The History of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity
Our Beginning, Growth, and Development
On the cold night of January 10, 1899, students of Illinois Wesleyan University, in the small Midwestern town of Bloomington, had just returned from the Christmas holidays when Joseph L. Settles went to the room occupied by James C. McNutt and Clarence A. Mayer at 504 East Locust Street to discuss the organization of a new society on campus. Joined immediately by Owen I. Truitt and C. Roy Atkinson, these five students created the first set of regulations for the Knights of Classic Lore, a society whose avowed purpose was "to aid college men in mental, moral, and social development."
Because of his late arrival for this meeting, James J. Love was made the first new member. Love, along with Edwin A. Palmer and George H. Thorpe became the first initiates of this new organization. Although Settles was the leader in organizing the society, Atkinson was elected President and McNutt was chosen as Secretary.
There were two fraternities already in existence at Illinois Wesleyan in 1899, both with more than 50 chapters nationally. Phi Gamma Delta had been established in 1866, while Sigma Chi had begun there in 1883. In addition, two other national fraternities, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Tau Delta, had inactive chapters at Illinois Wesleyan. The Phi Delts existed from 1878-1897 and the Delts from 1877-1880.
A Different Organization
The Founders of the Knights of Classic Lore desired an organization different from those represented by the existing fraternities. Their desire was to establish a fraternity in which the primary requisites for membership would be the personal worth and character of the individual rather than the wealth he possessed, the honors or titles he could display, or the rank he maintained on the social ladder. The Founders of the KCL had little regard for many of the common characteristics of fraternities at that time, including their usual snobbery and disdain for persons outside of a fraternity.
It was not long after their recognition on campus that the Knights of Classic Lore were approached by some alumni of the Illinois Epsilon chapter of Phi Delta Theta, whose charter had been surrendered in 1897. The Phi Delt alumni saw in this new group an opportunity for the restoration of its charter, and interested themselves in converting it into a strong local fraternity. Through the persuasion and effort of Richard Henry Little, for columnist on the Chicago Tribune and one of the most prominent Phi Delt alumni, the Knights presented a petition to the Phi Delta Theta national organization at its convention in New York in 1902. The petition was rejected.
In hopes that their organization might be more attractive to Phi Delta Theta, it was decided that a Greek-letter name should be adopted. The name "Knights of Classic Lore" was therefore abandoned and the Greek letters Tau Kappa Epsilon selected. As a further step, a fraternity house was rented. This was the first fraternity house at Illinois Wesleyan, although Phi Gamma Delta and Sigma Chi had both been in existence on campus for many years. The Wilder Mansion, former home of President Wilder of the University, became the first TKE house.
In the ensuing years, the Phi Delt alumni and some of the undergraduate members continued to press for affiliation with Phi Delta Theta by promoting petitions at the 1904 and 1906 Phi Delt national conventions. In each instance the petition was either withdrawn or postponed. It is reported that one of the petitions came within one vote of being accepted.
The Great Decision
Late in 1907, several undergraduate members of Tau Kappa Epsilon were again preparing a petition to be presented to the Phi Delta Theta national convention in 1908. The wisdom of petitioning, however, was being questioned with increasing frequency. To increase enthusiasm for this fourth attempt, a banquet was held on October 19, 1907, at which speeches were made both advocating and questioning the proposal. One of the most notable and influential speeches given was a blistering address by Wallace G. McCauley, titled "Opportunity Out of Defeat," in which he advocated the abandonment of the petitioning process and the substitution of a campaign for TKE to become its own national fraternity.
At the banquet, Frater McCauley said, "Someone has said that most victories are defeats. As to the truth of that statement, numerous instances can be cited tending to establish it. But just as true is the converse of that proposition that most defeats are victories, and I truly believe an instance of this was our failure to have reinstated the Phi Delta Theta charter of Illinois Epsilon. I believe this in spite of the fact that no one labored more zealously to that end during the first two campaigns than myself. And, too, no one felt the defeats at the time more bitterly than myself; but now, after an absence of a year or so, I am brought to the conviction that Tau Kappa Epsilon was indeed fortunate in her defeats, because thereby there was reserved for us a large opportunity..."
