Beta Alpha Delta: 1902 - 1911

Denison University was established on December 13, 1831, as the Granville Literary and Theological Institute at a ceremony in the uncompleted Granville Baptist Church. Some twenty prospective scholars joined with Ohio Baptist leaders and the principal—soon named president of the institution—The Reverend John Pratt from Massachusetts.

The connection with Massachusetts was very basic. Granville had been founded in 1805 by a group of New Englanders who had grown tired of trying to make a living on their rocky hill-farms in western Massachusetts. Baptists had been moving to the Ohio area ever since the Revolution. The beautiful village of Granville still exhibits much of the character of a New England town and is fondly remembered by Denison alumni.

After a year holding classes in the Baptist Church, the Institute moved to a farm a mile west of Granville, where it faced fiscal trials and tribulations for twenty-two years. Soon its name was changed to Granville College.

In 1854 the trustees decided to move the college from the farm to the hill above the village. The moving from the farm of a large frame building, later called the Old Frame, and the construction of a new brick dormitory-classroom, later named Marsh Hall, were the first steps toward the development of what became the college quadrangle. Then in 1856 the college was renamed Denison University, in honor of William S. Denison of Muskingum County, who had pledged $10,000 toward the endowment of the institution.

Denison University continued to struggle during the late 1850s and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 didn’t help matters any. The war hindered hopes of raising additional endowment and operating funds when the budget was incredibly tight. Help came, however in 1863 with the selection of the Reverend Samson Talbot as Denison’s president. Under his leadership, finances improved significantly, and $100,000 in endowments was raised by 1867. The trustees undertook the building of a new brick building that year, long called the New Brick, but in 1910 it was renamed Talbot Hall.

After the Civil War, as the student population grew, social life also took on new forms. With no common boarding place for the students, eating clubs formed the genesis for the secret societies formed in the post-war years. However, the college authorities were very hostile to the possible rise of Greek-letter fraternities at Denison.

Fifty years after the establishment of Phi Beta Kappa—at first as a social fraternity—at the College of William and Mary in 1776, a number of fraternities were established in the northeast beginning in1825. With the opening of the “west”—i.e., Ohio and states to the west and northwest—and the significant number of colleges founded to serve the needs of this area, what became three major fraternities were founded at Miami University, Beta Theta Pi in 1839, Phi Gamma Delta in 1848, and Sigma Chi in 1855. Gradually, these and other fraternities began to plant chapters at other Ohio colleges, yet they did not enter the Denison campus until after the Civil War.

By 1867, members of one of the Denison eating clubs applied for a charter from Kappa Phi Lambda Fraternity, and when eight pins of this new chapter appeared on campus that spring, the faculty strongly condemned the act, arousing sympathy from other students for the new fraternity. Five students decided to aid the existing fraternity by establishing another, and in the spring of 1868, Mu Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity was chartered.

When the parent chapter of Kappa Phi Lambda at the University of Michigan died, the Denison members decided to seek admission to another fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. In December 1868, the old Kappa Phi Lambda group became Alpha Eta Chapter of Beta Theta Pi.

Denison University president Samson Talbot maintained that fraternities undercut literary society work, and the spring of 1872, the faculty recommended to the board of trustees a rule forbidding “preps” from joining any college fraternity or secret society and punishing violations by immediate dismissal. At their June 1872 meeting the board of trustees adopted the rule. As a result, the Betas were able to continue secretly for seven years after their last known member graduated, but the Sigma Chis could keep their chapter alive only until 1876.

When Rev. Alfred Owen became Denison’s president in the fall of 1879 and became acquainted with the students, they learned that he was a member of Zeta Psi Fraternity and not unfriendly to fraternities. The Betas accelerated their underground activities, and in 1880, Mu Chapter of Sigma Chi was revived sub rosa.

At their annual meeting in June, 1881, they received the faculty’s report that the anti-fraternity rule was impractical and “inexpedient to legislate” and unanimously urged the repeal of this rule. The board accepted the faculty’s report, but added that no new organization would be permitted unless the object of the society was understood and the consent and approval of the president was obtained.

No sooner was the action of the board made known than ten Betas, nine Sigma Chis, and a few other fraternity men who had transferred to Denison appeared on campus proudly wearing their fraternity pins. The Betas and Sigs acquired rooms in the village for their meetings and entertainments. Fraternities were becoming a regular part of student life at Denison.

In 1885, Phi Gamma Delta established its Lambda Deuteron chapter, but no other national fraternities were established on the campus for over twenty-five years. The percentage of the student body that was affiliated with a fraternity gradually rose, and by 1887, the fraternities were beginning to reach down into Doane Academy, Denison’s preparatory school, for some of their members.

