March 15 is the day on which both Delta Gamma and Phi Delta Theta celebrate Founders’ Day. The organizations are also connected by the efforts of a Phi Delt who was also an initiated member of Delta Gamma.
It is the birthday of Robert Morrison, one of Phi Delta Theta’s six founders. The organization was founded on December 26, 1848 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Morrison proposed the organization; along with John McMillan Wilson, he chose the name of the fraternity. The other founders are Robert Thompson Drake, John Wolfe Lindley, Ardivan Walker Rodgers, and Andrew Watts Rogers. Miami University was founded by an act of the Ohio general assembly in 1809. Phi Delta Theta’s second chapter was chartered in 1849 at Indiana University.
Delta Gamma was founded at the Oxford Female Institute, also known as the Lewis School, at Oxford, Mississippi. The school was established before the Civil War and eventually was absorbed by the University of Mississippi. Delta Gamma’s three founders, Eva Webb [Dodd], her cousin Anna Boyd [Ellington], and Mary Comfort [Leonard], all from Kosciusko, Mississippi, were weather-bound at the school over the Christmas holidays in December of 1873.
Mrs. Hays, the lady principal, hosted the girls for the holidays. She had a son who was a fraternity man at the University of Mississippi. He and the women’s other gentlemen friends may have imbued the girls with the idea to start their own Greek-letter society. Founder Eva Webb Dodd later told this story:
When the idea first came to three homesick girls during the Christmas holidays of 1873 to found fraternity or club as we then called it, little did we realize that we were laying the cornerstone of such a grand fraternity as Delta Gamma. The school we attended at Oxford, Miss., was not much more advanced than a high school of today. During the week we decided on our motto and selected the Greek letters to represent it. We did not know that there were any other fraternities for girls in the United States known by Greek letters when we gave our club its name. We spent the holidays deciding on our pin and initiation and writing our constitution. In January 1874, we had our first initiation. We initiated four girls. The initiation was in one of the rooms of the house where we were boarding. We were careful to select only the girls we thought would be in sympathy with us and make our fraternity worthy of its name.
Delta Gamma’s Founders’ Day is celebrated on March 15 because on that date in 1879, the Eta Chapter at Akron University was founded. Coincidentally, it was a man, Phi Delta Theta George Banta, who took Delta Gamma to the northern states. That story of George Banta, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Gamma.
According to an article published in the Winter 1993 Anchora:
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 Hanover and Buchtel (but) in both cases it was through the direct and active effort and cooperation of membership of my fraternity.’
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.
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