The Tabard co-educational fraternity at Dartmouth College was originally founded in 1857 as a local fraternity for students in the Chandler Scientific School named Phi Zeta Mu. In 1893, as the Chandler School was absorbed by Dartmouth College, the house sought to associate itself with a national fraternity and was granted a charter as the Eta Eta chapter of Sigma Chi national fraternity.
In 1960, with Sigma Chi’s national fraternity membership policies continuing to discriminate against minorities, the fraternity at 3 Webster Avenue dissociated from the national organization to chart a new future.
The new organization sought to uphold an ethos of inclusion and open-mindedness and turned to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales for inspiration:
“In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay
Ready to start upon my pilgrimage…
The rooms and stables spacious were and wide
And well we there were eased, and of the best.
And briefly, when the sun had gone to rest
So had I spoken with them, every one,
That I was of their fellowship anon…”
The Tabard was one in a row of inns lining Borough High Street in Southwark, across the Thames River from central London. In his Survey of London, published in 1598 and revised in 1603, John Stow (1525-1605) says the inns could be identified by images on their signs. In Southwark, he says, “be many fair inns for receipt of travellers, by these signs: the Spurre, Christopher, Bull, Queen’s Head, Tabard, George, Hart, King’s Head, etc.”
The Tabard was constructed in 1307, repaired during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558-1603), and destroyed in a fire in 1676. Among the lodgers at the Tabard and other Southwark inns were pilgrims traveling south to the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. The inns also hosted northbound travelers to London and other points.
The founding members felt it was appropriate to express the spirit of the place as a gathering point before great adventures begin, contrasting the widespread feeling of finality and arrival, which many other Greek organizations strive for.
When the College began admitting women in 1972, The Tabard decided to become co-educational and admit female pledges. In 1997, the Tabard approved new membership policies that affirmed their policies of non-discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation and further removed self-selection from the pledging process.