Although Sigma Nu Fraternity began in October 1868 as the Legion of Honor, its existence was kept secret until the founders publicly announced their new society on the first day of January 1869, the accepted birthdate of Sigma Nu. What a New Year’s celebration it must have been for cadets who could not go home for the holidays! In those days the Institute did not close for “breaks” as we know them. It suspended classes only for the day on such occasions as Christmas and New Year’s.
The Fraternity’s spiritual birth, however, actually occured in 1866, the year the Founders entered VMI, when Frank Hopkins first rebelled against hazing at the Institute. Still, the Founders did not create Sigma Nu with any feeling of animosity toward others; rather they were prompted by the impulses of sympathy and affecton for all people which underlie abiding peace and contentment. They had experienced enough hate and destruction during and after the War. They wanted to end all abuses, and they knew it would not come easily. It was never an issue of who won or lost the War. It was only an issue of winning the peace.
The Legion of Honor society in its first year assumed the outward aspects of a college Greek-letter organization. The organizaton kept its original name secret but was recognized publicly as Sigma Nu Fraternity. It was soon to win the respect of all.
The new Fraternity needed an identifying symbol, and Founder Hopkins designed a Badge for the members to wear on their uniforms. That Badge was patterned after the White Cross of the French Legion of Honor, which was worn on the uniform of a favorite professor of Hopkins. The Badge was first introduced in the spring of 1869. Keeping with the Founders’ decree, the Badge has remained unchanged ever since, except in size and the raised center. Even today, the collegiate Commander’s Badge, and the Badge of the Grand Officers remain identical to Hopkins’ original Badge. When the first slate of officers was chosen, Riley, the most popular, was elected Commander and Hopkins the Lieutenant Commander. Typically, Hopkins, the epitome of humbleness, was delighted that “Mac” Riley was chosen leader. It gave Hopkins “the doer,” thinker, planner, along with Quarles who had similar talent, more of an opportunity to concentrate on solidifying Chapter I before he graduated in 1870. By the 1869 commencement, the group had grown to fifty-one members.