Sigma Nu’s past is a proud and colorful one. Founded by three cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in a period of civil strife known as the Reconstruction, Sigma Nu represented a radical departure from the times. The system of physical abuse and hazing of underclassmen at VMI led to James Frank Hopkins, Greenfield Quarles, and James McIlvaine Riley to form the “Legion of Honor” which soon became Sigma Nu Fraternity. So, amidst a backdrop of turmoil, North America’s first “Honor” fraternity was established.
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 birth-date of Sigma Nu.
The Fraternity’s spiritual birth, however, actually occurred 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 affection 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 organization kept its original name secret but was recognized publicly as Sigma Nu Fraternity. It was soon to win the respect of all.