Interwoven about the sentiments of our name and our pin, and engrained in the fiber of every member is the Teke spirit - a spirit typical of our fraternity - a spirit that does not shrink from sacrifice, that knows no defeat, a spirit indomitable. A spirit which if breathed into a national Tau Kappa Epsilon would spread our organization throughout the schools of our country..."
"But if we keep Tau Kappa Epsilon intact, the Teke spirit…will flow on forever... Let us not lack faith in this project. Remember faith as a grain of mustard will overcome mountains of difficulty. The history of other organizations lends us encouragement. Phi Delta Theta was born a few years before the Civil War in a student's room in a building of Miami University, less pretentious than the preparatory building on the Wesleyan campus, and today Phi Delta Theta is the fourth largest fraternity in existence..."
"Fellow brothers, Tau Kappa Epsilon was conceived in the early struggles of our existence. Time is now right to start in on a national career, and we, its godfathers here tonight, when it is grown to be a strong and lusty organization, touching student life everywhere with the beneficence of its principles, will obtain a satisfaction inexpressible in the part we had in its inception."
Although arousing bitter opposition at the time, this speech ultimately reduced the fourth petition to a bare formality and became one of the significant turning points in the history of the Fraternity.
One of the measures advocated by McCauley in his address was the publication of a quarterly magazine called The Teke. This proposal met with immediate approval and the first issue was published in January 1908, with Clyde M. Leach as the editor.
The First Conclave
Under the new constitution, the Prytanis and Grammateus of the undergraduate chapters were ex-officio delegates to the Conclave of the Grand Chapter. Accordingly, on February 17, 1909, Clyde M. Leach as Prytanis and Orrie Reeser as Grammateus of the Alpha chapter, met in Leach's room in the chapter house at 801 North Main Street and held the first Conclave of the Grand Chapter, electing a full slate of national officers and appointing a committee to revise the ritual.
The first Grand Officers were:
- Grand Prytanis: Lester H. Martin
- Grand Epiprytanis: William Wilson
- Grand Grammateus: Clyde E. Leighty
- Grand Histor: L.W. Tuesburg
- Grand Crysophylos: James J. Love
- Grand Hypophetes: Arthur A. Heinlein
- Grand Pylortes: Clyde H. Meyers
Note: The office of Grand Hegemon was not created until the 1951 Conclave.
As has been typical of Tau Kappa Epsilon throughout its history, the leaders of the Fraternity did not waver, but rather pressed forward with their goal of building TKE into a strong national fraternity. Approximately two months after the national constitution was ratified, the second chapter, Beta, was installed.
On April 6, 1909, Lester H. Martin, Arthur Heinlein, L.W. Tuesburg, and a delegation of actives from Alpha chapter paid a visit to Chi Rho Sigma, a local fraternity at Millikin University, in Decatur, Illinois. The Grand Prytanis appointed a committee to further investigate the local. When the committee reported favorably, the first petition was written with pen and ink on a piece of Decatur YMCA stationery, and was unanimously approved by the Grand Council.
Beta Chapter was installed on Saturday, April 17, 1909, at Decatur, Illinois. A banquet was held that evening at the Decatur Hotel attended by members of Alpha chapter and TKE alumni. It is interesting to note that from the beginning, petitioning groups were thoroughly investigated and that an installation banquet was held. These policies have been followed without exception through today.
The Second Conclave
The 2nd Conclave was also held in the Alpha chapter house at 801 North Main in Bloomington. On February 11-12, 1910, the seven Grand Officers, plus two delegates each from Alpha and Beta chapters, were in attendance. Alpha chapter staged a banquet on Friday evening, February 11, for those attending and a smoker was held on Saturday evening at the close of the Conclave. Business was transacted with all the seriousness of a large meeting, and Lester H. Martin was again elected Grand Prytanis.
