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  • Jack Bowerman

BIRTH OF THE GREEKS AT BAKER 1903 - 1905

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

This is the third installment of this story.


* * * * *

At the turn of the century, significant changes were occurring at Baker. Enrollment was beginning to increase dramatically from 587 in 1900 to 981 in 1905. Of these students 202 in 1900 and 330 in 1905 were enrolled in Baker Academy which was a preparatory high school. Generally, the fraternities and sororities did not pledge Academy students. This increase in enrollment and attendant increase in financial resources, gave rise to an increase in the confidence of fraternal organizations to expand and attracted national organizations to take notice. Baker was entering the “golden age” of fraternity and sorority activity.


While Wilbur Denious was attending law school in Denver, he was initiated into the Kappa Sigma chapter there. Greatly influenced by his brother, Skull and Bones Club member, Jesse C Denious, began working on petitioning Kappa Sigma National to establish a local chapter at Baker in November 1902. The petition read in part “The undersigned, students of the college of liberal arts of Baker University, respectfully petition that they be granted a charter for a chapter of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, to be established at Baker University. The undersigned comprise the membership of a local organization known as "S. & B." which has been maintained for the past eight years. This organization has many alumni members, all of whom desire to become Kappa Sigmas if our petition is granted, and the rules of the Fraternity will permit.” Fourteen members of the Ten O'clock Club signed the petition for membership, including Rolla W. Coleman and Walter H. Case, both of whom had already graduated from Baker University. Baker’s President Lemuel Murlin wrote a letter supporting the petition including the following: “My attention has been called to the fact that certain young men in this institution desire to secure the establishment of a National Fraternity. We have been conservative in this matter and have even gone so far as to say that we would rather not see the establishment of National Fraternities among us. I think, however, our position has quite materially changed, and the reason is that the circumstances have changed. . . . As to the young men who compose this organization I can speak in very emphatic terms of praise as to their clear characters, studious habits, scholarly spirits, social dispositions, etc. I consider them very desirable material in every respect. When a student in college, I was sometimes accused of being too strict and exclusive in my ideals of what a college fraternity man should be; but I would be delighted to have each and every young man in this roll in a college fraternity to which I belong. And I would have no hesitancy, so, far as their character and work are concerned, and so far as the standing of Baker is concerned, to urge my fraternity to establish chapter for these boys. But they have expressed preference for the Kappa Sigma. I can commend them most heartily.” Murlin was a Phi Kappa Psi at DePauw where he graduated in 1891. He became the President of Baker in 1893 and later served as President of Boston University and DePauw.


Word of favorable action on the petition came on January 19th, 1903, and on the night of February 2 thirteen men were initiated into Kappa Sigma. Those initiated were J.C. Denious, R.W. Coleman, W.W. Rubel, AR. Bowman, B.H Ozment, C.E. Ely, A.H. Douglas, J.H. Moore, S.E. Urner, D.E. Waggoner, A.M. Ebright, H.F. Durkee, and E.A. Britsch. On February 7 of 1903 the Baldwin Ledger reported on the installation of the Beta-Tau Chapter of Kappa Sigma. “The members of the Skull and Bones Club were initiated into the Beta-Tau Chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity last Monday evening. Dr. Richardson, a member of the Supreme Executive Committee had the installation in charge, after which a banquet was served to the visiting Kappa Sigmas and the newly initiated chapter. On Tuesday evening a reception was given in honor of the visiting members to about 125 guests, including representatives from the other fraternities and faculty. The rooms were attractively decorated in the fraternity colors, scarlet, white and emerald green. Light refreshments were served, and as a token of friendship of the fraternity each guest was presented a Lily of the Valley, the fraternity flower.” Jesse Carl Denious became a well-known newspaperman in Kansas and was elected President of the Kansas Press Association. He served in the Kansas State Senate from 1933 to 1939 and was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Kansas in 1939. Alpha Mills Ebright was the brother of Alpha Omega member and long-time Baker professor, Homer Ebright, and went on to become a lawyer and judge in Wichita.


