“The Best Man/Woman in the Chapter” With Thoughts of Thomas Arkle Clark

One of my all-time favorite magazines is Banta’s Greek Exchange. Sadly, it has not been published since 1973. For 60 years Banta’s Greek Exchange printed information from fraternity and sorority magazines along with feature articles and other items of interest to the Greek world.

This appeared in the September 1922 issue of Banta’s Greek Exchange. It was reprinted from an Alpha Phi Quarterly which in turn had “taken a few liberties with the leading article in The Palm of Alpha Tau Omega by Thomas Arkle Clark which he calls ‘The Best Man in the Chapter.’ Substitute girl for man and it works just as well to our introspection.”

The Alpha Phi commentary noted that “Dr. Clark does not believe that the best man in the chapter is he who is ranked at least close to the best student, has good manners, is well known about the campus, whose morals are unimpeachable, and whose family connections are excellent.”

According to the Alpha Phi Quarterly article, “Gleaned here and there through the article Dr. Clark does believe that the best man in the chapter is:

“He who is first of all a good student.

“He who gives some thought to the work and welfare of the other fellows in the chapter as well as to himself.

“He who knows other fraternities and fraternity men and does not always think that their men are inferior to those in his own chapter.

“He who is always a man of principle and a man with a backbone whose fraternity ideals must be something more than mere words.

“He who is not only loyal to the chapter but loyal to the college who respects its regulations who knows its traditions who respects its good name.”

Thomas Arkle (“T.A.”) Clark was born in Minonk, in north central Illinois, on May 11, 1862. On September 15, 1886, he entered the University of Illinois. He was older than most students and it took some work for him to get there. His father had died when he was 15 and he was left to support his mother and invalid brother.

The University of Illinois Alumni Quarterly and Fortnightly Notes dated September 1, 1916, noted, “The undoubting Thomas was then 22 years old, living with his mother and invalid brother on a farm east of Rantoul, about 20 miles north of the University. Judged by neighborhood standards it was high time for him to begin wearing a beard in winter and to be winding his own clock. He was about five years past school age; neighboring boys of his maturity had quit school and taken wives without having learned whether the north or the south won the Civil war. Young Clark was well enough equipped as he stood to wrest a living from the land. In fact he was worth a little premium, for had he not taught the Maple Grove school two winters before? He will point out to you in Rantoul the very spot where the head school trustee stopped him one day and said ‘You are going to teach our school this winter. I have been watching you. I saw your grades in the paper.’ He might be willing also to locate the site of the hitch rack near the old Urbana court house where stood his horse while he wrote the teacher’s examination fee, $1, George Shawhan, ’75, county superintendent.”

When he made the decision to attend college, he had already taught in a nearby school for several winters, even though he had not graduated from high school. Except for a short stint after graduation teaching in town and graduate study at Harvard, he spent his entire professional life at the University of Illinois. Clark graduated in 1890 and earned membership in Phi Beta Kappa. 

He served as a professor of English from 1893-99. In 1895 he was head of the Department of Rhetoric. It was then that he helped organize the Gamma Zeta chapter of Alpha Tau Omega at the University of Illinois and was the chapter’s first initiate. At that point, the fraternity system at the University of Illinois was quite small and young; Delta Tau Delta (1872); Sigma Chi (1881); Kappa Sigma (1891); Phi Kappa Sigma (1892); Phi Delta Theta (1893); Kappa Alpha Theta (1895, with a charter dating to 1875 which had been transferred from the chapter at Illinois Wesleyan College); and Pi Beta Phi (1895). 

Clark married Alice Virginia Broaddus on August 24, 1896. She was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

In 1900, Andrew Draper, the University of Illinois’ President asked Clark to help tame an unruly student, Fred Applegate. His actions warranted dismissal from the university, but Applegate’s father was an “influential supporter of the institution,” according to Kenton Garyas, who wrote about Clark’s life from 1901-17 (Journal of Educational Administration and History, 30(2), 1998).

Clark tried a new tactic, requesting that Applegate inform Clark when a trangression  (i.e. drinking, gambling and other tomfoolery) had taken place and the two would discuss it. Applegate became a successful student and an alumnus of the university. According to Garyas, “This requirement of honesty on confessing one’s own transgressions, as well as reporting those of others, would become a trademark of Clark’s modus operandi.”

President Draper began sending other wayward students to Clark and by 1901 he became Dean of Undergraduates and Assistant to the President. In 1904, a change in the University of Illinois presidency brought a change in title, dropping the “Assistant to the President,” yet his duties remained the same. In 1909, he became the Dean of Men. On March 22, 1923, he founded Phi Eta Sigma, an honorary society to recognize academic excellence among freshmen men.*

He was one of the first administrators in the nation to hold that title and his success in the position set the standards for Deans of Men and Women at institutions the country over. He also helped develop the modern fraternity system.

He served Alpha Tau Omega as Worthy Grand Chief, High Council member, and Educational Advisor.

Clark served as the Dean of Men until 1931. He died in 1932. His replacement was his former assistant, Fred H. Turner. In 1918, Turner began his tenure at the University of Illinois as a student. He retired in 1968, serving as Dean of Students from 1932-68. Turner also served as Grand President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

*Maria Leonard, Dean of Women at the University of Illinois from 1923-1945, founded Alpha Lambda Delta in 1924; it was originally an honorary to recognize academic excellence among freshmen women. A year earlier, University of Illinois Dean Thomas Arkle Clark founded its male counterpart, Phi Eta Sigma. In the mid-1970s, both organizations became coeducational. For more information on Maria Leonard, see http://wp.me/p20I1i-y3

Thomas Arkle Clark, circa 1910. Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives)

Thomas Arkle Clark, circa 1910. (Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives)

(c) Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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