In the spring of 1910 it was announced that Alpha Chapter, after living 11 years in a rented house, had purchased the home of a Wesleyan professor at a cost of $8,500. This, the first house ever owned by a fraternity at Illinois Wesleyan, was located at 406 East Walnut Street, and served as the home of the chapter until the fall of 1924.
On February 10-11, 1911, the 3rd Conclave convened at Decatur, Illinois, with the Grand Officers and delegates from Alpha and Beta again in attendance. William Wilson was elected Grand Prytanis.
The Triangle is Formed
The issues of The Teke Magazine during 1910-1911 were filled with articles urging further expansion of the Fraternity and predicting the bright future of this infant National Fraternity. Wallace G. McCauley, in the January 1910 issue stated: "TKE is bound to become the fraternity. It is written in the stars that way and all powers of established Hellenism cannot stop the onward destiny of Tau Kappa Epsilon. I don't believe in limiting its extension. Let us plant a chapter where there is a proper membership to promote its principles."
Early in 1912 three alumni of Alpha chapter, Henry A. Burd, Wilbur R. Leighty, and Ward H. Sachs, were graduate students at the University of Illinois. Mainly through their efforts, a local fraternity known as the Campus Club petitioned Tau Kappa Epsilon for a charter on January 22, 1912. The charter was granted and installation followed on February 3, 1912, not at Champaign, but at the Alpha chapter house in Bloomington.
The significance of the location of these first three chapters, closely approximating an equilateral triangle on the map, was at once realized and has been symbolized ever since by the traditional position and shape of the badge. Because of the geographical significance of these three chapters, consideration was given to cutting off any further growth.
The 5th Conclave, held in Decatur, Illinois, on February 14-15, 1913, saw the election of L.W. Tuesburg as Grand Prytanis. Frater Tuesburg, a loyal servant throughout the history of TKE, was re-elected Grand Prytanis at the 6th Conclave on April 17-18, 1914, held in Champaign, Illinois. At this Conclave, the first complete code of fraternity laws was enacted under his leadership.
Out of Illinois
When the Knights of Classic Lore was founded in 1899 there were no thoughts of ever leaving the bounds of Illinois. This feeling was still present during the initial expansion among several of the alumni and active members of the Fraternity. As a result, following the installation of Delta chapter in 1912, no new chapters were chartered for more than two-and-one-half years.
Voluminous correspondence was carried on with numerous prospects during this time, however, and a group at Iowa State College in Ames was determined, as early as 1913, to petition TKE for a charter as soon as faculty permission could be secured.
One of the first acts of the new Grand Prytanis, Lyle F. Straight, elected at the 7th Conclave in Galesburg, Illinois, April 16-17, 1915, was to receive a petition from this group, known as the Seminoles. The Seminoles were installed as Epsilon chapter on May 28, 1915, as the leadership of the fraternity overcame any desire for provincialism.
With this event, Tau Kappa Epsilon may be said to have acquired a truly national scope. With five chapters, TKE was eligible for membership in the National Interfraternity Council and was admitted as a senior member on November 27, 1915. Tau Kappa Epsilon had, for the first time, crossed the borders of Illinois, had been admitted into the councils of national fraternities, and had completed a period of slow development.
From 1909-1915, TKE had added just four chapters. In the next two years, however, five additional chapters were admitted into the fraternity. The chapters chartered were: Zeta at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, May 12, 1916; Eta at the University of Chicago, February 17, 1917; Theta at the University of Minnesota, March 10, 1917; Iota at Eureka College, Eureka, Illinois, April 21, 1917; and Kappa at Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin, May 12, 1917.
The 8th Conclave convened at Bloomington, April 28-29, 1916, and Frater Straight was re-elected as Grand Prytanis. On April 27-28, 1917, the month of America's entry into World War I, the 9th Conclave was held at Ames, Iowa. Oscar G. Hoose was chosen as Grand Prytanis. The minutes of the Conclave gave no mention of the approaching conflict other than a single resolution, "embodying the spirit of the fraternity with respect to the war situation."
