FORTUNES OF THE GREEKS
In 1841 the Board of Trustees passed a resolution: "Resolved that the
faculty be requested to require every student of the institution who
is known to be connected with a Secret and invisible Society . . . to
withdraw from it forthwith. . . and that it is hereby declared to be
unlawful for any student in future to become a member. . ." Fifty
years later Miami was known abroad as the "Mother of Fraternities."
Of some 4,000 fraternity chapters in the United States and Canada in
1958, one in every ten had its origin on the Miami campus. One sixth
of all members of Greek letter fraternities belong to societies
founded at Miami University.
Fraternity founders have a compulsion which follows them through college and beyond. They know a secret, having made it for themselves, which they need to share. In the early years they enjoyed the opposition of the college trustees, faculties and other students. So the orders grew.
In 1835 Samuel Eells, a recent graduate of Hamilton College and a founder of Alpha Delta Phi, came west to Cincinnati and joined the law firm of Salmon P. Chase. It was a busy office, but Eells did not forget the claims of Alpha Delta Phi. When William S. Groesbeck, just graduated from Miami, became a law clerk in the firm, Eells talked to him about a national college society aimed at developing the entire man moral, social and intellectual. Groesbeck liked the idea, and Eells turned from the paper work on his desk to initiate a new member into Alpha Delta Phi.
Groesbeck then wrote to some of his friends at Miami. Soon Charles Telford and John Temple took the stagecoach to Cincinnati. In a hotel room in the old Dennison House at Fifth and Main streets, they were inducted into the society. That fall, 1835, the two initiates organized the Miami Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, the first fraternity west of the Alleghenies.
It was an entirely secret society at first, but by mid-winter , with nine members, the fraternity came out of hiding. They turned in a notice at the morning chapel service, and President Bishop made a kind of history by announcing the weekly meeting of "Alpha Delta and Phi" society. A few days later the nine members appeared with large badges on their lapels--and the whole campus turned hostile.
The next Friday afternoon voices clashed and clamored in the third floor Literary Halls. After strenuous discussion both the literary societies voted to exclude members of the new fraternity. As though a Greek brotherhood were not enough; the Alpha Delta Phi's organized their own literary society, the Miami Hall. Then began a see-saw struggle between the Literary Halls and the fraternities, a struggle confused by the resemblance between the two orders--the fraternities met for declamation and essay readings and they held public anniversaries and exhibitions. To outsiders the fraternity seemed an organized group within the literary society, seeking to control it. Finally in 1842 the Union Society merged with the splintered Miami Society, forming the Miami Union with no exclusion of fraternity members, and in 1846 the Erodelphian Society opened its doors to the Greeks. By that time it was possible to see a difference between the forensic activities of the halls and the closer ties of friendship, formalized by oath and ritual, that bound the members of fraternities. Despite the political tensions of the time, the fraternity groups were not sectional; both Northern and Southern students wore the first Greek badges.
One of the loudest protests to the appearance of Alpha Delta Phi came from John Reily Knox, president of the Union Society. Yet he had a strong sense of the ties of friendship within that group--"one shall be to another as a brother and the name of Union Literary shall be the shibboleth of love." Soon he was busy founding the closer brotherhood of Beta Theta Pi, the first of the Miami Triad of fraternities. Knox had been reading a book about secret organizations in the Middle Ages, their knightly vows and pledges, but the original aim of his six associates seems to have been merely to offset the influence of Alpha Delta Phi in the literary societies.
In a room in the West Wing on August 8, 1839, John Reily Knox gathered eight men and proposed a secret organization. Their next meeting was held in the Union Hall; as president of the society Knox had keys to the room. There a constitution was framed, a badge adopted, and four men were initiated into the Beta Theta Pi Association.
