George Banta and the Delta Gamma / Phi Delta Theta Connection

There are a few men who names emerge in the history of women’s fraternities/sororities. These men include Dr. Wesley P. Coddington, Dr. Charles Richardson, Dr. Guy Potter Benton, and the Right Reverend Edward D. Kelly. The man most influential in the early growth of the women’s fraternity system during the 1870-80s is George Banta. He was a stalwart proponent of Greek-letter life for all of his adult years. He was both a Phi Delta Theta and a Delta Gamma.

This post is courtesy of Delta Gamma and its Fraternity Archivist, Marilyn Ellis Haas. Originally published in the Winter 1993 Anchora, the article quoted below was written by Frances Lewis Stevenson with Carmalieta Dellinger Jenkins.  Frances was one of Delta Gamma’s first traveling consultants and she worked at Headquarters for 39 years. Among the jobs she held during those years were Historian and Anchora Editor. The archives are named in her honor. Carmalieta served as Assistant to the President of the Phi Delta Theta Educational Foundation and former Executive Secretary of Delta Gamma Fraternity.

“Generations of Delta Gamma pledge lessons have been learned and, often, buried amidst the bits and scraps of information our minds collect. It is likely, however, that one myth could be instantly recalled from many Delta Gammas’ mental files – while what could be more important information has been discarded. It is this: Phi Delta Theta is Delta Gamma’s ‘brother fraternity.’ This has been accepted as fact whether or not a Phi Delt chapter existed on one’s campus.

“A myth is a legend often based on some fact, and such is the Phi Delta Theta connection with Delta Gamma. In May 1878, 20-year-old George Banta was on a train returning to Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, from a Phi Delta Theta Convention. He sat with Monroe McClurg and shared with him his concern over the fraternity political situation in Indiana, noting that Indiana needed another female Greek group. Brother McClurg agreed and offered a solution. In Oxford, Mississippi, where he was in school at ‘Ole Miss,’ there prospered a fine ladies’ group with a few other chapters in southern girl’s schools. The group was Delta Gamma, and Monroe McClurg was happy to put Brother Banta in touch with these young women.

“George Banta wasted no time in making contact with the Delta Gammas in Oxford, They, too, were eager for new expansion and invested him with the power to form chapters in academically well-recognized northern colleges. George Banta set about achieving their expansion goal, having been told to select the Greek letters of his choice for the new chapters. It was logical that when he organized the first northern chapter at Franklin College the Greek letter should be Phi, in honor of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. No doubt, the first initiate was his fiance, Lillie Vawter.

“George Banta later wrote, ‘I think we were also told to adopt our own ritual and bylaws, the latter to serve as well as it might for a constitution. These were used to organize at Hanover, Buchtel (now the University of Akron), and Wisconsin . . . and probably at Northwestern. I cannot recall when no in what order the organization were effected at Hover and Buchtel (but) in both cases it was through the direct and active effort and cooperation of membership of my fraternity.

“From these events, no doubt, comes the ‘brother’ relationship of Phi Delta Theta and Delta Gamma, one that in no firm nor official way ever existed. The support of the Phis is recorded often in Delta Gamma’s early history, notably on two occasions:

“Delta Gamma’s second Convention was held May 24-26, 1883, in Akron at the new Phi Delta Theta hall, with all manner of social attentions showered upon the visitors by their hosts.

“When a rival group at Wisconsin was found to be pilfering the Delta Gamma mailbox, the ladies of Omega chapter asked the correspondents of other chapters to use the post box of a friendly Phi Delta Theta.

Lillian Vawter Banta, Delta Gamma

“When George and Lillie were married in 1882, he had been for two years the president of the fraternity’s General Council (national president), the first to hold this office. The marriage was brief, for Lillie died in 1885 leaving a young son, Mark, George later remarried and was the father of two children, George, Jr., and Eleanor who became a Delta Gamma at Indiana University, as did her two cousins a few years later.

“George Banta’s interest in Delta Gamma’s welfare never wavered. He was a leader in the fraternity world, and his advice was often sought. He was a frequent visitor to the Delta Gamma Conventions. Often the guest speaker, he appeared for the last time in 1934, a year before his death. Most memorable was  his appearance at the 1909 Convention. He was seated on the platform with the officers when the door of the hall opened to admit two of Delta Gamma’s Founders, attending a Convention for the first time. Many described that moment – Mr. Banta rising, bowing to the two ladies and stepping down to greet them each personally.

“Phi Delta Theta as Delta Gamma’s ‘brother Fraternity’ is indeed a myth, but as the myth can be credited to the energies of one brother, George Banta, who saw to the growth which created this truly international organization, Delta Gamma.”

George Banta, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Gamma

Banta spent his life as a strident supporter of the fraternity world. In 1901, he founded  the George Banta Printing Company in Menasha, Wisconsin. In addition to printing the magazines of many fraternities and sororities, he published Banta’s Greek Exchange.

It is also interesting to note that Banta’s sons Mark and George, Jr. became members of Phi Delta Theta. George Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps; he served as president of the Phi Delta Theta Grand Council from 1932-34.


©Fran Becque,, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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