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Delta Upsilon at Jefferson College, 1859-1870

By James T. Herron, Jr.

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Originally published in The Jefferson College Times, Volume 10, Number 5, November 1977. Reprinted with the author's permission. The Jefferson College Times is a publication of the Jefferson College Historical Society. Society membership is open to all: Individual $10; student $5; contributing $15; business or institutional $25; sustaining $50; life $150. Send membership requests and fees to Joseph A. Solobay, 514 Craighead Street, Canonsburg, PA 15317.

The preceding articles in this series have concerned the secret fraternities at Jefferson College prior to 1860. At first a fraternity was not only secret, but also clandestine. Gradually, students began to openly acknowledge their membership, often wearing their fraternity pin for their senior portrait and inscribing the back of the picture with the Greek letters of their fraternity as well as their name. By 1860, the fraternities were firmly in control of campus politics in general and the literary societies in particular. Elections were controlled to a great extent by the fraternities, much to the dismay and disadvantage of the non-fraternity members, the "neutrals".

This installment of the Fraternity Series chronicles the formation of Delta Upsilon, a society whose goal was to destroy the political power of the secret fraternities.

The high points of the Jefferson College calender were the Literary Society Contests and Commencement. The faculty determined who would receive honors and give speeches at Commencement, but the Literary Societies' Contest was staged by the students. The contests were held on the last day of the first term of the school year, in late March. The event predated the college, having originated in a challenge by the Franklin Literary Society that the Philo Society contest with them before the Trustees of the Canonsburg Academy. The year was 1799, and the contest consisted of exercises in select speaking, composition and debating. The Philo's won all three.

A contest was not held until 1802, Jefferson College's first year. From that time, the contest became an annual event, except for several years in the 1830's and 1840's when animosity between the literary societies precluded peaceful exhibitions. Beginning in 1833 and continuing until the merger of the colleges, the contests were divided into four parts: debate, original oration, essay and select oration. Except for the Select Orator, the participants were customarily seniors.

Preparation for the Annual Contest began months in advance. A challenge would be prepared by one society, and the other society would vote to accept. This sham was faithfully carried out even though the date for the contest had been published in the college catalogue published the previous year. Committees were appointed by each society. Judges were decided upon, programs were printed and arrangements were made for the fete.

Each literary society chose from its membership those who would have the honor of representing their society in the contest. By far, the most important elections at Jefferson College were those held yearly in each literary society to determine the four men who would represent that society in the Annual Contest. It was important to a fraternity that its men should be elected; or, at times, that a particular rival be defeated.

The results of the elections for the years preceding 1860 are as follows:

1855 Franklin 4 PGD
  Philo 2 ΒΘΠ, 1 ΦKΨ, 1 neutral
1856 Franklin 1 PGD, 1 ΦKΨ, 1 ΣX, 1 neutral
  Philo 3 ΦKΨ, 1 neutral
1857 Franklin 1 PGD, 3 neutral
  Philo 4 ΦKΨ
1858 Franklin 4 ΦKΨ
  Philo 3 ΦKΨ, 1 ΦKΣ
1859 Franklin 2 PGD, 1 ΦKΨ, 1 ΦKΣ
  Philo 1 ΦKΨ, 1 ΘΔX, 1 ΣX, 1 neutral

Of the forty participants in the contests during these five years, only seven were not fraternity members. The only significant representation of neutrals was in 1857, probably due to a power struggle between fraternities. In the Philo Society though, the Phi Psi's swept the board.

The following year, Phi Kappa Psi was in control of both societies, taking seven of the eight places. All four representatives of the Franklin Literary Society, long the provenance of Phi Gamma Delta, were Phi Psi's. In 1859, the Phi Kappa Psi voting bloc was broken, and participation in the contest was shared by four fraternities and the neutrals. Phi Gamma Delta was again gaining control in the Franklin Literary Society.

A satirical account of the events leading up to the 1860 Contest was published in Angel Gabriel, a bogus newspaper written by Jefferson College students in 1860. The story probably had some basis in truth, but the anonymous author has painted the picture with a brush heavily laden with malice:

It will be necessary to look at the state of affairs as they had stood for some time previous in the Franklin Society. The 'Deltas' had by scheming ... gained the upper hand, and they might truly be said to have ruled with a rod of iron. They proved to the world by a shocking abuse of power that the proud should be humbled. The time was approaching for the election of debaters for the Contest of 1860. It was to be a momentous occasion. Which ever party came off victorious on that occasion, would sway the tide of affairs at many succeeding elections.

