Delta Tau Delta’s Beta Gamma Chapter: The Early Years
The date is June of 1888. Eleven men have gathered to be initiated into Delta Tau Delta Fraternity at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. They were chartered as the Beta Gamma Chapter of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. Thus starts the history of Beta Gamma.
Panoramic view of 1890s Madison: https://maps.sco.wisc.edu/panorama/
The little bit of record we have, indicates that Beta Gamma got off to a rough start. It appears that within the first year the Chapter, it was disestablished. The whys, how’s, and wherefores shall, for the most part, go unanswered. But let us look back into the pages of history and see what we may find.
Here is an excerpt from the December 1888 Rainbow, Delta Tau Delta’s national magazine. The name “Rainbow”, was meant as a tribute to the Rainbow Fraternity that merged with Delta Tau Delta in the year 1886.
Beta Gamma – University Of Wisconsin
With this number of the Rainbow Beta Gamma makes her first appearance among her sister chapters, and I wish first of all to thank the various chapters for the prompt and kindly messages of congratulation and encouragement that we at once received upon the institution of the chapter. It was what we wanted to make us feel that the hearts of many others were with us in our enterprise.
The University of Wisconsin opened with flattering prospects. The freshmen class numbers about two hundred and fifty. The new Science Hall is now complete and is a magnificent building.
The University offers this year, in addition to the former course of study, a course in Electrical Engineering, and one in Sanscrit (Sanskrit) and Hebrew.
President Chamberlin takes charge of the classes in Geology, in place of Professor Irving, lately deceased.
The opening of the term found three Delts on the grounds. Bro. Durr, our first alumnus has departed to the Chicago Medical College. The new class, although large, did not contain a large percentage of desirable fraternity material, so we have proceeded slowly. As the result of our endeavors we have initiated Bro. Trucks, of ’91, an able man. We have several more in view, and will probable close the year with a membership of eight or more. Of our rivals, Phi Delta Theta has initiated four new men; Chi Psi, three; Phi Kappa Psi, five; Sigma Chi three, Beta Theta Pi and Delta Upsilon have taken in no new men. The three ladies’ societies are doing very well. Our best friend among the enemy is Phi Delta Theta. The Phis have treated us very well indeed.
Shortly after the commencement the writer enjoyed a short call from Bros. Piercy and Howe, of Beta Zeta, and quite lately Bro. Bulson, of Iota made a short visit to the chapter. Next year if we are prosperous we intend to occupy a modest chapter house. Full of enthusiasm for “Good Old Delta Tau” we close until next issue.
By: George Warren, S. A.
As this article points out, there were “three Delts on the grounds”. Although a guess, one might assume that the chapter had shrunk over summer. This is a December 1888 article and the Chapter was installed the previous in June. And with an initiation class of one (Bro. Trucks) things did not look good. This might explain why the Chapter was disestablished about 1889.
There are two other items that one might find noteworthy. The first item is the statement: “Bro. Durr, our first alumnus”. Let’s remember this all took place in 1888. Brother Durr had been initiated in June of 1888, and he was in the graduation class of 1888. It is very probable that in less than 30 days Brother Durr was an active, a graduate, and an alumnus. So in fact the statement rings true, Brother William E. Durr was the first alumnus of Beta Gamma Chapter.
The second item of note is the writer of the article, Brother George O. Warren. I am assuming the S.A. stands for Sargent of Arms. But more important is Brother Warrens name will appear in the next article as being a participant in helping the Chapter re-charter. This writer will speculate that because of Brother Warrens rank in the Chapter, Sargent of Arms, he was very active in what was going on. I would go one step further and say that Brother Warren was at the first chartering of Beta Gamma in 1888. His name will appear, as being present, at the re-chartering in 1892. Brother Warren was also in the graduation class of 1891. So we have Brother Warren at the first chartering in 1888, at the second chartering in 1892, and on record of the first Beta Gamma Alumnus to actively help keep the undergraduate Beta Gamma chapter alive and well for future generations of Beta Gamma Delts.
Let’s now look at this 1892 article from the Rainbow for additional context:
The Re-Establishment of the Beta Gamma
The re-establishment of the Beta Gamma chapter, at the University of Wisconsin, took place on the evening of May 28th . A petition form the students of that institution had been under consideration by the Fraternity for an unusually long time. There was little doubt as to the advisability of entering the University of Wisconsin so far as the standing of the institution was concerned; that the matter had already been settled once. On the other hand, the Fraternity had no desire to re-establish the chapter unless assured beyond a doubt that the personnel of the new chapter was radically different from that of the chapter when disestablished. Assured of this, the final vote was at last announced the 26th of May. As the year was drawing to a close there was need of haste in arranging for the initiation of the new men, and matters of importance to the new chapter pointed to the 28th as the earliest and most advisable date. Accordingly, the editor of the Rainbow proceeded to Madison, and with the assistance of Lowrie McClurg A ’79 and George Warren, of the former BG Ex ’91 initiated the following men, and re-established the Beta Gamma chapter of Delta Tau Delta:
’92.- Charles H. Maxon, Madison, Wis.