For seven years Beta Theta Pi remained a sub rosa organization; not till 1846 did the members emerge publicly on the Miami campus. By that time they were a national fraternity. Although the founders had not planned to extend the fraternity to other colleges, a second chapter had been planted at Cincinnati College in 1840. In 1843, a chapter was organized in the Harvard Law School, and another chapter at Princeton. Then the fraternity spread north and west, to the University of Michigan and to Indiana University. Wooglin's Clan was growing, not by activity of the original Miami group but by propagation from the other chapters. The national organization kept Beta Theta Pi alive when the Miami chapter was suspended after the Snow Rebellion of 1848.
In the mid-1840's President McMaster was having troubles. Controversy over the Mexican War divided the college, and epidemics of smallpox and cholera made it uneasy. The long quarrel between the faculty and the fraternity-ridden literary societies hung over the campus like a cloud. It was a restive, smoldering college.
One summer night some students drove twenty-three cows from the campus (the grounds had been opened again to the village live-stock) into the college chapel. Next morning the janitor got the cattle out and cleaned the floor, but at chapel time the room smelled like a stable. Dr. McMaster read the scripture, preached a brief and earnest sermon, and closed with prayer. Then he made a sarcastic comment about Miami students who were at home only in the barnyard and should have stayed there. It was not the way to win students or to keep them.
In 1847 the enrollment fell to 137. To attract more students the trustees tried to add new departments of study. They asked the Ohio Legislature for $40,000 to support a chair of agriculture, a chair of law and a law library--request denied. Then in the first days of 1848, came the famous and almost fatal Snow Rebellion. It began with some students coming home from a Wednesday night prayer meeting in a village church.
The day of January 12th was hushed and beautiful--snow falling through the silent woods, covering the campus paths, whitening the streets of Oxford, steadily deepening in the college yard. Dusk came early and yellow lamplight gleamed from the college windows. Snow was still falling when a dozen boys trudged into town to attend the prayer meeting. When they came back the snow had ceased and the campus lay white and still. It was a mild night, the snow damp and fluffy. Someone began rolling a snowball toward the dark doorway of the Main Building.
Quickly the idea grew. A dozen huge snowballs rolled into the dark hallway. They came to rest against the chapel door and the doors to the recitation rooms. Finally the outer door was closed and the last white barricade was rolled against it, from inside. The students groped up the creaking stairs and slid down a second story window. They went to their dormitory rooms and slept soundly, with a good night's work behind them. They had been to prayer meeting and had barred the master out.
In the morning Job, the colored janitor, crossed the trampled yard by lantern light and found the door barricaded. He climbed the rope dangling from an upper window and after an hour's labor he got the doors open. Students and faculty filed through the snow-banked hallway for a late chapel service. Professor Moffatt, a gentle classicist who wrote poems about his rambles in Scotland, thought it amusing, but towering President McMaster was in a towering rage. From the chapel platform he announced that the guilty students would be uncovered and expelled; he was determined to make Miami "a decent college." So he fanned the smoldering defiance.
That night, with snow still melting, a larger crowed gathered in the slushy yard--new hands along with the prayer-meeting party of the night before, one of whom said he might as well be hung for an old sheep as a lamb. They went to work--"with greater determination, excesses and success" the trustees later noted. First they nailed up all the doors and windows of the recitation rooms. They carried in the whole University stock of fuelwood--twenty cords, one report said--and banked it against the doors. Then came old stoves, planks, tables and benches, and that bristling mass was cemented with some tons of soggy snow. They left a solid barricade across the main hall.
The next morning no chapel bell sounded, for the bell had been carried down from the roof and dropped in the college cistern. There were no recitations; the college was sealed tight as a fortress. The janitor got in, after breaking a window in Professor McArthur's room. He broke down the door with an ax and began the formidable task of opening the hallway. That was on Friday. It was Monday when the faculty got in. That week there were no recitations, but the students were called in, one by one, for questioning and discipline.
