Sigma Zeta was founded at Shurtleff College in Alton, Illinois, in the autumn of 1925 through the efforts of three members of the science staff. These three men, who may be justly regarded as the founders of the society, are Elmer E. List, professor of biology and geology; J. Ellis Powell, mathematics; and Ralph K. Carleton, chemistry. All were young men, just out of graduate school and imbued with the ideals of sound scholarship.

Following a series of preliminary conferences between these instructors and the student science majors early in the fall semester of 1925, the formal establishment of the society took place at the home of Professor Powell on Thursday, October 1, 1925. The name of Sigma Zeta was selected at this meeting, and a preliminary draft of a constitution was begun. A ritual for the initiation of new members was developed during the first year.

At that time the Shurtleff group had no objective other than that of providing a local recognition society for Shurtleff science and mathematics students. However, the activities of the group attracted favorable attention from other colleges in the area during the first year of its existence. In the spring of 1926, a meeting was held in Loomis hall on the Shurtleff campus with representatives of Sigma Zeta, and of Eureka and McKendree Colleges. The possibilities of an association of Illinois science clubs was discussed and favorably received. Later in the same meeting the suggestion of an honor society for science students was made and substituted for the proposal of an association of science clubs. Mr. Carleton was asked to discuss the matter with the Sigma Zeta students and staff. If their reaction was favorable, the project was to be brought under way before the end of the semester. This was done, and the first conclave of Sigma Zeta was held in June of that year in Alton.

Two suggestions offered at that spring meeting have done much to shape the program and policies of the society. The first was the restriction of membership to junior and senior students of acceptable scholarship; the second was the decision to accord recognition and membership to qualified students in any field of the sciences and mathematics. Both items had been included in the original Shurtleff program for Sigma Zeta. The first provision was designed to insure a sufficiently mature group to carry out successfully the work of the society; the second principle recognized the fact that in most of the smaller liberal arts colleges the number of qualified students in any one department is almost invariably too few to support an organization; but if each department contributes its quota of superior students to a single unified group, even the smallest college can maintain an active and efficient group. Adherence to these two policies has in large measure conditioned the growth of the society through the years and given it unique distinction among honor organizations in science and mathematics.