The Early History of Rho Zeta | LCA Fraternity



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2012 October

The Early History of Rho Zeta

I am impressed with the publications that Lambda Chi Alpha produced in the early years of our Fraternity. Our early history is well documented in the pages of the Purple, Green and Gold, the Cross & Crescent, and the Expositor. One of my favorite sources of information about Lambda Chi Alpha is the November-December 1929 issue of Purple, Green, and Gold magazine.

This particular issue is often referred to as the “history number.” This issue covers the first 20 years of our Fraternity’s history. While some of the “facts” found in magazine are questionable, it remains one of the best available sources of Lambda Chi Alpha’s history.

One of the most valuable and amazing aspects of the history number is the magazine’s last section. This part of the magazine presents a thumbnail history of all of the Zetas in existence in 1929. Many of these local histories were illustrated with photographs of the chapter houses. Rare drawings of the local groups’ original badges and pledge pins are also included in the articles. It must have been a tremendous effort on the part of our mostly volunteer staff to pull together an article from each Zeta.

Without question the history number represents a treasure trove of information about our local chapters up to 1929.

The Early Years of Rho Zeta (Union College)

Harold Edgar Martin (1925), Rho 50, contributed this article to the history number of the Purple, Green, and Gold in 1929.

“Back in 1907 life at Union College was much different from that of today. Fraternities were limited in number and scope of activity. The new fraternity movement was just beginning to be felt; it was not surprising that the men at Union should have felt the stirring of awakened interest in general fraternities among the first.

A small group of undergraduates dubbed themselves the B.I.W. Club, probably during the winter 1907-08. The original members were officers of the Pyramid Club, a commons club which did not compete with existing fraternities. The B.I.W. Club, begun secretly by mutual friends, was destined to become Rho of Lambda Chi Alpha. The original members were John F. Nash, ’08, Francis W. Burleigh, ’09, and Frank Huntington, ’09.

After acquiring rooms in a dormitory, thoughts of the men turned toward petitioning a national fraternity. In 1911, first overtures were made to Theta Lambda Phi, a law fraternity founded at Dickinson College of Law which apparently did not insist too strongly on the legal requirement. The petition was approved November 4, and on February 4, 1912, the group was installed as Parker Senate of Theta Lambda Phi.

The law fraternity of Delta Theta Phi grew, in the fall of 1913, from the previously existing societies of Delta Phi Delta, Alpha Kappa Phi, and Theta Lambda Phi. Under the consolidation the legal qualification was more urgently imposed. This was unfortunate for the Union Chapter, for the law school of the university is twenty miles away. Accordingly, during the winter of 1914-15, the Union chapter arranged an amicable withdrawal.

The group in the meantime asked the help and advice of George Banta, Sr., then as now well informed concerning and friendly to all college fraternities. Without hesitation he suggested that the group petition Lambda Chi Alpha. A petition was submitted on May 13, 1915, and accepted on May 27, 1915. Kenneth Creble reported that Warren A. Cole would install the group as Rho of Lambda Chi Alpha on June 5, 1915, but the installation did not actually take place until June 25.”

(A list of the Charter members of Rho Zeta is found here in the original article.)

“The thought of a new national relationship inspired the group to greater heights. It became dissatisfied with a dormitory section, but it had no surplus funds. However, while the petition had been pending, Charles M. Hendry proposed a motion, adopted after sharp debate and a close vote, ‘that we shall not renew the lease of the dormitory section.’

On May 24, 1915, the chapter voted to lease a house at 224 Union Street for $1,000. This was but three days before news was received that the group had been granted a charter by Lambda Chi Alpha. The assumption of financial responsibility outside the college walls was immediately important. Rho had to hustle or starve. Members did not starve because, by some good fortune, Mrs. Quackenbush began to manage the dining room at that time. In her nine years of service to the chapter, she did probably more than any other one person to make the chapter a success. She had the confidence of the boys; she bought and served food under the most difficult conditions; she was a source of courage when the chapter was struggling for its very life.

