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Phi Gamma Delta at Baylor University,
Independence, Texas

1856 to 1861

By Towner Blackstock (Davidson 1994), Curator of Archives
May, 2005

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Phi Gamma Delta has the distinction of being the second college fraternity in Texas. Phi Delta Theta preceded us with a short-lived chapter at Austin College, Huntsville, in 1853. For two years following the founding of Kappa Chapter at Baylor University in 1856, Phi Gamma Delta was the only college fraternity in Texas.

Baylor University was a Baptist institution located in Independence, Texas, about half way between Austin and Houston. It opened in 1845 and in 1886 relocated to Waco, where it remains today.

Phi Gamma Delta's opportunity at Baylor came via Tennessee, specifically the chapter at Union University in Murfreesboro. On April 10, 1855 the University board of trustees told Baylor's president to hire Gilbert L. Morgan (Union 1855). He became the Chair of Mathematics that fall. We may imagine that he quickly recognized fertile ground for Phi Gamma Delta. There were no fraternities, but there were many young men. Of 248 students, 138 were male . . . a lot for the typical antebellum college. And the numbers were growing.

Not everyone would have approved of Morgan's intentions. President Rufus Burleson opened the 1855-1856 year with a speech on "secret societies." Speaking years later , he said, "there were more heart-burnings, secret whisperings, and conflicts among our students than had ever been known in Baylor University."

What was happening? The problems seemed to center around the Philomathesian and Erisophian literary societies. In the nineteenth century, every college had one or two literary societies. These independent debate clubs offered important training grounds for these future ministers, lawyers, and politicians. Moreover, their oratorical contests were major social events; elections for speakers were hotly contested. Presumably Burleson referred to political machination of the elections; whether secret societies had yet formed, we do not know.

Morgan pressed on despite Burleson's concerns. He knew that his chapter, Union University of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, had been given the right to grant charters in the South (related article). His Union brethren approved the new chapter and named him legate (installing officer). It was just in time; Morgan submitted his resignation from the University in the spring of 1856. Presumably he remained through the end of the school year.

Morgan initiated six men on April 8, 1856. In an introductory letter to the Grand Chapter at Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, the new brothers stated "the name of the chapter here is Tryon Chapter . . . ." Greek names for chapters were apparently a later development. The name memorialized Baylor trustee William Milton Tryon, one of the founders of the University. This influential minister died in 1847 at the age of 39. We can only guess that he left an impression upon one or more members of the chapter when they were younger.

According to a letter to the Grand Chapter dated May 18, 1856, the charter members and officers included:

  • Charles R. Breedlove, 1858, President

  • Milton M. Callaway, 1856

  • William B. Denson, 1857

  • Thomas J. Goree, 1856, Secretary

  • Charles T. Kavanaugh, 1856, Treasurer

  • H. Curtis Oliphint, 1856

The letter went on to say,

The members of which the chapter is composed are young men whose desire it is to gain knowledge and to acquire in after life a name which they shall feel proud to hand down to posterity. They are young men of integrity and purpose, of the highest moral worth and intellectual attainments. All of them are delighted with the Phi Gamma Delta association for it is just such a one as we have needed at our college to bind together in a more lasting brotherhood, those of like inclination, who are striving for one common object, an undying reputation.

How did the chapter fare after its installation? We can derive its success through the records of the members, and through a few shreds of correspondence saved by other chapters. Three others joined by May 18, bringing the total membership to nine. This was not an unusual size for a chapter given the small college enrollments of the time. Those additions were Owen J. Aldridge, John A. Fortune, Jr., and Henry C. Renfro.

These early members had been active participants in the college. Of the nine charter members of Erisophian Literary Society in 1853, three became Phi Gams: Goree, Kavanagh, and Renfro. At the senior exhibition on December 20, 1855, eleven men gave speeches. Five would join Phi Gamma Delta: Goree, Kavanaugh, Daniel E. Thomson, Oliphant, and Breedlove. When a favorite professor resigned in March, 1856, students made resolutions; these were published in the Texas Baptist and signed by two future brothers, Breedlove as chairman and Denson as secretary.