World War I
Up to this time, the history of the fraternity had been a somewhat routine record of slow, steady growth in numbers, chapter rolls, and fraternity consciousness. This period, marked only by its annual Conclaves and the chartering of new chapters, also brought about the formation of a body of laws and traditions, the development of a ritual, and a general welding together of its membership into a homogenous fellowship.
With the entry of the United States into World War I and its accompanying transformation of the colleges into the Student's Army Training Corps, fraternity activities on every campus were essentially suspended for more than a year. The enactment of emergency war legislation, most of which became permanent, began a trend toward a strong centralized national organization.
Tex Flint Elected
If the 1917 Conclave was not war conscious, the 10th Conclave, held in Chicago, April 26-27, 1918, concerned itself with little more than the war and its campus problems. Frater Hoose declined re-election because he expected to enter the service, and Harrold P. "Tex" Flint was elected to the first of three terms as Grand Prytanis. Much emergency legislation was enacted such as: the creation of Regions, Regional Officers, Chapter Advisors, and the definition of their duties; the suspension of second-semester initiations; and the granting to the alumni the right of active participation in chapter affairs whenever the number of undergraduate members fell below ten.
The record of Tau Kappa Epsilon in World War I was most creditable. Many men saw active service both at home and in Europe, while scores were enrolled in the S.A.T.C. At the tenth Conclave in Chicago, April 26-27, 1918, it was revealed that Tau Kappa Epsilon had a total membership of 702 (173 active members and 529 alumni). Of the alumni, 204 (38.5%), were directly involved in the war effort.
The Akela Club, at the University of Wisconsin, had become Lambda chapter in 1918, the only wartime acquisition. Mu chapter originated from Sigma Alpha Phi, a local at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1919. The years 1919 and 1920 witnessed two rather uneventful Conclaves; the 11th Conclave was held in Beloit, Wisconsin during 1919 and the 12th Conclave was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1920.
To The West Coast
The installation of Nu chapter at the University of California marked a significant step in the history of Tau Kappa Epsilon, a step that was taken only after considerable discussion and misgiving. The Sequoyah Club at the University of California had presented two earlier petitions that were turned down because of the distance from the 12 chapters that were then concentrated in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The third petition, however, proved successful and TKE took a long leap geographically, obtaining a foothold on the shores of the Pacific.
Phi Omega, a local fraternity at Washington University in St. Louis, was granted a charter as Xi chapter at the Minneapolis Conclave.
Tau Kappa Epsilon passed through the war crisis and restored all of its chapters to complete activity, a remarkable achievement for such a young struggling fraternity. As the first decade of its existence as a national fraternity closed in 1919, plans were being mapped for a new era in the history of Tau Kappa Epsilon.
At the 13th Conclave in Madison, Wisconsin, William D. Reeve was elected Grand Prytanis. Frater Reeve was the first Grand Prytanis who was not an alumnus of Alpha chapter.
A Headquarters is Created
The advantage of a central office had for some time been apparent, and now, with 14 chapters and the prospects of comparatively rapid growth, its need was even more obvious.
During the 13th Conclave in 1921, the desirability of a headquarters was mentioned by several of the Grand Officers in their annual reports. It was Grand Grammateus Lloyd V. Ballard who presented the matter so forcefully that the office of Grand Grammateus was expanded into a national Executive Secretary and a central office was created. Tex Flint, then retiring as Grand Prytanis, was elected to this position and became the first Executive Secretary. The central office was established in Frater Flint's home in Lombard, Illinois.
With this change the affairs of the Fraternity became better coordinated, and a new national consciousness evolved with the development of a centralized administration. Tau Kappa Epsilon began to assume an importance, and secure recognition in the fraternity world.
Frater Reeve presided over the 14th Conclave in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was during this Conclave, in 1922, that hazing in fraternity initiation and pledging activities was soundly condemned.
The 15th Conclave was held in St. Louis from October 24-25, 1923. Phillip H. McGrath was elected Grand Prytanis.