An occurrence took place which may throw some light upon the means taken by the Deltas to accomplish their purpose. Two persons were observed standing on the corner of the street, engaged in an earnest conversation; both seemed somewhat boozy.

'Well, Win, what do you think of affairs in general?'
'They look d__d hard,' replied the son of the South.
'Ah! but haven't you heard of the new plot that we have gotten up?' said Sam. 'At the last meeting of our fraternity, we voted unanimously to purchase ten gallons of whisky, with which to work on the Preps.'
'D__d fine, by h_ll,' rejoined the specimen of chivalry.
'We are,' said Sam, 'going to have a grand whiskey feast, for the Preps in my room, on next Thursday night, and after we get them thoroughly soaked, we will have them all sign a pledge for Wallace. We'll work 'em, we'll beat 'em out after all.'

Obviously, the authorship of this article cannot be attributed to a faction amicably disposed toward Phi Gamma Delta. Indeed the whole of Angel Gabriel with libelous intent attacks members of Phi Gamma Delta and Theta Delta Chi with particular severity.

"Win" was Winchester Stuart, A Phi Kappa Sigma from Tennessee, who was the Franklin Essayist in the 1860 contest; "Sam" was Samuel Miller, a Delta who was the Franklin debater. "Wallace" was Wilson DeWitt Wallace of Phi Gamma Delta, a junior who was probably a candidate for Select Orator, as that position was the only one which was not traditionally held by a senior.

After the conversation which had been quoted, the article describes how "a vast concourse of Preps was assembled. Preps great and small; Preps low and tall; Preps old and young; yes, every thing in the shape of a Prep, that could be scared up within the precincts of Canonsburg."

When the preps were in what was considered to be a suitable degree of stupor, a paper was produced for them to sign, pledging their votes to the Delta's candidate. By chance, the paper was first given to a prep who was not adequately befogged. With tongue firmly in cheek, the author of the article ascribes this speech to the prep. "Hear, O Preps! It is evident that these villains have got up this scheme to defraud us out of our votes. Such villainy would be astonishing, were it not done by men who would cheat a man out of his soul for a half-penny - let us show that we are not thus to be duped. I bid you all to follow my example."

The preps then proceeded to break the bottles and casks of whiskey." And such a ... waste of whiskey as followed, was never before known."

This scheme having failed, other efforts, such as trying to buy the election by offering as much as twenty-five cents a vote, and even a prayer meeting were [allegedly] tried. Alas, the election was lost. Wallace was defeated by Harry Bingham, a sophomore and a Phi Psi.

It should not be assumed that the fraternity men were a minority who, by playing power politics, were able to get their way. While an individual fraternity did constitute a minority, nearly two-thirds of the students on campus in the school year 1859-60 joined a secret fraternity during their college years.

The fraternities, to a great extent, controlled the elections for class officers, literary society officers, and most importantly, the participants in the Annual Literary Society Contests. They also were instrumental in selecting men for such honors as the Washington's Birthday orator. Thomas B. Anderson, of the Class of 1868 and a member of Kappa Phi Lambda Fraternity, states:

It was the custom in those days, to observe the 22nd of February, George Washington's Birthday, with appropriate ceremonies. Classes were omitted for the day; a public meeting was held; printed programs were circulated, (and) four addresses were made. There was, at times, considerable rivalry in selecting the speakers. The most competent men were not always selected to represent the College. The Fraternities conspired together, sometimes, to put forward some men who could not or did not attain distinction in the classroom, or in any other public function in College.

The same problem occurred at other colleges. At Williams College, in Massachusetts, fraternities were established and gained control of student organizations much earlier than at Jefferson. In 1834, a group of students banded together in opposition to the secret fraternities. This group, calling itself the Social Fraternity, stated in its constitution of 1838: "We would invest no class of our fellow students with factitious advantages, but would place all upon an equal footing in running the race of honorable distinction."

Similar organizations in a number of colleges joined together and in 1854 took the name Delta Upsilon Fraternity. The new constitution didn't becloud the issue with allegory, but got right to the point:

Believing that Secret Societies are calculated to destroy the harmony of College, to create distinctions not founded on merit, to produce strife and animosity, we feel called upon to exert ourselves to counteract the evil tendency of such associations.

We believe that the evils resulting from them are such as can be suppressed only by action combined with principles.

