The previous post focused on the disappointment of three young women, Eva Webb, Anna Boyd, and Mary Comfort, who were unable to travel from the Lewis School in Oxford, Mississippi, to their homes about 100 miles away in Kosciusko during the Christmas holiday of 1873. Today’s post is about six young men at Miami University who were in the same predicament in 1848. Out of the disappointments of those young men and women who were unable to spend Christmas with their families came two organizations, Delta Gamma and Phi Delta Theta. Generations of men and women have cherished the bonds that those weather-bound students forged over those Christmases long ago.
Phi Delta Theta was founded on December 26, 1848 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Robert Morrison proposed the organization to John McMillan Wilson. They joined with Robert Thompson Drake, John Wolfe Lindley, Ardivan Walker Rodgers, and Andrew Watts Rogers. Phi Delts know them as the “Immortal Six.” It was in Wilson’s second floor room in Old North Hall where the six met on the evening of December 26, 1848 and agreed to establish a brotherhood. They met again two nights later to “consider an appropriate motto and constitution. Morrison and Wilson put the consensus of these ideas into the terminology that became The Bond of the Phi Delta Theta. This is the same Bond that every initiate into the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity has since signed,” according to the Phi Delt website.
Neither organization celebrates its Founders’ Day during the Christmas holidays. Both have their celebrations on March 15. For Phi Delta Theta it is the birthday of founder Robert Morrison. Delta Gamma’s Founders’ Day is celebrated on March 15 because on that date in 1879, the Eta Chapter at Akron University was founded.
Delta Gamma and Phi Delta Theta have another connection, George Banta. Between 1867 and 1881, when Alpha Phi’s second chapter was founded at Northwestern University, only four of today’s National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organizations – Pi Beta Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Delta Gamma – were expanding beyond the original campus. Most of that growth was taking place in what we call today the midwest, although in those days it was called the west. Indiana was a hotbed of early women’s fraternity growth. Were it not for Banta, Delta Gamma may have never entered the northern states. This account is from the Winter 1993 Anchora, in an article written by Frances Lewis Stevenson with Carmalieta Dellinger Jenkins.
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.
George Banta and his son George Jr. served as president of the Phi Delta Theta General Council. At age 23, the elder Banta was elected to that position and served from 1880-82. His son served from 1932-34.
Today is also Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day as well as the date upon which Phi Iota Alpha, the oldest Latino fraternity still in existence was formed at a convention in Troy, New York from December 26-28, 1931.
I just discovered that there is a Phi Iota Alpha Colony at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and I wish the Colony well on getting their charter.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/