Over the years, a number of local fraternities were established at Denison, some lasting only a few years, others becoming rivals of the three national fraternities.

By 1902, the three national fraternities at Denison had become firmly and permanently established. Yet a large majority of the students were not fraternity men.

Early Members of Beta Alpha Delta – Left group: Allen Nettleman, Hugh Hick, Irving Field, Harry Gengnagel. Right group: Charles Patt, Gale, Seaman, Charles Mathews, Orville Montgomery, Charles Burke, James West, John Randall, Harwood Lersch, Guy Crippen, Joseph Lloyd

In the fall of 1902, there was a men’s dormitory on the hill, then called the East Dorm, but later renamed Talbot Hall—now razed and replaced by Knapp Hall. The students in East Dorm were all very congenial and manifested their sociability in true student fashion. Nine of them were drawn together by unusual bonds of friendship. On October 10, 1902, eight of these men gathered in the room of Allan N. Nettleman ’03 and Irving A. Field ’03, and a new student organization was founded by Nettleman, Field, Hugh R. Hick ’03, Charles F. Burke ’04, Harry B. Gengnagel ’03, Horace H. Wall ’04, Raymond D. Sprout ’04, and William E. Wickenden ’04,

A motto was decided upon and Nettleman translated it into Greek. Its initials were “Beta Alpha Delta.” The Fraternity’s colors were Black and Blue. A grip, stone, flower, emblems, and the form of pin were settled, and a committee was appointed to draft a constitution embodying the principles already decided upon.

James S. West ’04, the ninth man, was unable to attend the organizational meeting, but he was voted in, pledged, and duly initiated. Thus he had the distinction of being the first initiate of Beta Alpha Delta. Later in the school year Charles B. Patt ’05, Harwood Lersch ’06, Fletcher S. Scott ’06, and C. Burton Nickels ’06 were initiated.

Wickenden, Wall, Nickels, and Sprout were members of Sigma Chi. When the dormitory club was founded there seems to have been no idea of excluding fraternity men from the club. Membership was restricted merely to residents of the dormitory. Thus all of the members lived in East Dorm and several, like Orville C. Montgomery ’04 and John L. Randall ’04, joined after moving into the dorm.

Denison president Dr. Emory W. Hunt encouraged the new local fraternity for two reasons. First, he hoped to improve and enlarge the fraternity system at Denison, and second, he desired to establish a chapter of his own fraternity Alpha Delta Phi, a small, but very high ranking, eastern fraternity.

The record for the school year 1902-1903 found the football team managed by a Beta Alpha Delt, and they were presiding over the Franklin Literary Society, the athletic board of control, and the Y.M.C.A. They were also represented on the football and baseball teams, the college glee club, and the orchestra.

During the spring of 1903 the idea of cutting loose from the Sigma Chi members of the club seemed to grow upon several of the other members of Beta Alpha Delta, the chief reason being the feeling that there was plenty of room for another fraternity on campus. A gradual rejection of the four Sigma Chi members began, and by the opening of the fall 1903 semester, they took the hint and were no longer part of Beta Alpha Delta.

The first meetings that year were held in the Denison Book Exchange, and here the constitution was revised, the ritual perfected, and new men voted in. The young fraternity was beginning its life or death struggle for recognition by the three national fraternity chapters on campus. It was a hard fight. Hard, in spite of the fact that the members of the fraternity were all prominent in student life and activities. They were men of high ideals and courageous hearts, and the snubs and slams borne by them seem to have been productive of more good than harm in the long run. The founders of Beta Alpha Delta were not in any sense men who were chafed by the fact that they were not national fraternity men.

However, Beta Alpha Delta was no haven for men rejected by the other fraternities at Denison; several members had refused bids from these established groups. In fact, one of the avowed purposes of the fraternity was to elevate the standard of fraternal life at Denison. They did this by example: the pledges of 1903 were Gale Seaman ’05, Guy C: Crippen ’07, Charles F. Mathews ’06, Joseph H. Lloyd ’08, Guy H. Orcutt ’06, and Elsor Heater ’08.

Realizing the difficulty of maintaining a high standard of brotherhood without having a national charter, plans for seeking one were made in the fall of 1903, and a petition was sent to Alpha Delta Phi, with the blessing and recommendation Dr. Hunt. Representatives of their executive council were sent to visit Beta Alpha Delta and the brothers had many reasons for believing that the impression these officers received of Denison and Beta Alpha Delta were most favorable. However, at that time a strong anti-expansion sentiment was pervading among the leaders of Alpha Delta Phi, and with this knowledge, the Beta Alpha Deltas withdrew their petition.

