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Edited from 
The Phi Gamma Delta, Vol. 58, No. 3, January 1956, pages 186-191

Pennsylvania Is Now 75 Years Old

Colorful Beta Chapter, Established in 1881, Rounds Out Three-Quarters of Century on Ancient Quaker Campus

By George L. Harvey, Jr. (Pennsylvania 1910)

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It is only natural to assume that Phi Gamma Delta's Beta Chapter, located in historic Philadelphia at one of the nation's oldest seats of learning, represents the first offshoot of the fraternity's parent vine.

Not so, however. In spite of Ivy League respect for antiquity, Beta Chapter is a relatively new sprout. This year, in fact, it becomes a mere 75. It owes its name of "Beta" not to its venerable standing among the fraternity's branches but to a historical coincidence. The Beta designation – vacated by the merger of the original Beta Chapter with the Alpha Chapter in 1865 – was arbitrarily conferred by the Grand Chapter on the Pennsylvania unit when it came to life in 1881.

In an article written for this journal on the occasion of Beta's 50th anniversary in 1931, Dr. Matthias A. Shaaber, 1918, traces the earlier days of the chapter as follows:

Beta was founded by Fijis. The 1879 convention pointed out the desirability of planting a chapter at Pennsylvania and urged the nearest chapters, Gettysburg and Muhlenberg, to lend a hand. It was a Gettysburg man, the late Harry L. Stahler (Gettysburg 1882), then still an undergraduate, who took the most active part in organizing a chapter. First, he rounded up several allies — his brother, William E. Stahler (Gettysburg 1880), then working at West Chester, Pa.; Henry M. Muhlenberg (Muhlenberg 1876), a student in the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and Edward J. Young (Roanoke 1878), a reporter on a Philadelphia newspaper and apparently Chief of the Central District of the Fraternity. These men, none of whom was a Pennsylvania student, nursed the chapter with enthusiasm and money during its infant years.

MEDICAL STUDENTS FORM NUCLEUS

In the medical school of the university then as now, there were a number of Fijis from other chapters. Stahler thus found the nucleus of a chapter ready at hand. Five medical students – Thomas DeWitt Dunn (Allegheny 1880), William Henry Hamersley (Muhlenberg 1883), Frank W. Hinkle (Gettysburg 1879), John Kline Reinoehl (Muhlenberg 1879), Joseph Bion Scott (Gettysburg 1877) – and a student in the college, Harry Christian Picking (Gettysburg 1879), accordingly applied to the Grand Chapter for a charter and obtained it. Beta Chapter was installed on February 26, 1881. Major Frank Keck (City College 1872, Columbia 1875) was the Legate.

Meetings were first held in Brother Young's lodgings on Girard Ave. Later a room was rented downtown on the third floor of a Turkish bath establishment at 1004 Walnut St. For two years Beta Chapter remained a sub rosa organization; it did not acknowledge itself to the university until the spring of 1883.

In the autumn of 1883 only eight men returned. Some of them did not stick; those remaining agreed to disband.

The chapter was revived chiefly through the efforts of Archibald McCullagh, Jr., 1892 whose brother was a member of the Columbia Chapter. He gathered together a group of petitioners, including several Fiji medical students, and obtained a reinstatement from the Grand Chapter. Major Keck once more performed the part of Legate at the Colonnade Hotel on December 22, 1890. From this time forward the history of the chapter has been continuous.

For the next 15 years Beta grew and prospered. The chapter made a place for itself in undergraduate life at Pennsylvania and built up an esprit de corps which has survived all the vicissitudes of fraternity experience. Every year witnessed the initiation of men who made their mark in college life or after years. Furthermore, two men came into the chapter at this time as graduates whose names are among the brightest on the rolls – Dr. Roland G. Curtin, 1866, and Dr. James A. Babbitt, 1897. Dr. Curtin, eminent as a Philadelphia physician and as an active alumnus of the university, although well along in years, was a genial friend to generations of undergraduates. Jimmy Babbitt was the inspiration, a little later, of the crew of enthusiasts who raised the present chapter-house.

THE STORY OF BETA'S HOUSES

The next milestone in chapter history is the house-building campaign. When the chapter was reestablished, the first headquarters were set up in a house on Chestnut St. between 11th and 12th Sts. The next year a whole house was rented at 3216 Sansom St., near the campus. A number of other moves were made until Beta came to rest, temporarily, at 3604 Walnut St. in 1904. The idea of owning a house was broached as early as 1906. Jimmy Babbitt and Lewis B. Harvey, 1902, labored manfully to raise money and in 1908 the chapter moved into its own home at 3621 Locust St. Stanley Cooper, 1907, then bought the property next door, gave the rent of it to the chapter as a dona-tion and held it against the day when the chapter might want to build on the site. An enthusiastic campaign to collect subscriptions and sell bonds, captained by Jimmy Babbitt and Charles J. McManus, 1908, provided the capital for erecting the very handsome home which Walter Mellor, 1904, had designed. The old houses at 3619-21 Locust were torn down in 1912; the new cornerstone was laid in 1913; and the chapter moved into the new house in May, 1914.

In the roaring '20s and depressed ‘30s two other men who had come into the chapter as graduates became its staunch supporters. They were Thomas B. Prichett 1878, a prominent Philadelphia banker, and George Walter Dawson, professor of fine arts at the university. Known and beloved by all Beta men between the first and second world wars, their names have now carved as a lasting memorial in the doors of the chapter's paneled Tudor living room.

CONTRIBUTES RICHLY DURING WAR

When the war came along in 1917, the strong chapter with which the year had begun melted away. In the autumn of 1918 along with all other fraternities at Pennsylvania, Beta suspended specifically fraternal activities. The house was used as barracks by the student army in training at the university. One hundred and sixty-nine members enrolled in various arms of the service. Six earned citations, including a Distinguished Service Cross and two Distinguished Service Medals. Four lost their lives; their names are listed on a memorial stone in the dining-room.