’93.- John F. Donovan, Madison, Wis.
‘93.- Harvey Clark, Madison, Wis.
’93.- James L. Thatcher, Madison, Wis.
‘93.- Frank H. Allen, Richland Centre, Wis.
’93.- (Law)—Nissen P. Stenhjem, Stoughton, Wis.
’93.- (Law)—William C. Donovan, Madison, Wis.
’94 – Erick John Ohnstad, Cambridge, Wis.
’94- Alfred T. Rogers, Plankinton, S. Dak.
’94.- Edward J. Henning, Iron Ridge, Wis.
’95.- Buford D. Black, Richland Centre, Wis.
’95.- Don Percy Lamoreux, Mayfield, Wis.
Of course, upon such short notice it was impossible to gather any large company of Delts for the occasion. But the occasion was a very pleasant and memorable one notwithstanding. And after the initiation ceremonies were concluded, the company adjourned to the Hotel Van Etta to enjoy the first banquet of the new chapter. After the material part of the fest was disposed of, the “immaterial” portion was enjoyed, under the direction of the toastmaster, Mr. John F. Donovan.
The program of toasts was:
Toastmaster Mr. John F. Donavan.
Music Delta Tau Delta Quartet.
The President of the University, Mr. James L. Thacher.
The Greeks in College, Mr. Harvey Clark.
The University of Wisconsin, Mr. E. J. Ohnstad.
Music Mr. N. P. Stenhjem.
The Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, Prof. K. C. Babcock.
The Beta Gamma of Delta Tau Delta, Mr. John F. Donovan.
Beside those on the program, impromptu speeches and songs added pleasure to the occasion. Several members of the chapter are members of the glee club, and the chapter bids fair to “roll on its harmonious way” from the very first. The afternoon following the banquet, the visitors were taken by the chapter for a ride around the campus and the city, both of which are exceedingly beautiful.
The new chapter received a very cordial welcome from the other fraternized, with a single exception, and from all sides came words of praise for the men composing the Beta Gamma. The following clippings are taken from three representative papers.
The Wisconsin Daily Cardinal for May 31st  stated: “Delta Tau Delta is an old and strong fraternity, and can well fell proud of her Madison chapter, for it is composed of gentlemen who are bound to make it one of the strong fraternities at the U.W.”
I want to tell you a story about some of the men listed on the “program of toasts”, but before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story first. Delta Tau Delta’s Central Office has a roster listing all Delts that have been members of the Beta Gamma Chapter. Some members were transfer students, making it possible to have more than one chapter affiliation. The roster goes all the way back to 1888 with the initiation of the first eleven men in June of 1888 and the pledge class of one, Brother Truck, in the fall of 1888. When this writer first saw the roster, I was unaware that the Chapter was disestablished in one year and re-established within a matter of four years
So when I looked at the entire roster, I could not understand why there were twelve names without an ‘initiation number’. Of course the twelve names without an ‘initiation number’ are the first twelve members of Beta Gamma. No one knows for sure how this happened, but happen it did. At least we have their names, graduation year and these small paragraphs about the beginnings of the Beta Gamma Chapter. It is a small gesture on my behalf to tell their story, the first twelve members of Beta Gamma; as best I can with what information I have available at this time.
Now I can tell you the story about the men listed on the “program of toasts” at the re-chartering. Does our ‘roll number’ really mean anything other than the order in which we were initiated? For the most part it really is just a random order. I will speculate that at the initial chartering of a chapter or the re-chartering of a chapter, as in this case, I want to think there may actually be an order to this ‘roll number’.
Let’s look at the names on that May 28, 1892 program.
-The first name listed is John F. Donavan: Initiation number 1.
-The next name listed is James Thatcher: Initiation number 3.
-Next we have Harvey Clark: Initiation number 2
-Next is E. (Erik) J. Onstad: Initiation number 10.
- Next is N. (Nissen) P. Stenjem: Initiation member 9.
So there we have five out of the first ten names signed to the roster, engaging in the hosting of the banquet, thus fulfilling the “social” aspect of our Fraternity. It would seem to me that it was a wonderful evening.
And thus starts the history of Beta Gamma. My plan was to bring alive the beginnings of Beta Gamma. I hope to have captured some of the flavor of the time.
Russel (Russ) Bedalov, Epsilon Tau ‘75
Beta Gamma House Corporation
Director & Secretary
April 30, 2022
BG Chapter House #1: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Property/HI101896
BG Chapter House #2: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Property/HI145925
BG Chapter House #3: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Property/HI101626