Some of the first suggestions to form a chapter of Alpha Tau Omega at the University of Illinois came in the winter of 1892-3 at the dinner table at the home of Wesley E. King, 405 West White Street, Champaign. Seated around the table were, John H. Strawn, Clarence O. Pitney, Mark Hay, Henry W. Grieme, and Wesley E. King. The conversation turned to Greek letter fraternities. Mark Hay said that he had a pal in Chicago who could get a chapter of Alpha Tau Omega, so he was told to write to him and get instructions for organizing, which he did. This friend wrote Mark to organize as a local club and apply for a charter, but no formal organization was ever made. The matter was discussed later in Henry Grieme’s room at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Trotter, corner of Elm and White streets, Champaign, in the Spring of 1893. Nothing definite was accomplished, however, until about a year later, when the matter was taken up with Brothers W. G. Atwood, of Beta Theta Chapter, by Charles W. Noble and Mark Hay.
These three were having a discussion of the removal of the ban, against fraternities, which existed at the University of Illinois, prior to 1891, which ban was removed in August 1891, following which time chapters of several of the National Fraternities were organized or reorganized at Illinois. As has been said, Delta Tau Delta and Sigma Chi, both of which had been organized previous to their exclusion of fraternities from the University in 1891, were reorganized immediately following the lifting of the ban. Kappa Sigma came in October 1891, Phi Kappa Sigma was established 1892and Phi Delta Theta in 1893
The suggestion of Brother Atwood to form a chapter of this fraternity at Illinois was made to Mark Hay and Charles W. Noble, who were then students, while the three were on duty with the National Guard at Chicago, Illinois, during the so-called, “Debs Strike,” in the summer of 1894.
After strike duty was completed several meetings were held at Chicago by these three men at which Brothers Louie C. Ehle, Beta Theta Chapter, an attorney at Chicago, and Elias P. Lyon, Beta Kappa Chapter, now Dean of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, and Everett A. Thornton, Alpha Omicron Chapter, assisted Brother Atwood and gave advice as to the preliminary steps to be taken in forming a group preparatory to making application for a charter. These brothers undertook to guide the application into and through the proper channels and to procure the necessary data as to the size of the institution where it was proposed to install this chapter.
All correspondence regarding preliminary organization was carried on between Brother Charles W. Noble and Brother Atwood, in Chicago and several personal visits were made to Chicago.
In conformity with the general plan suggested, a group of nine students was assembled in the fall of 1894 at Champaign, as the nucleus of the proposed chapter. The first meetings were held at the rooms of Brothers Paul V. Newcomber and Charles W. Noble. After a preliminary organization was executed, several other meetings were held in various student rooms, for lack of a better meeting place, for in those days, there were no fraternity houses or club houses in existence at the University of Illinois.
Some of the chartered fraternities had club rooms in the business section but such rooms were used for meeting purposes only, and not as living or dining quarters, and were for the most part used only at week-ends or during the evening.
This newly organized group did not have a name, nor did it take on the dignity of a formal club.. The organization was, in fact, kept secret until after assurance was received of the granting of authority to institute this chapter. When this assurance was received, rooms were rented on the second floor of a building on North Neil Street over what was then Harris’ Candy Store, now 305 North Neil, and these rooms were fitted with a meager supply of unpretentious furniture.
The announcement of the granting of the charter came late in December 1894 but the chapter was not installed until March 21, 1895.· The chapter bears the date of the installation, March 21, 1895 and is signed by Larkin W. Glazebrook, Worthy Grand Chief, and N. Wiley Thomas, Chairman of the High Council. Brothers W. G. Atwood, Beta Theta, Elias P. Lyon, Beta Kappa, and E. A. Thornton, Alpha Theta were the installing officers. Upon their arrival at Champaign, a journey of inspection over the campus preceded the ceremonies which took place in the early afternoon and evening at the Neil Street Rooms, concluding with a banquet at the Carter House, which still stands, though going under another name, on Walnut Street just south of Main and immediately across the street from the First National Bank Building.
The initiatory ceremonies consisted of conferring the work in full on a selected candidate in the presence of others selected for the officers, and upon whom, previous to the completion of the ceremony, parts of the ritual were communicated thus creating Brothers enough in the local chapter to fill the offices for initiating the remaining pledges. The charter members initiated at this time were:
Thomas Arkle Clark 1890 – Initiate #1 (faculty)
Nathan Austin Weston 1889 (faculty)
Paul William Newcomer
Charles William Noble
Henry William Graime
Mark Hay – (first expelled)
Clarence Orville Pitney
Edwin Clark Flanigan
James Mack Branch
Jonathan Colby Beekman
William Thompson Sumner (first Worthy Master)
The first two mentioned were at the time of their initiation members of the faculty. Mark Hay, shortly after initiation, was unfortunately expelled from the chapter. (1922 ATO History)
Banquet after Chapter is Chartered
By all accounts the banquet was a smashing success, and surviving photographs of the event show a heavily-laden table surrounded by young men in several variations of late nineteenth-century formal dress. A description of the evening from the 1920s history provides a rather amusing glimpse into the evening, and survives as proof that some fraternity traditions perhaps have very deep roots: “…champagne there was on the bill of fare in abundance – in too great abundance in fact, if the truth must be told, as the duty of every honest historian requires, and some very sad gastronomic results followed. But it was a good dinner and it brought a new experience to some of the brothers.”
A History of Gamma Zeta Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega
1895-2003 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Kate Meehan Pedrotty
September 5, 2007