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  • Jack Bowerman

BIRTH OF THE GREEKS AT BAKER 1889-1902

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

This is the second installment of the is story. We welcome any comments, corrections or additions to this article.


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In 1889 a women’s sorority, Nu Alpha, and a men’s fraternity, Alpha Omega, were formed with the acknowledgment of the Board of Trustees and encouragement of University President Gobin. A year later another women’s sorority, Zeta Iota Chi, was established. Nu Alpha was formed “with the idea of a high standard of scholarship and social culture, and in the course of time, when the University became sufficiently wealthy, of establishing a chapter from a national fraternity.” Apparently, national fraternities and sororities looked at factors such as the size of a university’s endowment to determine whether the school would survive and prosper enough to support a Greek organization. It took 19 years for Nu Alpha to realize it’s ambition, but they accomplished much during those years. They initiated 121 members and 35 of that number graduated from the University. In addition, a large percentage of the members completed courses of study in the arts and music. They were active in the Aelionian and Clioian literary societies, as well as the Athletic Association, the Lecture Bureau, the Oratorical Association and the YWCA. On the social side they customarily presented a farce at the annual formal party and at commencement time gave a breakfast in honor of the Senior girls and visitors. There was often “a large spread” after the Christmas holidays which became a banquet with many guests invited.


The charter members of Nu Alpha were Laura Ewing, Bessie Boughton, Minnie Rockwell Bain, Nellie Buckner, Maud Cunningham, Elsie Nuzman, Emma Bissell, Lulu Anna Burtis, Nancy “Nannie” Powell, and Pearl Murray. Ewing, Boughton, Rockwell, Buckner, Cunningham, Bissell, Burtis and Murray graduated from the University and became teachers. Minnie Rockwell Bain married Henry Thomas Davis, the son of Baker’s first President Werter Davis who was a successful grocer in Baldwin before joining the ministry. Elsie Nuzman graduated from Baker in 1891 and married Henry Justin Allen a year later. Allen had attended Baker, joined Alpha Omega and became interested in journalism as a staff member of the Baker Orange but left before graduating to become the manager of a newspaper in Salina. He subsequently bought and sold newspapers in Manhattan, Ottawa, Salina and Wichita. In 1915, Henry and Elsie hired architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house for them in Wichita. The Allens lived in the Prairie style house until 1947. It is one of few structures with designs by Wright in Kansas. When Henry Allen was elected as the Governor of Kansas in 1919 Elsie became the “First Lady” of Kansas. Allen served two terms as Governor and later filled a vacancy in the US Senate seat from Kansas for two years. Among those who became Nu Alpha members after the founding was Marie Moorhead who married Homer K Ebright, Baker Professor and author of the History of Baker University. The Ebright’s occupied a distinctive house at 613 Eighth Street across from where Constant Hall is now located for many years when ownership passed to their daughter, Elizabeth, who taught at Baker for many years and donated the house to Baker in 1996.


Nu Alpha 1895


The men’s fraternity, Alpha Omega, was organized at Baker several years before it became publicly known. In 1889, it was formally recognized by the University with thirteen charter members. William Colfax Markham described the early years of Alpha Omega in allegorical terms: “She never was a sickly child and has always had enough pugnacity to take care of herself in all the local scraps that naturally spring up in a college community. But it was not always sunshine and roses for her. The poetry of life was sometimes lost sight of. There were times when it was necessary to purchase “soothing syrup,” and on one occasion she came very near dying of exposure. But she has always had a roof over her head. The first one was a very simple unpretentious one. But we were happy in that home. As the years passed by, she had a large hall with several furnished rooms, and now she has a chapter house of which she is justly proud”.


In its 14 years of existence Alpha Omega initiated 106 members. Nearly three fourths of that number graduated and over two thirds did post graduate work. These included 14 ministers, five heads of departments at Baker and four men on Baker’s Board of Trustees. William Colfax Markham was younger brother of legendary Baker professor Osman Grant Markham. William graduated from Baker in 1891 and received a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins in 1893. He became the editor of the Baldwin Ledger in 1893, was the postmaster of Baldwin City from 1902 to 1915, held a number of leadership positions in state and national postmaster associations and was President of the Kansas State Editorial Association. He was Secretary of the Kansas State Highway Commission and moved to Washington D.C. as an executive with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. He was also a poet and a playwright. He received an honorary doctorate from Baker. In his History of Baker University, Homer Ebright writes: “If there is one whose name should be mentioned among the many splendid Delts of this half century, it would be William C. Markham. He was one of the charter members of Alpha Omega. He was the leading spirit in building the Alpha Omega chapter house. He was the chief advisor in the work of securing a national fraternity for Baker. And he served as alumni advisor longer than any other man.”


Another distinguished Alpha Omega alumni was Homer Kingsley Ebright (subject of an earlier article in this blog). He was initiated into Alpha Omega in 1897 and graduated from Baker in 1900. Homer was the Author of the “History of Baker University,” a Baker professor for 46 years and Dean of the College for 14 years. Alpha Omega member Henry Justin Allen went on to become the Governor of Kansas.


Alpha Omega 1898


Zeta Iota Chi was founded in June 1890, with the acknowledgment of the Board of Trustees and encouragement of Dr. H. A. Gobin, then President. Charter members were Georgiana Reed, Mame Murray, Carrie Mae Hoover, Edith Dudgeon, Anna May Hair, Kate Nicholson, Leni Leoti Nicholson and Dossie Gabriel. All the charter members graduated from or completed courses of study at Baker and became teachers. Leni Leoti Nicholson and Georgianna Reed were art professors at Baker. A number of these women were from prominent Baldwin/Baker families. Mary “Mame” Murray’s father was a minister and the first President of Baldwin State Bank which was founded in 1892. That same year, she graduated from Baker University and married James Edward Hair who became the first cashier of the Bank while Mame served as bookkeeper. Hair was a member of Alpha Omega. Georgianna Reed received a bachelor’s degree from Baker in 1889 and a master’s in 1892. She taught art at Baker 1894-1898 and married Judge Nelson Case in 1900. Judge Case provided a large gift to Baker toward the construction of Case Hall. Carrie Hoover graduated in 1890, taught school in Holton and Centralia for several years and married William Colfax Markham in 1896.