The founding of Beta Alpha Delta was somewhat resented by the three national fraternities, and, through their influence, by the two local sororities. The 1903 Adytum (edited by Betas and Phi Gams) refused to list the new fraternity with the others and gave it a page under “Miscellaneous Organizations.”

During the year 1903-1904, Beta Alpha Delta had the presidency of the senior class, the junior class, Franklin Literary Society, Calliope Literary Society, the oratorical association, the athletic association,and the Y.M.C.A. They were represented on the varsity football team and the glee club. (The word “varsity” began as an abbreviation of “university.”) The manager of the Adytum was also a brother. The record of that year is more unusual in view of the fact that there were but ten men in the fraternity!

During the year 1903-1904, the great question was that of establishing a chapter house in the village with boarding facilities. After a careful search, the fraternity rented the nine-room brick house at the southwest corner of Cherry and Elm Streets. It was really too small for a fraternity house; nearly all of the members boarded there, but only four could live in the house. Joseph H. Lloyd ’08, Elsor Heater, Earl H. Chittenden ’09, and Thomas D. Rees ’09 were the first to have this privilege. The house was surrounded by a spacious lawn, which was improved by the addition of a tennis court. This house was the home of Beta Alpha Delta from December 1903 until August 1910.

The school year 1904-1905 was another year of prominence of the members in organizations, and student government. That year, and in fact, every year, Beta Alpha Delta had men on the varsity football team. The faculty adviser to the fraternity was Malcolm E. Stickney, a 1899 Harvard graduate and Professor of Botany, who was initiated in the fall of 1904.

For 1905-1906, the Beta Alpha Deltas won the presidency of the sophomore class and had representatives on football, basketball, baseball teams and in the glee club.

During 1906-1907, the fraternity broke into the captaincies of the football and the debating teams. Members were on all the athletic teams, including track.

The 1907-1908 school year commenced with Elsor Heater being elected president of the senior class. Other brothers held the presidency of the freshman class, three won their “D” in football and one in basketball, and captained the cross country team. A record was established in 1908-1909 by having six “D” men in football, two in basketball, and three in baseball. Four men were on the glee club, and one was on the debating team. Beta Alpha Delta commanded respect from the other fraternities by winning the cup in the interfraternity basketball series.

Extraordinary effort was made to keep the bonds of fellowship unbroken. Monthly letters containing the fraternity news were sent to all the alumni with more or less regularity. The most effective means of keeping up enthusiasm and interest was the annual banquet, held each year on the Wednesday night of the college commencement week. The regular fall initiation was always made the occasion of banqueting and visitation by the alumni.

In the spring of 1909, a committee was appointed to investigate and make a report upon several national fraternities. These reports were made at the annual alumni banquet held during commencement week. No action was taken at that time although there was a great deal of discussion. In the fall the work was again taken up, it being placed in the hands of a committee composed of Alfred S. Orcutt ’11, Horace H. Hunt ’11, and Fred C. Parks ’11. There were several fundamental considerations to be satisfied before any selection could be made. Of course, any fraternity which would not take in the alumni was not to be considered. Moreover, the fraternity decided upon must be thoroughly national in scope, must be represented by chapters in the best schools of the country, and must be at the front of fraternity life in these schools.

The committee investigated as thoroughly as possible. It aimed high with the result that a report was made in favor of petitioning Kappa Sigma. The active chapter adopted the report, and the action was communicated to the alumni with a request that they reply at once giving their approval or disapproval. Answers were soon received from a majority; all but two of whom endorsed the proposal. Those two stated that they were not well enough acquainted with the circumstances to give an opinion.

Meanwhile, “The Beta Alpha Delta Fraternity” was incorporated as a non-profit corporation by the State of Ohio on June 12, 1909. The incorporators were Phil S. Bradford ’12, Thomas D. Rees ’09, Robert B. Whyte ’11, George L. Hershberger ’09, John M. Mitchell ’10, and Earl H. Foote ’09. “Said corporation is formed for the purpose of bringing together a number of congenial men in fraternal union and close fellowship, for the mutual aid of its members, for the elevation of the moral tone of fraternal life in Denison, and for the advancement of the highest interests of the University.” In 1924 the corporate name was formally changed from “The Beta Alpha Delta Fraternity” to “Gamma Xi Chapter of Kappa Sigma Fraternity,” and today the Gamma-Xi Alumni Association operates under the same charter. In 1907, a young instructor in mathematics had come to Denison. John B. Woodward Jr. was a Kappa Sigma from the University of Richmond. Two years later, he met Beta Alpha Delta alumnus, W. Gear Spencer ’07, by then also a Denison instructor. In a letter to this author dated April 20, 1964, Woodward related that he taught at Denison from 1907 to 1910 and became such a good friend of “Bunny” Spencer that Spencer was a member of Woodward’s wedding party in 1916.

