Fraternity of Alpha Zeta

Alpha Zeta is a professional organization of men and women whose educational and career objectives fall within the broadly defined field of agriculture and natural resources. Founded at The Ohio State University on November 4, 1897, it is the oldest fraternal society in agriculture.


Alpha Zeta is the professional agricultural and natural resources organization dedicated to the highest levels of scholarship, leadership, integrity and service.


Alpha Zeta is a global network of diverse agricultural and natural resources professionals recognizing, developing and promoting leaders with common values and integrity.

History of Alpha Zeta

The Fraternity of Alpha Zeta was founded on November 4, 1897, at The Ohio State University by Charles W. Burkett and John F. Cunningham.

Brothers Burkett and Cunningham were roommates while studying in the College of Agriculture at Ohio State. They realized the need for fellowship among students dedicated to the cause of agriculture. Agricultural education was of little significance at the University. Similarly, there was little regard for the few students enrolled in agriculture. They needed an organized way to promote agriculture openly and cooperatively and to gain respect for themselves.

Three years passed between the first planning and the actual organization of the Fraternity. In June 1897, Brother Burkett and Brother Cunningham took the following oath, “The Fraternity of Alpha Zeta begins its work. Its spirit will be: To give, not to receive; to serve, not ourselves only, but the agricultural body, the whole cause of higher education, and in every way possible all people engaged in the profession of agriculture. May the Fraternity live forever.”

Ten other men were included in the planning process. These 12 men became the charter members of the first, and therefore the oldest, agricultural fraternity in America. Members who, along with Burkett and Cunningham, made up the charter group of the first chapter were: Arthur G. Abbott, Carl J. Miller, Vernon H. Davis, Leonard C. Warden, Clarence Clawson, Donnelley H. Duncan, Charles B. Stewart, Oscar Erf, Arthur G. McCall, and Marion Imes. In Brother Burkett’s words, “Alpha Zeta was to be a professional fraternity- to foster leadership in the college of agriculture, to promote scholarship, to choose manly, personable young men of high character and integrity and unite them into an elite body with a fraternity bond encircling them. It was not a body to show favor but to serve; it was not a body to give honor to anyone but one where its members could be of help to others. In other words, it was not intended as an honorary fraternity, but a fraternity to help all, in its reach, in the cause of agriculture.” Burkett and Cunningham were not only dedicated, devoted and determined men, who were proud of their places in agriculture, but they were also men of vision who took an active role in the Fraternity’s development.

Alpha Zeta was an all white male organization for the first 55 years of its existence. A proposal was made that the word “white” be stricken from the constitution at the 1940 Conclave, but it would be another 12 years before this amendment was passed. The issue of deleting the word “white” was brought up at each conclave from 1940 to 1952. Finally, a committee of Alpha Zeta Alumni was appointed to investigate and report on the segregation issue. The committee found sentiment strongly in favor of amending the constitution to eliminate any restriction based on race or color. The 1950 Conclave approved the report and agreed to amend “white” to “any male student.” Thus with long, careful and serious consideration, the amendment was made final as to details at the 1952 Conclave.

The next issue to face the Fraternity was the admission of women. The issue was first presented at the 1952 Conclave, but the proposal to admit women was defeated by a tie vote of 24 to 24. At the time, women in agriculture were awarded recognition certificates for their activities, scholarship or contributions to the college. In 1972, the word “male” was stricken from the constitution, and chapters were allowed to initiate women.

The purpose of the Fraternity is to promote agriculture in its broad concept while encouraging and developing its actual and potential leadership. It is felt that recognition of these ideals would serve to inspire greater achievement by agricultural students and would also serve to motivate members to greater service in the advancement of agriculture after college work has been completed. Fellowship, service and a spirit of love and fraternity are involved. Thus, members down through the years have found recognition and satisfaction in becoming part of the Fraternity of Alpha Zeta.