Successively the chapter lived at 242 Union Street, 208 Union Street, and 404 Union Street, when, with a large and active chapter, it began to feel the effects of the World War. Funds were near exhaustion. With influenza raging, city authorities asked the chapter to turn its house over for civic purposes, which was gladly done. Rooms were rented and the furniture stored for the duration of hostilities.

As the members gradually returned from war service and the chapter resumed operation, a house was rented at 22 Gillespie Street at $60 a month. Alumni from other chapters assisted greatly by rooming in the house while the chapter was being recruited to normal strength. The chapter was fortunate that new leaders rose to the changed conditions and that their leadership was of the highest order. The early years had been spent in perfecting internal organization, assuming national responsibilities, building tradition and a reputation. With the influx of war veterans in 1918-20, Rho began to have a more active influence on the campus. Pledging became easier, recognition became certain, social and political prestige were gradually built up.

The house at 22 Gillespie Street, although very near the campus, was not sufficiently large, and after a year of occupancy was almost falling apart. In 1919-20 the undergraduate chapter began an intensive campaign for funds with which to purchase a house. In an incredibly short time they had floated a bond issue of $3500. With the cash in hand, Rho, with the aid of several alumni, bought a house at 860 Union Street, the present home. They assumed first and second mortgages that aggregated $5,000. About $1,000 was spent fitting the house for the chapter’s use. The property is now worth far more then when it was purchased, owing to the rapid appreciation in values in the neighborhood. It, however, has never been ideal, and Rho is still dreaming of and planning for a specially built house on the campus.

In the past 10 years high class and college officers and major and minor sports letters, managerial positions, and club presidencies were as numerous in Rho as in any chapter at the institution. The internal organization has never been neglected. The Fraternity’s universal accounting system was adopted in 1923. Complete ritualistic equipment was purchased in 1924. The ritual was completely memorized and dramatized, members believe, for the first in the Fraternity by the Rho team in 1924-25. Other improvements were planned and carried through.

Rho has been served by many efficient members in the past. The chapter is entirely grateful to them.”


I believe that the “new fraternity movement” mentioned in the article had to do with the desire of many first time college men of middle class background to join a fraternity. Most mainstream fraternities at the time restricted membership to legacies and men from the social and economic elites. Many new fraternities, including Lambda Chi Alpha, were formed on pre-World War campuses for just that purpose. The notion appeared to be: if you can’t join them, start your own.

George Banta was a very important and influential man in the Greek World of his day. He was a member of Phi Delta Theta, a lawyer, and publisher of many fraternity magazines. He also published the monthly Banta’s Greek Exchange and various editions of Baird’s Manual of American College Fraternities. It is not surprising that he is mentioned in this article for his expansion activities.

A good example of his expansion work was with Delta Gamma sorority to areas outside of the southern states. He helped them found a chapter at Franklin College. In recognition of his work, Delta Gamma named the new chapter Phi to recognize his affiliation with Phi Delta Theta and made him an honorary member of the sorority. George Banta remains the only man ever to be made a member of Delta Gamma sorority.

I think that it is also interesting that a chapter house played such a prominent part of the group’s early history. This is probably due to the perception that fraternity life was nearly identical to its room and board operation. The table banter, joking, and serious discussions were seen as a major part of the fraternity experience. The fancier, newer, and bigger fraternity houses were equated with the best fraternities.

An inducement to joining a fraternity was the amount and quality of the food served in its dining hall. Mrs. Quakenbush was recognized in the article for the successful management of the dining room operation for nine years. Her success resulted in the chapter’s success in recruiting and maintaining membership.

Rho Zeta was a casualty of World War II. After 25 years of operation and 213 initiated members it closed its doors for the last time in 1940.

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Lambda Chi Alpha’s vision to lead a co-curricular Greek movement, predicated on partnership and collaboration amongst the undergraduates, host institutions, alumni and General Fraternity, and offering an experience that focuses on the maturational development of today’s college man. As such, it is the vision of Lambda Chi Alpha to extend itself beyond the traditional social fraternity in practice and principle.