After getting to know the local fraternity and its members, Woodward decided Beta Alpha Delta could become a great Kappa Sigma chapter and was prepared to recommend it.

The earliest document in the archives of Kappa Sigma Headquarters relating to Gamma-Xi Chapter is a letter dated November 24, 1909, from Worthy Grand Master N. Leslie Carpenter, an initiate of Kappa Chapter at Vanderbilt University, to Worthy Grand Scribe Herbert M. Martin, an initiate of Eta Chapter at Randolph-Macon College, reporting that he had received a letter of inquiry and that Martin would soon receive a petition from Beta Alpha Delta. While that letter is lost, it was possibly from Woodward, advising the Worthy Grand Master that he was recommending Beta Alpha Delta and helping its members prepare their petition for a charter.

Woodward helped Spencer, Alfred Orcutt, R. Dean Hart ’10, and Horace Hunt, as they spent their Christmas 1909 vacation in Granville preparing the petition for a charter from Kappa Sigma.

The petition, sent to Worthy Grand Scribe Martin before the month was over, has not been found, but it reportedly included a short sketch of each of the undergraduate and alumni members of Beta Alpha Delta, a history of the little fraternity, a letter from Denison president Emory Hunt giving permission for the establishment of a Kappa Sigma chapter, and letters from various members of the faculty and townsmen recommending individually, and as a whole, the men of Beta Alpha Delta.

Denison and Beta Alpha Delta were then visited by Kappa Sigma representatives of the national fraternity, Worthy Grand Procurator Jeremiah S. Ferguson, an initiate of Psi Chapter at the University of Maine, and District Grand Master John M. Price, an initiate of Alpha-Delta Chapter at Penn State College, who were only in Granville for about six hours. When they left, the petitioners felt certain that there was nothing about Denison or Beta Alpha Delta that the visitors did not know. When leaving, Ferguson told them not to be discouraged if they didn’t hear anything favorable for a year or more.

While Kappa Sigma was enjoying a period of expansion, there was no rush to approve petitions. Being strong and desirable at the time of initial investigation was no assurance of a petitioner’s staying power. A report on the annual meeting of the Supreme Executive Committee in February 1910 stated: “Five petitions for new active chapter charters were denied, of which two were to reestablish defunct chapters. One petition was continued for further investigation.” Clearly, this one was the petition from Beta Alpha Delta.

In the following months, the Beta Alpha Deltas were pleased with the courteous treatment they received both in correspondence and when they came into personal contact with Kappa Sigmas at Ohio State University in Columbus and at Case School of Applied Sciences in Cleveland. When visiting, the Beta Alpha Deltas were made to feel, not as strangers, but as welcome friends.

John Woodward stated in his 1964 letter that he attended the Grand Conclave of 1910 in New York City in July as a representative of Beta Alpha Delta to promote its cause. He wrote, “The three years spent in Granville were among the happiest of my life and I have since felt a keen sense of loss in having let a busy career in Virginia keep me from returning to Ohio on occasion.”

In 1914 Woodward joined the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company as general manager and rose to chairman in 1953. The company had built such ships as the USS Intrepid during World War II. John received a commendation for outstanding service to the Navy during World War II in 1947. He also served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond from 1954 to 1958, and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Richmond from 1937 until his death in 1969.

Also during the summer of 1910, a home at the northwest corner of Elm and Prospect Streets was leased. It was a large, twelve-room Gothic Revival house with rooming accommodations for eleven men and excellent facilities for boarding, as well as for banqueting and other social functions. It would be home for three years.

In the fall, the status of the petition became somewhat precarious. On September 20, 1910, WGS Martin wrote WGP Ferguson: “I was a little surprised, as well as disappointed, to learn from [WGM] Carpenter several days ago that he could see nothing of special merit in the Denison petition. I hope, however, upon an examination of all the papers in this case, which I have sent you several days ago, he will come to view the matter in a more favorable light. I have just been advised that Phi Beta Kappa has recently granted a charter to Denison, and I am also informed that the local that is petitioning Kappa Sigma has started off with a rush this fall capturing men from Beta Theta Pi and Phi Gamma Delta.”

