The Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity in Kentucky
What was called "Kentucky Chi" chapter, the newest SAE chapter in the commonwealth, had been chartered less than a year when the War Between The States broke out. John B. Kent and a chapter of merry-hearted young lads from all over the south had joined the fraternity. Less than 1000 feet from campus was the home of the Pattie family, long respected residents of the county. Lucy Pattie lived there with her parents and her brother, Coleman, who would become an SAE in the future.
John B. Kent and his best buddy, Ben Marston, were devoted to Kentucky Chi chapter. Kent was several years older than Miss Lucy, but he was very fond of her and loved to talk to her about his fraternity. She thought he was the charming prince out of a storybook. Then the war came. The chapter became widely scattered as its members traveled all over the country to enlist. Kent and Marston were the last to leave, and Kent was charged with the duty of managing the affairs of the chapter. The rituals and constitution had to be protected. He entrusted the secret papers of SAE fraternity to Miss Lucy, knowing she would take great care in sealing and waterproofing them and then keeping them in hiding until after the war. Here's the quote from John B. Kent: "Keep them Lucy, till I come back, but if I never come again give them to no one unless he can give you this grip of the hand." So that's how Lucy came to learn the secret handshake, the grip of SAE.
Well, we didn't have the internet back then, so the news was always late and its accuracy was often in question. Two years had passed, and then Lucy received word that Kent had died during the charge at Shiloh. No word was received about Marston. When the war ended, a Major Robert Allen came to the farm house to see Lucy. He told her he had come for the papers entrusted to her by John B. Kent so he could reestablish Kentucky Chi chapter. There was a huge problem. Major Allen didn't know the secret handshake, and Lucy sent him packing. Negotiations went on for days. Then one of the previously initiated members who had survived the war, Albert McMahan, returned to school. He laid the grip on Miss Lucy, and Kentucky Chi chapter again became an integral part of the fraternity.
Lucy had done such a great job preserving the records and the short history of the chapter, that the chapter actually made her a member. From that day forward, Lucy would be "The Belle" of Kentucky Chi chapter. Major Allen then had her admitted to the college, a rare feat in the 1860s when coeducation was not popular anywhere, especially in Kentucky. So she would not be totally alone, Major Allen also admitted Lucy's good friend, Helen Carmer, to the school.
In 1919 Lucy was found working in Frankfort at the state capitol. SAE's Supreme Recorder, William C. Levere, paid a visit to the fraternity's only female member in history. She remembered the grip and laid it on him. He gave her a badge that was a replica of the badge the founding members of SAE wore at the first chapter at Alabama in 1856. She wore it every day until her passing on November 14, 1922.
At the time this particular history book was written, Lucy had been the only initiated female member of any fraternity in the country. Kentucky Chi chapter was number fifteen: chartered in 1860, and declared inactive in 1887. It's home: The Kentucky Military Institute at Farmdale.
(Parts of this story were taken verbatim from the SAE history book. I am most appreciative of SAE giving KMI a place in its written history, as it adds one more dimension to how cadet life was perceived around the time of the Civil War.)
Undated and unidentified composite photograph of the members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity
at Kentucky Military Institute.
Centre College Digital Archives
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