Some scholars believe college fraternities were inspired by ancient Greeks who met in secret to discuss what were viewed as radical ideas. Others believe the ancient Greek model for these societies was taken from secret societies in Africa that pre-date Plato or Socrates. Most agree there is a direct link between fraternities and the Free Masons.

When colleges and universities were first started, the schools were very restrictive. As a result, different types of organizations were formed to create an avenue for discussion, thought, and social activities. After a few years, these literary societies formed organized structures, elected officers, and had their own secret colors, symbols, and mottoes. A few of these societies later became social fraternities. One of these secret societies was the Secret Literary Society where radical views among students were expressed in private because the colleges/universities prohibited students to discuss anything other than prescribed work. These socities were secret and each had its own color, motto, badge, etc. The last of these social societies founded was the Secret College Fraternity. The purpose of these early fraternities was similar to those of the early literary societies. At this time, many literary societies had become influenced by faculty control, and the formation of secret fraternities was to avoid all together any outside control of their activities.

The first secret college society was The Flat Hat Club 1750-very similar to literary societies except incorporated social activities as a part of its intended purpose. Thomas Jefferson was a member. Since 1772, there has been no record of the Flat Hat Club being in existence. In 1751 the P.D.A. Society, the first society to use letters of its motto as the name of society, was formed. Members had little regard for scholarship; they preferred social aspects of college fraternities. This society also refused to admit anyone who considered themselves a “Greek” scholar. An offended “Hellenist” then organized his own secret society, and thus started the trend for Greek-lettered organizations. The first Greek-lettered society was Phi Beta Kappa. It was founded in 1776 with many connections to Masonry including; documented membership of Phi Beta Kappas in lodge, and practice of chartering new chapters in other locations which many believe was taken directly from Masonry.

Fraternities were typically White male (usually Christian) organizations. In 1906 the first “Black Fraternity,” Alpha Phi Alpha was founded at Cornell University providing African-American males the same opportunities for networking and brotherhood that were not available to them from other such organizations. In 1975, the first “Latino” fraternity, Lambda Theta Phi was founded at Kean University. Although none of these organizations discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, creed or policy they have remained predominantly homogeneous.