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The oldest active social American college fraternity is the Kappa Alpha Society founded in 1825 at Union College.
The only true distinction between a fraternity and any other form of social organizations is the implication that the members are freely associated as equals for a mutually beneficial purpose rather than because of a religious, governmental, commercial, or familial bond - although there are fraternities dedicated to each of these fields of association.
In London and other major cities, some Guilds (like the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows) survived by adapting their roles to a social support function.
Eventually, these groups evolved in the early 18th century into more philosophical organizations focused on brotherly love and ethical living.
The development of modern fraternal orders was especially dynamic in the United States, where the freedom to associate outside governmental regulation is expressly sanctioned in law.
There have been hundreds of fraternal organizations in the United States, and at the beginning of the 20th century the number of memberships equaled the number of adult males.
Although membership in fraternities was and mostly still is limited to men, ever since the development of orders of Catholic sisters and nuns in the Middle Ages and henceforth, this is not always the case.
There are mixed male and female fraternities and fraternal orders, as well as wholly female religious orders and societies, or sororities.
Many were strongly influenced by the patterns set by Freemasonry.
The main difference between the older European organizations and the American organizations is that the American student societies virtually always include initiations, the formal use of symbolism, and a lodge-based organizational structure (chapters).
A fraternity (from Latin frater: "brother"; "brotherhood"), fraternal order or fraternal organization is an organization, a society or a club of men associated together for various religious or secular aims.
A notion eventually further extended with the middle age guilds, followed by the early modern formation of gentlemen's clubs, freemasons, odd fellows, student fraternities, and fraternal service organizations.
There is almost always an explicit goal of mutual support, and while there have been fraternal orders for the well-off there have also been many fraternities for those in the lower ranks of society, especially for national or religious minorities.