Published in The Phi Gamma Delta
Volume 64, Number 3 , December 1941, pp. 187-194
For more information, reference A Century of Men: A History of the Alpha Deuteron Chapter of the Fraternity Phi Gamma Delta by Elvin L. Gentry (Illinois Wesleyan 1962), published by the chapter in 1966.
Illinois Wesleyan's 75 Years
Alpha Deuteron , Our First Two-Lettered Chapter, Marks Her Diamond Jubilee - Chartered December 4, 1866
By Frank W. Henderson (Illinois Wesleyan 1935)
In the humble, yet hospitable dwelling of the Fijis at 301 East Chestnut Street in the town of Bloomington, Illinois, repose records yellowed with age, every page recording the romance of 75 glorious years of the continuous existence of Alpha Deuteron Chapter at Illinois Wesleyan University. There have been times in the past, perhaps, when the chapter hung on the ragged edge; but there have always been brothers loyal and true who have held her together. Bitter struggles appear in our records, with opposition from the university, from rival fraternities and even at times from outside, but the bond of brotherhood has been too strong to give up. Today Alpha Deuteron stands in the most robust condition of her long life.
The years of 1859, 1860 and 1861 found a small group of Illinois Wesleyan students holding meetings on the third floor of the Old Academy Building, now called North Hall. A few of them had heard of college fraternities in a vague way. Although they knew little about them they hoped to petition for a charter.
DEPAUW ALUMNUS IS LEGATE
In April, 1861, the War Between the States swept all available man-power into the conflict. The small group of eleven men must have had the true Fiji spirit, for they all went into the army. All thoughts of fraternity were cast aside. Only two of the eleven returned to college after the war. They picked up four other students and decided to petition Phi Gamma Delta. Their efforts were successful and the precious parchment, bearing the date of December 4, 1866, was sent to Bloomington by the Grand Chapter. Daniel W. English (DePauw 1866), a clergyman, was the Legate at the installation.
The six charter members were Charles Atherton, 1869; Melchoir Auer, 1870; Andrew Johnson Banta, 1867; Francis Marion Bishop, 1866; Stamper Quincy Davison, 1868, and Lewis C. Wagner, 1869. May their names ever remain green in the hearts of the men of Alpha Deuteron!
A FIJI PRESIDENT
James Oliver Wilson (Illinois Wesleyan 1876) was elected President of Phi Gamma Delta at the Niagara Falls Ekklesia in 1900. He served for one year. Brother Wilson was an eminent minister of the gospel.
These six men banded together and fought what appeared to be a losing battle. Phi Gamma Delta was the first fraternity at Illinois Wesleyan. The early history of secret societies is a record of adversity. The powers that were frowned upon such things and the men were forced to keep their activities in the dark. Meetings were held in private homes, offices of alumni or any place where secrecy was possible. Minutes were apparently not kept and about the only endeavor seemed to be concealing their existence. Many books were read and practice in public speaking took up much time. The Alpha Deuteron men, however, kept up correspondence with the other chapters of Phi Gamma Delta.
Fraternity dues were low and the fraternity offered little to its members except brotherhood. This fact then, as now, kept the men together and brought eager recruits into the fold. Good scholarship was stressed and the Fijis were kept on their toes, for they must maintain high standards in order to survive.
MEETING HALL IS ACQUIRED
In 1872, a hall of sorts was acquired and regular meetings were held. University opposition eased up somewhat and the only real competition came from a non-secret group, the Elite. The faculty, however, ignored both groups. Long pledge periods were unknown; if a freshman were deemed worthy of admission he was initiated on the spot.
The following year the national dues were raised from $2 to $3 and this astounding amount must have kept some good material out of the chapter. But there were a few hardy souls who joined and kept the chapter going.
The 1878 catalogue credits Alpha Deuteron with a total of 99 alumni. The books of the Secretary, however, contain the names of 190 graduates, including 25 ladies! Not that the latter were initiated - they were friends of the fraternity.
