There are approximately 77 Fraternity and Sorority houses on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. These historic houses have played an important role in the cultural and social aspects of the University of Illinois and higher education in America over many years. Many of the Greek Houses are included on a National Register of Historic Places nomination in a multiple property documentation form for their importance (PDF available below). In 1928, the University of Illinois had the largest number of Greek chapters in the nation, a title it still holds today. During this time, Greek Letter Societies were the predominant form of organized student housing on the campus. The Greek influence reflected America’s widespread interest in classical culture, which had been expressed in nineteenth century American architecture, literature, philosophy, and art.
The first Greek Letter Society that appeared on the University of Illinois campus was the Upsilon Prime chapter of Delta Tau Delta in 1872. Initially, college and university administrators resisted Greek Letter Societies, seeing them as a challenge to their established authority. Many colleges and universities banned them. Many bans were enacted to stop the formation of these Societies; however, many persevered at the University of Illinois despite the bans. However, by 1893, Greek Letter Societies had become widely accepted and chapter numbers, especially at the University of Illinois, were rapidly increasing. By 1930 there were 107 national Greek Letter Societies on the U of I campus.
Initially, Greek Letter Societies did not have chapter houses; instead they rented rooms for meetings and events. However, housing at Universities was limited and Greek Letter Societies began providing room and board for their members. The houses provided students with increased freedom, responsibility, and opportunities for social interaction. Moreover, the building of individual chapter houses was seen as an opportunity to further educate students by exposing them to the civilizing effects of classical design elements.
The first wave of Greek house construction at the University of Illinois was from 1906 to 1917. Many of U of I’s Greek houses were designed by local architecture firms such as Rapp & Rapp and Van Doren Shaw in the architectural revival fashions of the time including Tudor Revival, Georgian Revival, Classical Revival, Gothic Revival, Colonial Revival, and the like. The first houses constructed were Sigma Chi in 1909 at 410 East John, Kappa Sigma in 1911 at 212 East Daniel, Phi Kappa Psi in 1908 at 911 South Fourth, and Phi Gamma Delta in 1911 at 401 East John. There was a second wave of building after World War I driven by housing shortages This building boom prompted the 1931 publishing of “Designing and Building the Chapter House” a book which was intended to help chapters develop an appropriate design for their houses. In 1929, approximately 35% of male and female students lived in Greek Society houses.
Most of the Greek Houses on the University of Illinois campus were constructed before 1940. Styles varied widely, but tended to reflect the architectural preferences of the time. Many Greek Houses were built by well-known local architects. Their large size provided an opportunity for designers to explore and express the dignity and order for which the Greek Letter Societies symbolized. These Greek organizations became identifiers that were symbolic of the prestige of obtaining a college education. Across the nation, the Greek movement had a profound effect on patterns of American collegiate life, which was embodied in the architecture of these organizations.