This group of women did not wait around for Baker to become more prosperous, but rather quickly made application to the national Grand Council of Delta Delta Delta in the fall of 1894. The Tri Delta fraternity had been founded at Boston University in 1888 with the thought “Let us found a society that shall be kind alike to all and think more of a girl's inner self and character than of her personal appearance." On March 12, 1895, the women received word that their application had been accepted and that their fraternity would be established as the 11th Tri Delta chapter in the country. On March 20, 1895, the women of Zeta Iota Chi were initiated, after which everyone enjoyed an elaborate banquet. The next evening the ladies gave their first reception to the other fraternities and the faculty under the name of Lambda Chapter

of Delta Delta Delta. The charter members were Mame Murray, Mary Sophia Ives, Dora Clementine Markham, Edna Rachel Wolfe, Grace Breyfogle, Ethel Cavaness, Georgiana Reed, Josephine Hilty and Mary Alma Follin. In addition to Murray and Reed mentioned above, several of these women came from prominent Baker/Baldwin families. Mary Sophia Ives’s father was Charles Purdy Ives who in 1880 he moved his family to Baldwin became engaged in the retail lumber business and in time became one of the leading lumber merchants of the state. He had a wide acquaintance with lumbermen and served as a national officer in the Concatenated Order of Hoo Hoos, the lumbermen's fraternal organization. After Mary Sophia graduated from Baker in 1895, she married Forrest Madison Hartley who was a member of Alpha Omega and also graduated from Baker in 1895. Forrest was brought in as a partner in his father in law’s lumber business and they built the Ives-Hartley Lumberyard in downtown Baldwin on High Street, a building which still stands today and serves as the town’s Arts Center. Dora Clementine Markham graduated from Baker in 1896 and was the sister of Osmon Grant Markham and William Colfax Markham. Ethel Cavaness graduated from Baker in 1897 and was the daughter of James Mulloy Cavaness, the first graduate of Baker University.


Delta Delta Delta 1897


Around the time of the founding of these Greek letter fraternities and sororities, another group was organized which did not use Greek letters but would nonetheless eventually have an impact on the Greek community at Baker. The Skull and Bones Club was secret and was not encouraged or acknowledged by the Baker administration or the Board of Trustees. It also became known as the 10 O’Clock Club because they initially met Wednesday nights on the Bridge of Tears on the Baker campus after the University’s 10 pm curfew for all students. The Skull and Bones tradition goes back to a society formed at Yale University after a dispute among Yale debating societies over that season's Phi Beta Kappa awards. That society at Yale went on to become famous (or perhaps infamous) for its powerful alumni which spawned various conspiracy theories. In the case of the club at Baker, Skull and Bones was formed in 1894 as a rival to the Alpha Omega Club. Since it was secret, the first sighting of the members of the club was in the 1898 yearbook when seven unidentified men were displayed on a page with no description. The club’s pin was also depicted with skull and bones and roman numerals displayed clockwise with a dot beneath the 10 on the dial. Six of these men were later identified as Rolla W Coleman, George E Lunebeck, Fred J White, M Parks Helmick, Wilbur F Denious and Herbert Cavaness. I believe that the unidentified man was George R Benedict. Coleman, Helmick, Denious, Cavaness, Benedict and an earlier graduate of Baker, Joseph E Coe, are considered to be founding members. Rolla Coleman graduated from Stanford law school and became a prominent lawyer in Kansas City. He was a Kansas State Senator for 30 years. Parks Helmick was a newspaperman and merchant and was a Kansas State Representative and a State Senator. Denious graduated from University of Denver law school, became a lawyer in Denver and eventually became President of the Denver Bar Association. Cavaness was a newspaperman and son of the first graduate of Baker University, James Cavaness.


By 1900, the Skull and Bones Club had become known publicly. Seven members were shown in a photo in the 1900 yearbook and identified as Meade Eaton, Walter Case, Boyce Wiltrout, John Getty, Robert Loofburrow, Jay Rissler and M Parks Helmick. Case was a newspaperman in Long Beach, California and was the son of Judge Nelson Case who served on the Baker Board of Trustees for 38 years and President of the Board for 24 years. Case Hall is named after Judge Case. Walter was the father of well-known radio and television announcer Nelson Case. The Baldwin Ledger reported in November of 1902 that, "The Denning house recently purchased by Mrs. Stewart will be used as a Skull and Bones chapter house after Christmas". The Denning house was at the corner of 9th and Fremont, just west of the current Tri Delta House. The Ledger covered first party held in the Denning house was in December of 1902. "The first

of this season's Skull and Bones Club parties was given Wednesday evening at their club

house. It was one of the swellest social affairs ever given in this city. The parlors were

beautifully decorated with flowers and the club colors.”


Skull and Bones 1898


The fraternities and sororities at Baker continued to co-exist peacefully with the literary societies. In fact, the Greek letter organizations supported and were leaders in the societies. For example: Lewis Merrill Markham, Alpha Omega, was President of the Athenian Society in 1895; Mary Sophia Ives, Zeta Iota Chi, was President of the Aelioian Society in 1893; Maie Motter, Nu Alpha, was President of the Aelioian Society in 1895, Joseph Edward Coe, Skull and Bones, was President of the Athenian Society in 1895. However, changes were once again on the horizon.

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