We are confident that the great objects of equality, fraternity and morality may be attained without resorting to the veil of secrecy.

The date that Delta upsilon was introduced on the campus of Jefferson College is given variously as 1859, 1860 and 1862. However, the 1866 Delta Upsilon catalog gives the date as 1859 and Jefferson College is said to have been represented at the fraternity's convention of that year.

Credit for instituting Delta Upsilon at Jefferson is given to Stephen Califf of Bradford County, Pa., who entered Jefferson College in 1859 at the relatively ripe old age of 23. He is listed as a sophomore in the 1859-60 college catalog.

The anti-secret fraternity quickly gained strength at Jefferson. Eighteen men became members of Delta Upsilon, including a senior who had been a member of Beta Theta Pi. Of the 209 students in attendance that school year, 23 ultimately became Delta U's. This number is exceeded by only one other fraternity, Sigma Chi, with 24. The secret fraternities now had significant opposition. However, the secret fraternities would not roll over and play dead. The history of Delta Upsilon states that they "sought to embarrass the work of Delta Upsilon." What means were used is not recorded, but evidence of one prank is preserved in the Archives of W & J. This letter, from a Delta Upsilon at Hamilton College, New York, to John Anderson of the Jefferson Chapter concerns "two letters from Jefferson, which from their sentiments we considered the work of an enemy." The letters must have been forgeries, as the Jefferson chapter was not expelled. This is the third of four pages of the letter from Delta Upsilon to the Jefferson Chapter:

A reply was received stating that conventions were a nuisance; and that our money would would better be expended in fitting out a geology expectition, or put in the missionary box, which in regard the present subject, is simply ridiculous. This letter was read before the convention and declared the "joke" of some of our opponents. We cannot believe that those whom we have ever considered our sincerest, truest brothers would now prove untrue.

Delta Upsilon seems to have had some success at "counteracting the evil tendencies of (secret) associations". They seem to have had no scruples against politicking; their objection was to secret deals and the election of second-rate candidates. One year, when a neutral was elected in each literary society, one of them stated, "We both owed our election largely to the D.U. vote, in both literary societies. Up to this time it had been almost impossible for a 'neutral man' to get a position on the 'Annual Contest'." In addition to neutrals the fraternity championed, members of Delta Upsilon were contestors from 1862 through 1865, and again in 1868.

Notice that the Delta Upsilon Constitution doesn't call for the destruction of secret fraternities. This occurrence would not have made them unhappy, but their aim was to "counteract" them. Membership in a secret fraternity was still as desirable to the bulk of the student population as it had been before Delta Upsilon appeared on the scene. When the fraternity's Jefferson Chapter was formed in 1860, about 60% of the college's student body joined a secret fraternity. Membership in the secret fraternities in the chapter's fifth year, 1864-65, was about the same or slightly higher, but Delta U's share had risen to 15% and was the largest fraternity on campus. In numbers, Delta Upsilon claimed 20 in a student body of 133; Phi Kappa Psi came in second with 16.

The early years of Delta Upsilon were a time of trial for the college and the country,' the Civil War years. Many students left the classrooms to fight for their home states. Some Delta U's also left school to serve, including one Confederate. However, of the 21 fraternity members whose biographies list war service, the majority, 12, were Delta Upsilon brothers after their return from the war.

With the union of Washington and Jefferson Colleges in 1865, Delta Upsilon acquired an ally. The first president of W&J, Jonathan Edwards, was strongly anti-fraternity. The new administration broke the back of the fraternity system. Incoming students were required to sign a pledge that they would not join a secret society, and all such societies were officially banned.

It would seem that Delta Upsilon had won. The fraternity system so prevalent at Jefferson was not to be in the united college. By 1868, when the college left Canonsburg, the few fraternities that remained at least nominally active were again truly secret and clandestine, their political strength broken.

Did Delta Upsilon now reign supreme? No, not really. The fraternity's avowed purpose of "counteracting the evil tendency of secret associations" was as anomalous as a forest ranger at the North Pole. Their reason for being was now gone.

When school opened in 1867, there were but eleven Delta U's. In 1869, the chapter was represented at the fraternity's convention for the last time. In the fall of 1870, only one Delta U. was in attendance at the college, which by that time had moved to Washington.

Two years later, a committee was formed to determine if the chapter could be re-established; its report was unfavorable.As had been true of other Jefferson College fraternities the ingredients for success were not present at Washington as they had been in Canonsburg. Delta Upsilon had joined its foes - in extinction.

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