The Silver Anniversary
The 16th Conclave in 1924 was set apart as the "Silver Jubilee Conclave," celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Fraternity. It was appropriately held in Bloomington and was marked by the presence of all five Founders who prepared a joint address. This Conclave also unveiled a tablet in the Chapel at Illinois Wesleyan University commemorating the founding of TKE. Life membership in the Grand Chapter was conferred upon the Founders.
This Conclave selected Leland F. Leland as Grand Histor, a position he was able to hold for 25 continuous years. Frater Leland, who was later chosen as President of the College Fraternity Editor's Association, served as editor of The Teke, building it to a position as one of the finest magazines in the fraternity world.
The Upward Climb
The period 1921-26 saw 10 new chapters installed, completing the first alphabet from Alpha to Omega. TKE was spreading from coast to coast, as evidenced by the chapters installed - Omicron at Ohio State, Pi at Penn State, Rho at West Virginia, Sigma at Cornell, Tau at Oregon State, Upsilon at Michigan, Phi at Nebraska, Chi at the University of Washington, Psi at Gettysburg, and Omega at Albion.
The years from 1926-30 were ones of steady growth, expanding both east and west, under the leadership of Grand Prytanis Miles Gray in 1926-28 and Milton Olander in 1928-30. Eight new chapters had been installed by the 19th Conclave in San Francisco, September 3-5, 1930, bringing the total chapter roll up to 32. This Conclave saw the election of Eugene C. Beach as the eleventh Grand Prytanis.
These years were also years of grief, as the entire Fraternity mourned the passing of Founders Owen I. Truitt and C. Roy Atkinson. Both Founders died in auto accidents - Truitt on July 13, 1929, and Atkinson on September 14, 1930.
The Depression Years
The period from 1930-35 was one of challenges for the Fraternity, just as it was for people and organizations throughout the United States. It was a struggle to keep the national organization functioning smoothly, and keep the chapter rolls intact, under the financial conditions that constantly brought shrinking financial support from all sources. National fraternities were folding because of insufficient support, but under the strong leadership of Grand Prytanis Beach and other devoted men, TKE weathered the storm and even progressed during this period.
Eight new chapters were added and many chapters pledged larger numbers of men each year. Only two chapters - the University of Chicago and the University of Nebraska - were not active following the Great Depression. Tau Kappa Epsilon also absorbed the membership of a small national fraternity, Sigma Mu Sigma, in 1934, but this resulted in only one new chapter, Alpha-Pi at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The 20th Conclave was held in 1935 at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles, Illinois. This Conclave, which was originally postponed for financial reasons and eventually held in 1935, instituted for the first time a program of addresses during the Conclave sessions, lunches, and dinners. However, the most significant measure adopted at this Conclave was the recognition of Lester H. Martin, L.W. Tuesburg, William Wilson, and Wallace G. McCauley for their dedicated and untiring efforts in the building of Tau Kappa Epsilon. These four men were named National Founders for their work in making TKE truly a "national" fraternity.
The Pre-War Years
The years preceding the entry of the United States into the World War II have been described as the "quiet interlude." The main emphasis of the Fraternity was placed on balancing the budget and strengthening undergraduate chapters. Don A. Fisher served as Grand Prytanis from 1935-37 and was followed by Clarence E. Smith in 1937-39. Only three new chapters were installed during this period, although much progress was made in the internal organization of the Fraternity.
With war clouds on the horizon in 1939, Herbert Helble was elected Grand Prytanis. However, because of the pressure of other activities in this time of turmoil, Frater Helble resigned in 1941 and L.W. Tuesburg, then Grand Epiprytanis, was elevated to the presidency and served until June 21, 1942. Frater Tuesburg had previously been elected Grand Prytanis during both the fifth and sixth conclaves (1913 and 1914).
In 1941, Grand Grammateus Tex Flint resigned his office after twenty years of service. Although Frater Flint first housed the central office at his home, he had moved the office into a new building in Lombard, Illinois, in 1927 and maintained it there until 1941. After Frater Flint's resignation, Past Grand Prytanis Lyle Straight was elected Grand Grammateus and the National Office was moved to Bloomington, Illinois.