At the start of World War II, the chapter had grown and prospered. During this war the house was never closed. It functioned as an undergraduate chapter, taking into membership two or three groups of initiates a year, although there were fewer eligible students to draw from. With a small undergraduate chapter of limited financial resources, the alumni recognized the need for emergency assistance. Headed by Dr. Stanley Shugert, (Faculty initiate), the graduates raised money for a war emergency fund. As a result of this assistance, Beta was the only fraternity on the Pennsylvania campus to remain open during the war years.

During World War II, several hundred Beta men saw military service. Their records show numerous citations, including a Distinguished Service Cross, a Navy Cross, a Silver Star and two Legion of Merit awards.

After World War II was over, the house needed major repairs. To accomplish this, a rehabilitation drive for funds was arranged. The sum of $15,234 was raised, to which the war emergency fund committee added the money remaining after paying for a stone placed to record the names of 13 Beta men who gave their lives for the cause.

The last of the mortgage on the chapterhouse was paid off during the post-war period.

During the summer of 1952 with the aid of a new but smaller mortgage loan, the fourth floor was renovated, making room for four double suites.

MANY EMINENT MEN ON ROSTER

Beta alumni have distinguished themselves in numerous fields of endeavors. Twenty-two of them were listed in a recent edition of Who's Who in America:

Clifford J. Backstrand, '21, business executive; Howard B. Brown, '29, business executive; George M. Coates, '94, otolaryn-gologist; William J. Creighton, '15, architect; William T. Cruse, '27, business executive; Clark G. Diamond, '21, business executive; Harold H. Kynett, '12, advertising agent; Carl A. Erikson, '10, architect; Harry R. Foerster, '12, physician; Richard A. Kern, Fac., physician; W. James Macintosh, '19, lawyer; Paul B. Magnuson, Sr., '08, surgeon; Orus J. Matthews, '22, investment banker; Donald E. Montgomery, '18, labor reporter; Edgar A. Newberry, '10, business executive; Wilbur I. Newstetter, '18, professor; Eugene S. Northrop, '27, banker; James T. Priestley, '23, surgeon; Herman C. Schumm, '14, surgeon; Mathias A. Shaaber, '18, professor; J. Gurney Taylor, '95, physician; Maurice N. Trainer, '10, business executive.

Dozens of others hold leading positions in education, literature, journalism, art, science and industry.

George F. Snyder, 1900, was Archon President from 1934 to 1943. He had served as Archon Secretary and as Permanent Chairman of four Ekklesiai.

William S. Robb, 1934, was Field Secretary from 1935 to 1938 and was also named to the first Board of Visitors, 1952-1954. He is author of a manual for chapter treasurers and has also been a teacher at the Fiji Academy every year since it was inaugurated.

Roland G. Curtin, 1866, served as [Archon] Councilor in 1902 and 1903.

Meredith B. Colket, 1904, was Secretary of the 1905 and 1907 Ekklesiai.

Among former Section Chiefs are Lewis B. Harvey, 1902; Stanley P. Shugert, Howard Medholdt, 1924; George L. Harvey, Jr., Herbert H. Bennett, Jr., 1934, and John Eustis, 1933.

Our roster of distinguished athletes of yesteryear includes George W. Orton, '96, winner of the 2,500-meter steeplechase in 7 minutes 34 seconds in the 1900 Olympic games held in Paris; Wilfred B. Fetterman, Jr., 1898, American intercollegiate one-mile track champion; Hunter W. Scarlett, 1910, who was listed on Walter Camp's all-America football team; [Major] Winchester D. Osgood, 1895, who was killed in battle in the Cuban Army [fighting the Spanish prior to the 1898 Spanish-American War], and numerous others in the early days.

Beta athletes of the current decade include Francis J. Bagnell, 1951, who won the outstanding football player awards of the Maxwell Club and of the Helms Foundation, and Frank F. DuBois, 1951, captain of 150-pound crew which won the Thames Challenge Cup at the Royal Henley Regatta in England and the Senate Cup at the Hamburg Regatta in Germany. (Three other Beta men were in that crew.)

IMPRESS ON THE UNIVERSITY

The roster of University of Pennsylvania trustees includes the late George F. Snyder and Clifford J. Backstrand, present trustee.

In the spring of 1954, Dr. Stanley P. Shugert was honored by the chapter for his nearly 50 years of faithful service to the University and fraternity. He retired in June, 1955.

Robert H. Pitt, II, 1948, was appointed dean of admissions in 1954, the youngest man ever so appointed. Bob had been attached to the office of dean of men since graduation.

Beta undergraduates have been leaders in many campus activities, including charity drives, Christian Association, theatrical and athletic programs.

The chapter sponsors a Christmas party for underprivileged children from the neighboring public school.

The Cheney Cup resided in our chapter house in 1937 and the Baker Cup in 1949. The chapter is working hard for their return.

Last, but not least, is Beta's traditional house man, Albert Harris. Albert has been serving the members for about 35 years. How old is he? That is the eternal question. Many alumni have lost bets as to whether Albert would remember their names when they returned to the house. He always does. The chapter honored him this collegiate year by having his portrait painted and hung in the dining-room.

Such, in brief, are the highlights of Phi Gamma Delta's first 75 years in the Quaker capital. What the future holds in store is anybody's guess. But if an alert and active undergraduate body, backed by an interested and loyal graduate group, can help to further the development of the fraternity system as a valid part of the American educational scene, Beta Chapter at Pennsylvania is well equipped for leadership.


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