What are your memories of and role in the first Constitution Day?

Following the August 2002 Grand Arch Council and election as Fraternity SWGP, I contacted the heirs of the William Clayton Wilson family who included the three granddaughters and the 90-year old son and Phi Psi legacy William Clayton Wilson, Jr. Allegheny '34, who all resided in North Carolina. On September 15, 2002, District IV Archon Keith Tingley East Carolina '98; N.C. Beta President Mike Milote East Carolina '99; and consultant Robert Smith East Carolina '96, all joined with members of the Wilson Family for a Sunday afternoon brunch.

Copies of the Phi Kappa Psi Centennial History, Fraternity Manual, and a special Phi Kappa Psi Constitution Day proclamation of the Executive Council were presented to the Wilson family who were very honored to have their family descendant recognized for his contribution to our Fraternity.

A day later I flew to Cleveland, Ohio, as a house guest of Asst. Deputy Attorney General (now current national President) Jim Miller Ohio State '85, who drove and escorted me on a beautiful fall drive to Meadville, Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Beta Chapter home of William Clayton Wilson at Allegheny College. On the evening of September 17, the Pennsylvania Beta Chapter hosted the inaugural Constitution Day observance in a celebratory banquet at the Allegheny Country Club in honor of Brother Wilson and of the newest Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity calendar holiday.

Q: Why is Phi Kappa Psi Constitution Day important?

The annual observance of the Phi Kappa Psi Constitution Day calendar holiday is important for many good reasons. It helps provide an important historical connection in recognition of now the 126th year anniversary adoption of the Phi Kappa Psi Constitution of 1886 that has served for over 12 decades as our unique guiding form of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity governance. The hallmark of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity Constitution is in the fact of both undergraduate and alumni participation of our Executive Council and Grand Arch Council biennial form of organization government.

It is important to note that at the time of 1886, the original form of fraternity organization oversight was vested in the Grand Chapter form of government by which one chapter was responsible for overall decision making of the entire Fraternity. The Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity had grown to the point in the near onset of the 20th century by which the Grand Chapter model of government oversight became too unwieldy and responsive to meet the needs of a growing national fraternity organization.

The contribution of author William Clayton Wilson was hailed in 1886 as a major milestone and is recognized today by which the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity has grown and prospered. The Phi Psi Constitution's undergraduate role of District Archons has helped to insure undergraduate representation at the highest decision making level and enable the organization to build many fraternal and society leaders, thus promoting the lifelong mission of Phi Kappa Psi.

The Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity Constitution is not only a set of governance documents but should serve as an important reminder of our responsibilities as undergraduates and alumni brothers to work together on all levels of our Fraternity for the common good in perpetuating the highest ideals of our Founders and of our collective purpose. The annual September 17th observance of Phi Kappa Psi Constitution Day is an important reminder of this inherent legacy.

*This article was originally created in 2012 and has been edited for 2015 to reflect date changes.