Israel C. Pierson

Israel Coriell Pierson, Phi, 1865, Phi Alpha 1887-1888

Israel Coriell Pierson,(August 22, 1843 – September 10,1908), Phi, 1865, was a globally recognized actuary and tireless worker and “real power” within the Fraternity, especially during the last twenty years of the nineteenth century. As an undergraduate, he served as class president, commencement orator and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After graduating, Pierson received his Masters’ Degree (1868) and Ph.D. (1870) from New York University.

Brother Pierson, hard at work at his desk

Professionally, Brother Pierson was an actuary for New York Life Insurance Company, Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States and chief actuary for Washington Life until he resigned in 1903. In addition to his actuarial work, Pierson was an insurance journalist serving as associate editor of the American Underwriter. Brother Pierson was the first secretary (1889-1899) and later president (1903-1905) of the Actuarial Society of America. He was also a member of Institute of Actuaries of France and the Belgium Association of Actuaries. He served as president of the International Congress of Actuaries when it met in New York.

Brother Pierson was also very active with his alma mater. He served as secretary of the Council of NYU for many years. Within Zeta Psi, Brother Pierson was devoted to its governance. “It was he who conceived the Committee of Patriarchs, which body was the ruling factor in fraternity affairs until the establishment of the Board of Trustees in 1909.” (The Story of Zeta Psi, 1932) He served as chairman from its founding in 1892 to 1908. During this time, the Committee practiced a very conservative policy regarding expansion with only two chapters (Mu at Stanford, 1892 and Alpha Beta at the University of Minnesota, 1899) being chartered.

Brother Pierson, who, before becoming Phi Alpha, served as Alpha Phi Alpha in 1867.  After his term as Phi Alpha he was named Delta Alpha in 1895. He was re-elected to that position for 15 consecutive years. Historically, the Fraternity’s historical records were maintained by the individual chapters and some important documents were lost. Brother Pierson collected and
preserved these important documents in a centralized fashion and maintained them in
safety boxes at financial institutions. The death and loss of Brother Pierson served as
the inspiration for The Circle of Zeta Psi.

Brother Pierson, with J. Howard Ford and Pomeroy Ladue, were the publishers of the
Semi-Centennial Catalog of Zeta Psi, published in 1899. He was a life-time member of
the Zeta Psi Club of New York and wrote the Zeta Psi hymn, “Greetings” in 1893.
Brother Pierson also made it a practice to visit many chapter initiations as a visiting
elder and learn the names of the brothers he met.

Brother Pierson was also a stalwart of his Phi chapter at NYU. When NYU moved to a
new campus in University Heights, it was Brother Pierson who identified the site for the
Zete chapter house.

Title page of the SemiCentennial Zeta Psi Catalogue, with handwritten note from Israel Pierson, Phi, 1865, to the Library of the University of Michigan, dated September 12, 1900.