In 1873, Kappa Kappa Gamma came to the campus; it still survives. Two years later, Kappa Alpha Theta entered, but this sorority became inactive in 1895.
A RIVAL FRATERNITY
The first rival male Greek society was Delta Tau Delta, which established a chapter in 1877. It was short-lived and ceased three years later. Phi Delta Theta chartered a chapter in 1878 and rivalry was bitter. But, as one Fiji historian wrote, "in those days the Phi Delts excelled in numbers but lacked in quality."
Outstanding among the early members of Alpha Deuteron was Professor Harvey C. DeMotte, 1861. In both teaching and friendliness to the students he stood head and shoulders above the rest of the professors. He guided many of the Fijis through school and when he resigned in 1883 the chapter felt the loss deeply.
In 1882, "through the herculean labors of the fraters then in school, a magnificent hall was fitted up and dedicated to the use of Alpha Deuteron." It was in the southwest corner of the first floor of the old college hall and was furnished at the "tremendous" cost of $400, one-half of which was borrowed from an alumnus. The hall was described as a gloomy chamber, with old-fashioned oil lamps, which hung from the ceiling and gave off dim light. Heavy drapes covered the windows to keep out alien eyes and secret stealers. A kitchen table served as a rostrum and kitchen chairs seated the members.
On June 10, 1882, the sixteenth reunion brought back to Bloomington alumni within train distance. The lads in the chapter doubtless cherished the secret hope that by now some alumnus had made his fortune and was willing to pay off the debt on the furniture. But no Aladdin fetched his lamp.
A LETTER FROM DIXIELAND
One of the interesting letters in the chapter files for this period is from Lewis M. Dabney (Hampden-Sydney 1883, Texas 1887), in which he said that although he was a Southerner and in sympathy with the South in the War Between the States, he was glad that slavery had come to an end.
BISHOP JOSEPH C. HARTZELL AND HIS IMMORTAL SAYING
What Fiji of yesteryear does not remember this picture of Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell (Illinois Wesleyan 1866) on the walls of his chapter-house? The Bishop's famous utterance, reprinted here, has been used on more than one occasion to persuade parents of deep religious convictions that college fraternities arc not the wicked institutions they have occasionally been made out to be.
In 1883, the Sigma Chis took over the Phi Delts and then began a bitter rivalry which has lasted to this day. The secrets of both chapters were guarded with great zeal, for there were many spirited attempts to steal the esoteric work of the competing groups. The Sigs took great pleasure in purloining the goat of the Deltas, as we were then known, and hiding it for long periods.
The 1880s saw Alpha Deuteron come into her own, The new hall had given the boys their place in the sun. Correspondence with other chapters was heavy and many of the letters are still in our archives.
Debating and reading were still the leading activities. The general fraternity loomed in importance to the chapter members and the VanPelt brothers - Samuel, 1875, and John R., 1882 - played leading parts in the affairs of Phi Gamma Delta. Edwin M. Van Petten, 1885, was chaplain of the 1885 Ekklesia in Easton, Pa., and Roland A. Russell, 1887, performed a similar function at the 1886 conclave in Springfield, O.
CONVENTION IN BLOOMINGTON
The 1887 convention of the fraternity was held in the parlors of the Windsor Hotel in Bloomington. Delegates were present from 18 chapters and John A. Sterling, 1881, who was later to become a Congressman, presided.
Rushing - spiking, it was called then - was better organized in the 1880s and great care was taken in selecting the men who were to wear the black diamond. Meetings were held on Saturday evenings, following pot-luck dinners. Formal minutes were now kept. On occasion, the ladies were invited to be the chapter's guests, usually at someone's home, where the young folks could be watched! Dancing was taboo.
A. H. Sikes, 1883, was instrumental in starting a college newspaper at Illinois Wesleyan' during this period and became its first editor. This gave Alpha Deuteron something to brag about and brag she did in letters to other chapters.
By now there were some 28 chapters of Phi Gamma Delta throughout the land and Alpha Deuteron flourished, both locally and as a part of a strong national fraternity.