The formal Report on Petition, sent to all chapters and officers of Kappa Sigma on October 7, 1910, stated: “The results of our investigation show the men of Beta Alpha Delta to be leaders in every phase of college life. The officers and faculty of Denison University unhesitatingly endorse them in the highest terms, telling us that this organization ‘has been characterized by excellent scholarship, high personal character, and ideals and generous interest in all enterprises among the students.’”

WGP Ferguson, after an exhaustive personal investigation, added his high endorsement: “The local appears to be about on a par with the best of the three fraternities as to scholarship; the local decidedly leads all the fraternities as to athletics and morality, general behavior, and faculty approval. They are in good financial condition, having never been in debt and now having a little money in the bank. Their credit about town is excellent.”

The report also stated that District Grand Master Price was very favorable on Beta Alpha Delta. “They present an impressive appearance and are imbued with the true fraternity spirit.” He was much in favor of granting the charter and could see no specific reason that can be given for any objection.

Those of Kappa Sigma alumni who were in a position to know something about the petitioning members vouched for them being splendid material for Kappa Sigma, and all expressed the wish that the charter would be granted. The report also noted that the petitioner was renting a house in the village, and had furnished it well.

Three of the four chapters in the District, which then included the states of Ohio, Kentucky, and western Pennsylvania, expressed their opinions about the petition. Beta-Delta Chapter at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania stated that although they had not sent a representative to Granville to investigate matters, “the feeling kind of runs against granting them a charter.” On the other hand, Beta-Nu Chapter at the University of Kentucky wrote, “Although we have not met any of the members, we are ready to express our opinion in favor of their admission.” Alpha-Sigma Chapter at Ohio State University wrote on May 22 that a committee from the chapter had visited Beta Alpha Delta three days earlier and wrote, “Our chapter will not recommend them as desirable in the matter of installing a chapter, but if the SEC sees fit to install such chapter, we will meet them as brothers and do what we can in making them good Kappa Sigmas.”

Such tepid response from nearby chapters was disappointing since the visits by members of Beta Alpha Delta to Alpha-Sigma Chapter and Beta-Phi Chapter at Case Institute had been perceived as cordial and encouraging. The concern perhaps focused on the relative smallness of the Denison campus in comparison to the existing chapters in the District. The Supreme Executive Committee, however, weighed all the evidence, including the high standing of Denison University and the lack of substantial objection from the other chapters and the officers of the Fraternity. When WGM Carpenter changed his opinion about Beta Alpha Delta, the vote of the SEC in favor of granting the charter was assured.      Almost one year after petitioning Kappa Sigma, Beta Alpha Delta received a telegram from Worthy Grand Master Carpenter on December 24, 1910, telling the brothers that their petition had been approved by the Supreme Executive Committee, and on the same day, the charter of Gamma-Xi Chapter of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity was issued. Woodward reported later that the Kappa Sigma leaders thought it was the best application ever received.

WGS Martin wrote the Beta Alpha Deltas on January 3, 1911, congratulating them and noting that the alumni of Beta Alpha Delta were eligible for membership in Kappa Sigma and encouraging as many as possible of them to present themselves at the time of the installation for initiation, while those unable to attend could be initiated at a later time.

As the first semester of the 1910-1911 school year closed, the Beta Alpha Deltas prepared for the big step: initiation and installation as a chapter of a national fraternity, Kappa Sigma.

The brothers knew the time was very near when the name of Beta Alpha Delta would become but a memory. Yet they held on to the trust that her ideals would continue to exist and would grow in the new chapter of Kappa Sigma. The fraternal devotion which had existed in Beta Alpha Delta and its position at Denison would hopefully be transferred to Gamma-Xi Chapter of Kappa Sigma.

Elson Heater, by then an instructor in history at Denison, wrote at the time of the installation: “It is, of course, very precarious to attempt to raise the veil of the future; and yet, with our present membership and the added advantages of having the coveted charter of Kappa Sigma, it is hard to see how the immediate future of the chapter could be other than prosperous.”

The most lasting token of Beta Alpha Delta is its song, which for decades the new Kappa Sigma pledges sang each fall to the alumni at the Homecoming banquet. When the pledges finished, the alumni would join in for a second chorus.

The words are: 

We gather now in fellowship to wear the black and blue
All loyal sons of Beta Alpha Delta.
Around thy shrine we take our stand with hearts both staunch and true
All loyal sons of Beta Alpha Delta.
Beta Alpha Delta, thee we love
To thee our fondest memories cling.
May the star of hope forever brightly shine above
To mark thy shrine, O Beta Alpha Delta.