Five men - four of them brothers - received Baylor degrees in July, 1856. They included Oliphant, Goree, Kavanaugh, and Callaway. Another had received a degree earlier in the year: Oscar Hopestill Leland, who had studied at Vermont's Norwich University and taught in Georgia. He had been at Baylor for a mere five months but had received much praise. He was named Chair of Mathematics and Astronomy to replace Gilbert Morgan in the fall of 1856.

This would seem to have left only five men in the undergraduate chapter. However, that was not quite the case. Kavanaugh remained as a tutor the following school year. He studied law at Baylor until 1859; Breedlove and Goree were in the law school until 1858.

Of the five graduates of 1857, three were Phi Gams: William Baldwin Denson, Cicero Jenkins, and John Franklin Smith. Smith received Baylor's first scientific degree, a "B.P." Jenkins remained at the law school until 1859.

The following year brought competition when Sigma Alpha Epsilon arrived at Baylor. Curiously, one man's name is on the roster of both Phi Gamma Delta and Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Michael M. Vanderhurst joined Phi Gamma Delta in October 1858, and served as secretary in 1860 and 1861. The records of Sigma Alpha Epsilon indicate he joined that fraternity in 1861. The secession crisis and the Civil War prevented any communication with northern chapters; presumably this explains why he remained on our membership rolls.

The brothers replied to a letter from the chapter at Asbury (now DePauw) on April 19, 1858. It verifies that the law students were active in the chapter, as two were officers.

We take pleasure in informing you that our chapter is in a flourishing condition. True our number is small since the close of our last college session. We now number eight, have made an accession of but one this term. The officers of our chapter this year are C.R. Breedlove, [president], J.T. Daniel, [secretary], C. Jenkins, [treasurer].

Charles Richard Breedlove had an interesting history. He and his brother George suspended their studies in 1854 to help quarry rock for a new University building. Charles graduated in 1858 with both a bachelor's and a law degree, the first Baylor student to do so. He remained involved with the University for many years as a graduate.

One other Phi Gam, James Thomas Daniels, was among the four undergraduates receiving degrees. Thomas J. Goree 1856 received his law degree in 1858. The following year, a law degree went to Cicero Jenkins 1857, and three of seven male graduates were brothers: James Marshall Arnold, Lucius Henry Brown, and William Henry Long.

A letter from W.H. Long dated May 14th, 1859 states "We have initiated no new members as yet during the present session . . . . At our next meeting we will initiate one, which will make our number nine, and if not immodest I will say we have the first talents of our College. There is another society at this place, but their members will compare with ours in morality and intellect but poorly." The other fraternity was Sigma Alpha Epsilon, established at Baylor in 1858.

Evidence indicates that the chapter had members in both literary societies. For a commencement party in December, 1959, each society appointed three managers. The Phi Gams included Cicero Jenkins for Erisophian, and Ben H. Thompson and Michael Vanderhurst for Philomathesian. The six male graduates of 1860 included Jesse Shivers Eddins, Pincknie Harris, and Benjamin H. Thompson.

An Annual Circular from the Grand Chapter in March, 1860 lists basic information about each chapter. This is the first time we see the chapter's Greek name of "Kappa" used in print outside of the 1856 catalogue:

Six members. Five initiations. Three graduates. One removal. Fourteen meetings. Good men are scarce at this college, therefore Deltas are scarce. Officers, P. Harris [president], H.F. Phal [treasurer], M.M. Vanderhurst [secretary].

Perhaps that scarcity had the brothers thinking further afield. A letter written to Asbury on April 5, 1860, indicates their interest in starting a new chapter. Perhaps the idea came from Thomas Collier Foster, who reportedly graduated from Soule University.

One of the members of our chapter has been at Soule University, located at Chapel Hill [Chappell Hill] in the Co., about sixteen miles distant, and he thinks that the present is a favorable time for honoring said university by establishing a chapter within her walls. We have the matter under consideration and should circumstances continue favorable, we shall take the proper steps for carrying the plan into effect.

And so they did. On February 18, 1861, a chapter was installed at Soule by a member from Union University, just as had occurred at Baylor five years before (related article). And that's not all the Baylor brothers were up to. That same month, Vanderhurst wrote Indiana Asbury saying they had just started a university magazine, and that "the graves of two dear Brothers have been enclosed and marked by tombstones at the expense of the chapter."