From the Delta Tau Delta chapter history spring of 1903: “The men of Alpha Omega soon sought affiliation with a “reputable, national fraternity.” With a pledge to build its own fraternity house, Alpha Omega’s petition to become aligned with Delta Tau Delta was granted. In August of 1903, two Alpha Omega men — William C. “Dad” Markham and Claire H. Harpster — were initiated into Delta Tau Delta at the fraternity’s international convention (Karnea) in Cleveland, Ohio. On November 24, 1903, Dad Markham and Claire Harpster led the ceremony in Baldwin City to initiate into Delta Tau Delta 13 Alpha Omega men & 22 alumnus members. They are the 13 “Charter” members of Gamma Theta Chapter of Delta Tau Delta. During the next several years, nearly all of the remaining Alpha Omega fraternity members were initiated into Delta Tau Delta.” One of the alumni in attendance that day recalled that: “After the banquet the new Chapter House, The Baker Campus and the State of Kansas were formally dedicated to Gamma Theta . . . The entry of Delta Tau Delta into Kansas is under the most favorable conditions. The new Chapter starts with thirteen actives and six men pledged. In addition, the is a band of over eighty alumni whose enthusiastic work has placed the Chapter where it now is. Of these twenty-two were initiated with the actives and over ten have been received into other Chapters of the Fraternity. Kappa Sigma is the only rival as yet in the field and this Chapter made its advent after the baby Chapter of Delta Tau had been laying a careful foundation for over fourteen years so that competition has not assumed a very threatening aspect. There are over four hundred men students enrolled in the University, so there is ample material to select from. The entry into Baker marks the beginning of what we trust will be a very successful invasion of the hitherto unoccupied States of Kansas and Missouri and is, we hope, a steeping stone to strong Chapters in the Universities of these States. To the Delta Alumni of Kansas City, the Chapter at Baker came as a blessing. In the words of Brother Borland, “The advent of Gamma Theta on this Thanksgiving Eve means to the isolated and famished alumni something of what the arrival of the good ship laden with provisions meant to another starving band on the first Thanksgiving Day.” To the Fraternity at large it comes offering a good opportunity to come more closely in touch with a section of the country that needs a heavier touch of the Delt spirit, a section which with this inspiration will bear an important part in the fulfilment of the Prophecy.”


The thirteen actives who were initiated were Wilbur F Allen, Roy F Mills, Otis Hestwood, Lee Trotter, John Scholfield, Harry Harker, Orta Kuhn, Angus MacLean, George Nicholson, Elmer Riley, John Lough, Charles Scholfield and Charles Holliday. In its early years, The Gamma Theta Chapter initiated one bishop, William Quayle, one other President of Baker, Samuel A Lough, and a Governor and United State Senator, Henry J Allen. Other distinguished alumni frequently mentioned in the early yearbooks in addition to William Colfax Markham and Homer Kingsley Ebright, are Charles Edward Beeks, Forrest M Hartley and George Nicholson. Beeks was one of the most prominent citizens of Baldwin, Vice President of the Baldwin State Bank, a Trustee of Baker, a member of the Baldwin Board of Education for 28 years, a Kansas State legislator and President of the Methodist Church Board of Trustees. Hartley was a partner in the Ives-Hartley lumber yard and Mayor of Baldwin. George A Nicholson was the son of George E Nicholson who was one of the richest men in Kansas and a Baker Trustee for many years. George A graduated from Baker in 1904 and received a master’s degree from Baker before attending the University of Chicago where he received a PhD. He taught at DePauw before joining his father in the zinc smelting and cement businesses. While George A was at Baker, George E and his family built what was considered the finest house in Baldwin at 1215 S 8th which was later acquired by Kappa Sigma. In 1906, George E gave Baker $25,000 to endow a chair in Philosophy and the Bible.