Three new chapters were installed during this period, with Alpha-Chi chapter at the University of Louisville being the last pre-war charter.
The Second World War
Tau Kappa Epsilon spent most of the war years under the leadership of Grand Prytanis Charles E. Nieman. During the early years of the United States' involvement in the military conflict, TKE did not suffer greatly. In October 1942, for example, TKE pledged 568 men as opposed to 475 men the preceding October. Also during the year, a record 628 men were initiated into TKE and the Fraternity's income was $26,505.47, an all-time high.
The severe manpower drain hit the colleges and the fraternity system in 1943, causing many chapters to go inactive and nearly all to abandon their houses. In September 1943, only 19 of TKE's chapters were still active and only two - Alpha-Zeta at Purdue and Alpha-Phi at Kansas - still had houses. All the other chapter houses had been relinquished for the duration of the war.
In conformity with governmental orders and to conserve Fraternity funds, no Conclaves were held during the war period. While the Fraternity continued to function and provide essential services to both chapters and Fraters, all expenses were cut to the bone.
The Teke magazine was suspended during the war in favor of a less expensive newspaper called Teke Life. This paper was sent out to every Teke on record, regardless of subscription status, in order to help maintain the interest of Tekes everywhere during this period when many of their undergraduate chapters were dormant.
For the first time, the office of Grand Grammateus was separated from the duties of Executive Secretary and a part-time Executive Secretary was hired. Dr. E.L. Theiss, Professor of Accounting at the University of Illinois assumed this position, hired a full-time secretary, and set up the National Office in Champaign, Illinois. In 1945 Frater Theiss tendered his resignation, and V.J. Hampton, Assistant Dean of Men at the University of Illinois, was hired as Executive Secretary.
The Big Decision
At the beginning of the hostilities, the Grand Council of the Fraternity faced a major policy decision - whether our limited financial resources should be exhausted in an attempt to keep all chapters active throughout the War, or whether the Fraternity should recognize the impossibility of that objective and concentrate on preparing an aggressive and effective rehabilitation and expansion program after the War. Luckily, the latter course of action was chosen. Subsequent events demonstrated the wisdom of that choice, although it was not so apparent when the choice was made.
With so few chapters functioning during 1943-45, the income that the Fraternity needed to operate was drastically limited. To provide TKE with some security to prevent financial failure, and to provide some funds upon which to operate, alumni were asked to contribute to the Teke Loyalty Fund. For the first time in its history, TKE alumni were asked to support the Fraternity by contributing the small sum of $3 annually. Loyal TKE alumni contributed nearly $30,000 into this fund, without which the Fraternity could not have surmounted the tremendous hurdles ahead.
Tekes in Uniform
Tekes too numerous to mention were actively involved in the war effort. It was estimated that 54% of the total membership of Tau Kappa Epsilon wore the uniform of one of the services. Some of the more noteworthy military leaders included:
- Dr. Irvin P. Krick, one of the world's leading meteorologists who set the date for Eisenhower's Normandy invasion
- Major General Dan C. Ogle, Surgeon General of the Air Force
- Rear Admiral R.C. Williams, Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service
- Brig. General Glen C. McBridge
- Brig. General John C. P. Bartholf
- Brig. General Loyal M. Haynes
- Brig. General W.E. Chambers
According to the best available data, 196 Tekes gave their lives for their country and 30 received decorations exceeding that of the Bronze Star during World War II.
Several changes in the composition of the Grand Council occurred during these war years. Grand Epiprytanis Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. was required to resign in 1943 because of business pressures when he assumed the presidency of the Walgreen Drug Store chain, so Grand Pylortes R.C. Williams was elevated to Grand Epiprytanis. When Grand Prytanis Nieman was forced to resign because of professional and business activities in 1944, Frater Williams ascended. To this aggressive, dedicated TKE leader fell the massive task of leading the rehabilitation after the War.
Story Continued HERE.