Sigma Alpha Epsilon

Click here to view it larger. (The other pictures below can be enlarged by clicking on them directly.)

I recently bought an inexpensive “lot” of Cartes de Visite (CDVs) online, which arrived today. The seller is from Georgia, and most of the CDVs are from Georgia and other parts of the South, but they were otherwise presented as a random assortment. So I was surprised to find that three of them show young men wearing what appear to be matching pins. The back side of the picture on the left says, “Your bro. S.A.E., J. H. Armstrong”

I googled a bit, and realized that S.A.E. could mean the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (which, incidentally, I learned was founded in Alabama in 1856, and is the only fraternity in operation today that was founded in the antebellum South). Digging further, I found this document which lists a J. H. Armstrong as having co-founded the chapter of this fraternity at the College of Charleston in South Carolina in 1881. Same guy? Then there’s the picture on the right. The handwritten inscription on the bottom seems to read “In EAE bonds, Charlie B [something]”. Then I realized that first “E” in “EAE” is actually the symbol Sigma. The back of his photo shows it was taken in Athens, Georgia. The middle photo has no information front or back, but the pin seems to match. So I googled Sigma Alpha Epsilon pins, and found this one (which I shamelessly swiped from a Facebook group of SAE badge collectors, of all things), which was identified as being circa 1885-1890.

It seems to match the ones these guys are wearing. So I felt like the pieces were falling into place, and that these are fraternity brothers from S.A.E, probably around the late 1880s. I’d be happy if anybody has any other thoughts on that, or information pro or con. Did these guys know each other, or have some personal connection beyond their fraternity? If not, it would seem to be a remarkable coincidence that these three photos showed up together today. By the way, here is the back of the one on the right.

The photographer, C. W. Motes of Athens, GA, lists himself as a dealer in, among other things, “picture cord and tassels”, which I had to look up. They are a decorative way of hanging picture frames.

6 comments on “Sigma Alpha Epsilon”

  1. If you ever get on Instagram, these are perfect for the “Hot Victorians” page.

    • Thanks. That reminds me, I think it’s interesting the way we all persist in using “Victorian” (and, to a lesser extent, “Edwardian”) when those are monarchs of a different country.

  2. Great detective work.

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