ZBT – the Last Fraternity Founders’ Day of the Year

Does anyone else find it fitting that the last GLO founding date of the year belongs to Zeta Beta Tau whose name starts with the last letter of the alphabet?

Zeta Beta Tau was created on December 29, 1898 when a group of young men attending several New York universities met at the Jewish Theological Seminary and formed an organization called Z.B.T. (yes, with the periods between the letters). The organization was inspired by Richard J. H. Gottheil, a Columbia University professor of languages. For a few years the organization served as an organization for the Jewish students who were excluded from the other Greek-letter organizations in existence on the campuses where they were studying. In 1903, the organization became Zeta Beta Tau. Six years later, there were 14 chapters established, all but one in the Northeast. The first chapter outside the Northeast was at Tulane University. In 1913, the fraternity became international with the establishment of a chapter at McGill University.

Although Zeta Beta Tau began as a Jewish fraternity, in 1954, sectarianism was eliminated as a membership qualification. Five other national Jewish fraternities became a part of Zeta Beta Tau. Phi Alpha merged into Phi Sigma Delta in 1959. Two years later, Kappa Nu merged into Phi Epsilon Pi. Phi Sigma Delta and Phi Epsilon Pi merged into Zeta Beta Tau in 1969-70.

In 1967, Jerome Lawrence and Jerry Herman were each awarded a Zeta Beta Tau Man of Distinction Award. Lawrence joined ZBT at The Ohio State University and Herman was initiated into the University of Miami chapter. A year earlier, the Broadway musical Mame opened on Broadway. Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee wrote the book and Herman wrote the music and lyrics.

The Jerry Herman Ring Theater at the University of Miami courtesy of the University of Miami

The Jerry Herman Ring Theatre at the University of Miami (courtesy of the University of Miami)


Another Zeta Beta Tau member of prominence, composer Leonard Bernstein, an initiate of the chapter at Harvard University, in 1966 was awarded the fraternity’s Richard J.H. Gottheil Award. The award memorializes the fraternity’s spiritual founder, the late Professor Richard J.H. Gottheil. It is given to an individual or group “that has advanced human understanding among all people.” He may be the only member of the organization to have won that particular award. 

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) c. 1939. Inscribed to Helen Coates, Bernstein's piano teacher and later secretary. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) c. 1939. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

© 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/

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