Thomas Cowan Bell

Founder Thomas Cowan Bell, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, was born near Dayton, Ohio, and was 23 years old at the time of Sigma Chi's founding. His rooming place in Oxford, Ohio, with his aunt, Mrs. Lizzie Davis, became informally known as “the first chapter home of Sigma Chi.” All of the members of the Alpha Chapter either moved into the house or into the immediate neighborhood and all ate at her well-furnished table.

Bell is best remembered for his exemplification of the qualities of learning and friendship. He instilled an atmosphere of friendship in the Fraternity and had, according to Founder Benjamin Piatt Runkle, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857, “an expression on his face that made one instinctively reach for his hand. He was one of the kindly and lovable sort, and came into the Sigma Chi movement naturally. He was good hearted, believed in securing the good things of life and immediately dividing the same with his companions. He was as full of enthusiasm as a crusader. Naturally, he was a leader and teacher of men. He was ambitious, but in no way disposed to push his aspirations at the expense of his fellows. He and Founder Daniel William Cooper, MIAMI (OHIO) 1857 in thought and sympathy and in the deep foundations of their being, were much the same sort of men, though in outward expression of the inward character they differed widely.”

Graduating in 1857, he started on his life's work of teaching. At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, he enlisted in the Union Army, where he won a commission and received high commendation at the Battle of Murfreesboro. He rose to lieutenant colonel, although he preferred to be called “Major Bell.”

Following the war, he returned to a career in education. He served as superintendent of schools in Nobles County, Minn.; county recorder of deeds and editor/publisher of a local newspaper; and as principal and president of several preparatory and collegiate institutions in the western United States.

He entered the Chapter Eternal in 1919, the day after attending a Sigma Chi Initiation at Alpha Beta Chapter at the University of California-Berkeley.

Bell is buried in the Presidio in San Francisco, where, in 1933, the Fraternity dedicated the final Founders' memorial monument to him.