Memories of the bitter rivalries in the 1890s still survive. The secret societies were pitted against the non-secret groups. The fraternities gained steadily in every respect and were reaching a point where they could stand alone. The two newspapers on the campus were controlled by the Fijis and others had little to say about their editorial policies.
The girls who were considered the "cream of the campus" were, of course, dated by the Phi Gamma Delta men and many of these young ladies held "receptions" in their homes. They were exciting affairs, with each young man calling for his fair lady in his best Sunday-go-to-meeting suit. Many were the worshippers at the shrine of Kappa Kappa Gamma.
In 1899, a group of non-fraternity men decided to establish a new Greek-letter society. It was called Tau Kappa Epsilon and was later, starting in 1909, to expand to other colleges and universities.
PRODUCES NATIONAL PRESIDENT
Alpha Deuteron takes great pride in the fact that the presiding officer of the historic 50th Convention of the fraternity in Pittsburgh in 1898 was Bishop Joseph C. Hartzell, 1868, and that at the 1900 Ekklesia James Oliver Wilson, 1876, noted divine, was elected President of the fraternity, serving for a year, as was the custom in those days.
During his term of office, Brother Wilson came to Bloomington to preside at a farewell dinner for the beloved Bishop Hartzell, who was starting a long missionary career for the Methodist Church in Africa. It was one of the few times that cannibals ever dined with a missionary instead of upon him! Alpha Deuteron still has a wooden figure which Bishop Hartzell sent from his travels in the Fiji Islands.
Alpha Deuteron has always leaned heavily upon the fraternal counsel of Wilbert Ferguson (Ohio Wesleyan 1879), who is now in his 47th year of continuous teaching at the university, of which he is also vice-president.
With the turn of the century, Alpha Deuteron continued her progress. The fraternity house idea was coming into its own and the Illinois Wesleyan Fijis were eager to try this new development in group living. After much discussion, a house was rented in 1907 at 1014 North Evans Street, an eight-room structure with four bed-rooms. Furniture was acquired and the boys moved in. It is amusing to read in contemporary records that the chapter put three men in charge of the commissary, each responsible to the other, and at the end of each month three more men were selected to audit the accounts!
Alpha Deuteron's first pig dinner was held in 1907 and the custom has since continued without interruption.
MOVES INTO OWN HOME
The boys moved from one house to another around town until 1912, when the chapter acquired its present owned home, within whose walls the sweetness of friendship's influence has ever been prevalent.
It was during this period that Ralph S. Freeze, 1911, gave to Phi Gamma Delta three of its most popular songs - "Just Take an Evening in the Springtime," "I Would Rather Be a Fiji" and "Fiji Moon." He wrote both the words and music of these ballads.
The 50th anniversary of the chapter in 1916 was held in conjunction with the section convention. Bishop Hartzell, returned to the homeland, made an impressive address.
The World War saw a generous response to the call to the colors by Alpha Deuteron men. One lad - Lindolph R. Kerley, 1913 - made the supreme sacrifice in France.
After the war, the Illinois Wesleyan law school was at its best and the Fiji house was so crowded with aspiring young barristers that a fine law library was started, remnants of which are still to be found, although the law school is no more.
Fraternity life kept picking up as the years rolled along and the men who had left chapter halls still remembered their Alpha Deuteron.
In February, 1922, a fire nearly swept away the house at 301 East Chestnut Street. It must be said in all frankness that the boys were rather disappointed when they saw that the fire was under control, for the insurance was ample. The story is told of an excited brother who carried a new set of dinnerware from the kitchen to the second floor and threw it out the window. The house was soon repaired and life resumed its normal course.
The 1920s were prosperous years for Alpha Deuteron. In 1928, the law school closed, because the bar association objected to lawyers in active practice teaching classes. Since Alpha Deuteron had always been a hot-bed of law students, the blow was a heavy one, but the depression came along and many students with modest finances found in Illinois Wesleyan an ideal place to obtain an education at reasonable cost.
And now in her 75th year, Alpha Deuteron finds courage to press on in the spirit of her motto: "Power of Brotherhood."