The year was bringing other changes to the nation and to Baylor University. The secession crisis was well underway. As our Soule Chapter organized, a state referendum approved the departure of Texas from the Union. There were 280 men attending Baylor at the time. The coming clouds of war would deplete that number severely. So would a schism in the University administration.

In April and May, 1861, Baylor's President Burleson and the entire faculty of the male department - including Oscar H. Leland 1856 - announced their intentions to resign when school ended that June. They relocated en masse to Waco Classical School, subsequently renamed Waco University. Many students apparently supported Burleson. In September 1861, Baylor's seven seniors took degrees from Waco rather than from their former alma mater. They included four brothers: Mark A. Kelton, James L. Bowers, Henry F. Pahl, and Michael Vanderhurst, although presumably by that time Vanderhurst had joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

Did the chapter relocate to Waco? The picture is not clear. All brothers we know of had graduated, with the exception of W.F. King 1862, who may have left school before that time, and of course Professor Leland. In 1866, Grand Chapter Secretary James L. Ford (Jefferson 1866) wrote:

Among those whom I have written was a Prof. O.H. Leland of the Texas Chapter. He was at the breaking out of the war a member of the faculty at Baylor University and [president] of the chapter there. He subsequently, together with the whole faculty, took a position in Waco University . . . and carried with him the archives of his chapter.

This implies that the chapter ceased. However, it was written second hand, some five years after the fact, and after a long, bloody civil war. So we might not consider it authoritative. Were there any known Phi Gams returning to Baylor or Waco in the fall of 1861? Did they initiate others? Because war precluded any communication with the Grand Chapter or other northern chapters, we have no records. Further research into the archives of Baylor University may reveal some clues. We do know that Oscar Leland soon left for Confederate military service.

If the chapter did not die in 1861, it surely did before the war's end. After resuming his position at Waco and receiving James Ford's letter, Oscar H. Leland (Baylor 1856) responded with a petition to form a new chapter. "At our last meeting we granted a charter to five students petitioning from Waco University, Texas," according to a letter sent in May, 1866 from Jefferson to our chapter at Asbury. Presumably the chapter was assigned the designation "Chi" because Baylor still existed as a separate institution, and Kappa might be restored there.

But Chi Chapter was never installed. The faculty had enacted a ban on fraternities, and Leland had left his professorship to become a government revenue collector. The Grand Chapter never received any notice of a chapter installation; nor did they receive any further communication from Leland. Thus in 1869 they declared Chi Chapter extinct. At the 1870 convention they reported that they had finally contacted Leland, who confirmed the chapter was not installed.

This fact became so well buried in the records of the Fraternity that it escaped notice in the early 1900s, when Fraternity Historian William F. Chamberlin (Denison 1893) was researching for The History of Phi Gamma Delta, Tomos Beta. He found correspondence noting the granting of Chi's charter. He saw the declaration of extinction. He noted that later catalogues did not mention Chi Chapter. However, he did not have access to the 1870 minutes, and thus mistakenly supposed that the chapter had been installed.

Phi Gamma Delta did return to Baylor University in 1881. The name "Kappa" was used again. The chapter had a fine existence, with many brothers later prominent in the University, the Baptist Church, and Texas government and society.

But the chapter was short lived. Baylor University relocated to Waco in 1886, absorbing Waco University and moving to a new campus. A faculty ban on fraternities forced Kappa Chapter to return its charter. This ban remained in place for many decades. Local fraternities later developed.

The administration eventually relented. Kappa Chapter returned to Baylor in 1978, shortly after the ban on national fraternities was revoked.

The Initiates of Kappa Chapter

 

SOURCES

Murray, Lois Smith. Baylor at Independence. Waco: Baylor University Press, 1972.

"Kappa Chapter, A Letter Twenty Five Years Old." The Phi Gamma Delta, April 1881, Vol. 3, No. 7, pp. 101-102.

Eagleson, Stuart. "Early History of Phi Gamma Delta." The Phi Gamma Delta, March 1908. Vol. 30, No. 5, pp. 390-394.

Chamberlin, William F. The History of Phi Gamma Delta, Tomos Beta. Washington: The Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta, 1923.

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