August 13, 1839, was Commencement Day at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Five days earlier, on August 8, at the first official meeting, eight young men established Beta Theta Pi, the first men’s fraternity founded west of the Allegheny Mountains. The men, “of ever honored memory” were John Reily Knox, Michael Clarkson Ryan, David Linton, Samuel Taylor Marshall, James George Smith, Charles Henry Hardin, John Holt Duncan, and Thomas Boston Gordon. The first three were members of the Class of 1839, at a time when there were no female students at Miami.
The chapter became inactive in January 1848 due to the “Snowball Rebellion.” Erasmus D. McMaster, Miami’s president, wanted to rid Miami of fraternities; a decree was handed down banning the fraternities. The students rebelled. A heavy snow aided in the protest. The main entrance of Old Main was blocked off and at least a dozen huge snowballs found their way to the first floor. McMaster was livid! He was determined to expel the men involved. At the time of McMaster’s edict, they were the only two national groups on campus. The second chapter of Alpha Delta Phi had been founded at Miami in 1833.
On the following evening, the rebellion continued. Doors were nailed shut, and Old Main was filled with snow. McMaster cancelled classes for a week and began disciplinary proceedings. All but nine seniors and five juniors were expelled from the University.
Three of the men were admitted to Centre College in Kentucky and founded Beta’s Epsilon chapter. That spring, the two remaining members left. The Alpha chapter did not come back to life until 1855. Miami University’s decision to fire McMaster due to the loss in critical revenue resulted in a change of course for the institution regarding Greek-letter organizations. The story of Miami University’s role in the history of the fraternity movement is a rich one, but it will have to wait until another day. Happy Birthday to the first of the Miami Triad!
Since we seem to be caught up in Olympics, fever I offer you Edward Patrick Francis “Eddie” Eagan, a Beta who was a member of the University of Denver and Yale University chapters of Beta Theta Pi. Just as he experienced two Beta chapters, he also experienced the winter and summer Olympics. Eagan won the gold at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics in the 178-pound boxing category and a gold in bobsledding at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics. After Yale, Eagan went to Harvard Law School and then to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He served in both World War I and World War II, lived and is buried in Rye, New York.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. 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/