From the Zeta Chi chapter history, “For sixteen men at Baker University an air of high secrecy prevailed during the spring months of 1905. Some of the sixteen were members of the Biblical Literary Society and the "Bibs" had a restriction against their members being members of a Greek letter fraternity. The dozen and four were about to establish a local fraternity and it was imperative that their meetings be secret. May 23, 1905 was the founding date for Zeta Chi. Times were changing and a motion was introduced by a member of the Biblical society to nullify the restricting clause. Men who had pledged their allegiance to the crimson and gold put forth much effort to pass the proposed nullification. Hard work and a coalition vote turned the trick, and the society lifted its ban against the Greeks.” The charter members were Harley Addison Ault, Frank Baker Bristow, Elmer Legrande Brown, William Horace Lodge, Ernest William Preston, Everett Kin Foster, Clyde Winfield Odom and R. C. Woods. Martin Luther Brakebill, Robert Dean Copeland, Gilbert Stevens Cox, Lyle Charles Cutler, Abraham Engle Bert, Robert Ellis Heinselman, Ernest Emerson Woods and Erwin Milton Tiffany. Harley Ault who became a prominent Kansas City lawyer was the brother of James Percy Ault and Warren Ortman Ault who are subjects of earlier articles in this blog. Warren Ault who graduated from Baker in 1903 was later initiated into Zeta Chi. Warren Ault and Frank Bristow were Rhodes scholars. Bristow was the son of Joseph Little Bristow who graduated from Baker in 1886 and became a U.S. Senator.


Early on, a committee was formed to investigate the possibility of “going national”, however many of the members felt strongly that being a local added an important place in the Baker Community. National organizations visited the Zeta Chi chapter house to discuss the merits of their fraternities, but they were never seriously considered. In November 1905 the Baker Orange reported that "The Zeta Chi fraternity last night made its entrance into the social life of Baker University by an informal party held at its chapter house. The rooms were tastefully decorated for the occasion, the hall being transformed into an arbor of autumn foliage while drapery and flowers in the fraternity colors gave the room a most beautiful effect. After the guests had exchanged greetings, music was rendered by Mr. Foster and Mr.Cox. The manner in which their efforts were appreciated was shown by the repeated encores which each received.

. . . . After partners had been chosen the guests were ushered into the dining room where refreshments in several courses were served. Messrs. Cox and Preston entertained the party

with music on the mandolin and guitar. Each guest then received a memento made in the shape of a four leaf clover prettily decorated in the fraternity colors. In these were written the autographs of those present."


From the chapter history: “Security of the infant group was soon challenged, when the Biblical Society found a strong movement of reaction in its ranks. After a stormy debate that would have done credit to congressional stalwarts, the issue was again put to test. Tension mounted as the vote was taken and then the announcement came - the earlier decision had been upheld - the men who were Zeta Chis were assured that their membership in the "Bibs” was not in jeopardy. Thus Zeta Chi, still in its infancy, changed the course of Baker's history. For the literary societies were to crumble and die. All fraternities profited by the ZX victory and won a secure place in university life.”


One important factor in the growth of fraternities during this time was the establishment of chapter houses. Previously, some of the fraternity brothers may have lived together, but in boarding houses which were not large enough to house everyone and they didn’t own the properties. Chapter houses were something the literary societies could not offer and the lure of brothers all living together under one roof in houses that they owned was significant. The Kappa Sigs first chapter house was known as the “Denning House” at the northwest corner of 9th and Fremont. We believe that this is the same house that still stands on that property although it has been substantially renovated and expanded. In November 1904, the fraternity moved into a new chapter house at the corner of 8th and Dearborn - the property where the current Alpha Chi house is located.


The Denning House - The first Kappa Sigma Chapter House at 9th & Fremont


The Denning House today - substantially expanded and remodeled


The 1904 Kappa Sigma Chapter House at 8th & Dearborn


The first “Delt House” (or “Shelter”) was built by the alumni and undergraduate men of Delta Tau Delta (Alpha Omega) in 1903. The building, located on the southeast corner of Ninth and Indiana streets (directly west of the Zeta Chi house), still stands today and the Greek letters DTD can still be found in the sidewalk.


The first Delta Tau Delta Chapter House at 9th & Indiana


The house at 9th & Indiana today


The 1906 Baker yearbook shows a picture of the Zeta Chi chapter house although the Zeta Chi history says that the brothers did not move into a house of their own until they moved into the McCreary House at 615 Jersey in 1907.


The Zeta Chi Chapter House from the 1906 yearbook


The year 1905 came to a close with three new fraternities having established themselves, but the rise of Greeks was far from over. A new club was being formed and while it was not yet Greek, it would have lasting impact on the Greek community.

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