In a change of weather the slushy snow had frozen rigid, and while they waited summons the students kept a cordwood fire blazing at the east end of the building. As a boy went into the courtroom he was cheered by the crowed. If he came out suspended or dismissed they carried him over the icy campus on their shoulders.
In the second floor courtroom some students confessed and some denied participating in the rebellion, but none would implicate any other. So the trial dragged on until the students sent in a list of forty-six names of the "guilty." These boys refused to apologize for wrong-doing or to make any promises for the future. The harried faculty made a general expulsion and offered to readmit any students who would acknowledge their error. Still defiant, the expelled students hired a brass band and marched through the village. They packed their trunks, sold their supplies of wood and apples and said good-bye to Old Miami.
It was a disheartened college that dragged through the radiant Oxford spring. The senior class was reduced from twenty to nine, the junior class from twelve to five. Only the preparatory classrooms were full.
The Greeks had been leaders in the rebellion ("Put not your faith in any Greek," Euripides had said) and they were dispersed now. All the members of Alpha Delta Phi were expelled or quit the college in sympathy and disgust. Two Betas were left to graduate that summer. Three of the expelled Betas went to Centre College, Kentucky, and started a Beta chapter there. Not till 1852 was Beta Theta Pi revived at Miami.
That fall sixty-eight students clumped through the half-empty halls. The literary societies were at an ebb; not a lone Greek was left on the campus. In that void a new fraternity appeared.
On the desk in his room in the North Dorm Robert Morrison had a small corked bottle of "snow water," saved from the pile of melting snow in the Main Building corridor. That next winter he thought of bygone days at Miami, when secrets, plans and rivalries were in the air. On the night after Christmas, 1848, while college was recessed and most of the students were at home, Morrison called five men into his room and shared with them his dream of a new fraternity called Phi Delta Theta.
The six founders soon initiated others, including three sympathetic members of the faculty. In an atmosphere of good feeling the fraternity outgrew the capacity of Morrison's room. For some months Phi Delta Theta met in two divisions. Alpha and Beta chapters, of ten men each, gathered separately in dormitory rooms, recitation rooms, and in fine weather in Lane's woods above the Tallawanda with sentries posted.
A new climate had come to the college with President Anderson in 1849. A liberal, humane, broadly-experienced man, he brought to his office a natural directness of speech and action. That summer it was reported to the trustees that conditions were again disgraceful in the dorms--"stoves and stove-pipes broken up and destroyed, doors and windows broken." The new president made a new start, bringing the faculty closer to the students than they had been since Bishop's time. Professor Matthews moved into a rent-free apartment in North Hall; later Professor Elliott lived there, lining the walls with pictures of Greek monuments and temples. When David Swing, graduated in 1852, joined the Miami faculty in 1853, he lived in dormitory rooms. To that apartment he brought his bride, Elizabeth Porter, the daughter of an Oxford physician. A member of Phi Delta Theta, he had fraternity boys around him--even after he bought a frame house on Collins Street and Campus Avenue. Years later that house was occupied by Phi Delta Theta and still later by Delta Upsilon.
As a part of the new sweep President Anderson asked R.H. Bishop, Jr. ("Bobby Bishop" in the 1850's, "Old Bobby" to later generations Miami) to keep a Dorm Book. Sample entry:
Room No. 1, North Door, Eastern Building--rent per session $5.00. Furnished with an open sided stove with an elbow and four joints of pipe, a lock and key to the door furnished by myself, a pair of tongs and shovel, 3 lights of glass partially injured in front window, balance in good repair. I am to return the said room and furniture at the close of the session in the same good condition in which I received it.The Dorm Book states semester rents of $3 or $5 for a single room, and carefully describes the stove installed--open-sided stove, box stove, sheet iron air tight stove, oval stove, air tight fancy stove, small cooking stove. Some rooms were equipped with a wood box and one had "a desk somewhat out of repair." This room, in the third story of the West Wing, was occupied rent-free by a "bellman," who also had free tuition for ringing the college bell.