The History of The Beta Delta Chapter of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity

As reproduced from a report by the Beta Delta chapter shortly after World War I

            In 1819 Congress donated forty-six thousand and eighty acres of land within the State of Alabama for the endowment of a higher institution of learning.  At the session of the Alabama General Assembly in 1820 this institution was established, in name only, and future plans were laid.  Nothing further was done until the following year when a Board of Trustees was appointed and held a meeting in Tuscaloosa, at which nothing was done except for the discussion of various parts of the projects.  In December, 1829, the General Assembly selected Tuscaloosa as the site of the University, and construction of the buildings started in April of that year.  The University opened its doors to students for the first time on April 12, 1831.  Although it was named the State University, its ranking would hardly be on a par with some of our first class preparatory schools of today.  The total enrollment hardly equaled the number found in the average lecture room of today, and the two or three small buildings easily housed the students as well as performing their original intended purpose of being used as class rooms and laboratories.

            Such was the condition of things for more than a decade after the opening of the University, and during this time there were no Fraternities of any kind, local or national.  However, in 1844, a Dr. Barnes, Professor of Physics and Chemistry here at the University and later President of Columbia University, established a chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon.  This was the only fraternity represented until 1856, when Sigma Alpha Epsilon came into existence.  The Alabama chapter being the Mother Chapter of this well known order.

            These two fraternities were the only representatives of the Greek world at the University for the next five years.  At the outbreak of the Civil War these ceased to exist because activities necessarily were discontinued due to the depletion of their ranks through enlistments of the students into the Confederate Army.  The University as a whole barely existed until April, 1865, when the report came that Union Cavalry, a detachment of Sherman’s Army, was advancing toward Tuscaloosa.  The remaining students, mere boys, some hardly in their teens, marched bravely out under command of their professors to meet the invaders.  But in spite of this wonderful patriotism, they were overwhelmed by the superior numbers and experience of the Federals.  The Student Army was driven one hundred and fifty miles South, where they disbanded and found their different ways home as best they could.  Having gained possession of the City, the Federals proceeded to burn all of the University buildings with the exception of the astronomical observatory.  An interesting story is connected with the burning of the library, which at that time was one of the finest in the South.  The aged librarian having plead in vain with the Union Commander to spare the building, asked as a special favor that he be allowed to remove very rare and valuable volumes.  His request was granted and through his endeavor a priceless original of the Koran was saved for posterity.  The same commanding officer recently made amends for his act of vandalism by donating to the University’s million dollar drive.

            After the close of the war in 1865, nothing was done toward reconstructing the buildings of the University due to the disorganized condition of the entire South.  However, two years later work was started again on an entirely new plan.  The people of the State seemed to realize that the best method to recover her equilibrium was through the education of her young manhood.  Thus in 1867 the doors of the University were reopened.  But there was quite a difference in the new session and those of the pre-war period.  In keeping with the times, the military system was introduced.  This had an immediate effect on the Fraternity life as it has in most military schools.  For, although there was no ruling against fraternities, none were established for quite a few years because of the strong belief that fraternities were incompatible with the military life.  Then, too, the whole idea was young in the mind of the South.

            It was in 1875 that William Jemison and John Crawford with several others established a chapter of the now defunct Alpha Gamma, a local that set such a standard and achieved such success that it was in the front rank with the best national fraternities for many years to come.  However, with the appearance of Sigma Nu in the spring of the same year, an intense rivalry immediately sprang up between the two.  College elections and appointments were bitterly contested, all manner of methods were used in convincing Freshmen that the opposite group was not the one to join.  Tradition has it that this rivalry soon developed into open enmity and finally resulted in a duel in which one of the principles was killed.  At any rate, in 1875 conditions were so bad as to cause President Lewis to take some steps toward abolishing all fraternities.  Through his request the Board of Trustees decided that because of the reluctance of a cadet to report a Fraternity brother for a breach of conduct, and because of the general bad feeling between the two Fraternities on the Campus, a rule was passed requiring all Freshmen to sign a pledge no to join any kind of secret organization while a student of the University of Alabama.  As is evident this rule was designed to do away with fraternities entirely.  Upon its enactment Alpha Gamma withdrew, but Sigma Nu continued sub-rosa.  A few years later, in 1877, Phi Delta Theta also established a sub-rosa chapter here.  These two Fraternities got around the above mentioned rule by only pledging the men upon their registration and initiating them at graduation.  After the disappearance of Alpha Gamma, the remaining Fraternities seem to have combined forces against the non-frat men, and the Greek vs. Barbarian war, which was being waged at so many colleges in the country at this time was fought in many battles at this institution.

            The authorities soon saw, however, that the natural tendency of men to band themselves together in secret groups was not to be abolished with out a lot of hard and unpleasant work, and in 1885 abolished the pledge formerly required of all new students.

            In this year, Brother C. A. Allen, Ga. A.B. was forced to resign from the University of Georgia on account of his health and entered the University of Alabama in the fall, to take advantage of the military training.  He immediately set about organizing a chapter of Alpha Tau Omega.  Brother Henry A. Jones, Tenn. Omega, had some years before attempted to establish such a chapter here, but owing to the fact that he was farming some few miles from town, and that it would have had to have been sub-rosa, was unsuccessful.  Both Brother Jones and Brother John R. Kennedy, Tenn. Lambda, joined forces with Brother Allen in the fall of 1885, and pledged the following to ATO: W. R. Going, W. D. Smith, Lynn Matthews, C. Caldwell, John C. Pugh, Henry Pugh, Charles Tullis, John M. Francis.  Application was made for a Charter which was granted November 3, 1885.  The above men met late in November in a room above the Rosenfeld building in the City of Tuscaloosa.  After being duly impressed with the seriousness of the obligations they were about to assume, they were initiated into Alpha Tau Omega by Brothers Allen, Jones and Kennedy.  These three men are at present rather hazy about the initiation ceremony itself, and cannot recall all details.  But the great thing is certain – the above eight men were the beginning of ATO at the University.

            Brother Allen states that there were available in school a number of other men whom he regarded as fit, but that the majority of the Brothers looked upon the matter as more social than otherwise and would not agree to anyone else.  The new Chapter did not initiate any more members that year, but held weekly meetings in the rooms where the initiation was held and carried on activities similar to all fraternities of the day.  Rivalry was far more keen then than now, both between different Fraternities and between the fraternities as a class and the non-fraternity men.

            In 1886, the Alabama State Alumni Association of the Frat. met at Tuscaloosa.  The Chapter entertained Brothers from all over the State for two days.  Besides the business meetings various social affairs were given for the entertainment of the guests and delegates.  At this meeting Brothers E. F. Leach, J. C. Perkins, T. K. Jones and Festus Fitts, all formerly Alpha Gammas were initiated into Alpha Tau Omega.

            During this time the Chapter recruited most of its material form the “Black Belt,” the farming section of the state.  Although almost entirely agricultural, the finest plantations were in this section.  The people here are the best in the State, although not the wealthiest, and as this was before the day when class distinctions were purely financial, no attention whatever was paid to the size of a prospect’s monthly check before he was approached.  This admirable quality in the Brothers resulted in their being relegated to a lower place in the list of social lions that their rivals, the Dekes and Phi Delta Thetas, for instance.  We do not mean to convey the impression that we were inferior in any way, but merely thought the fact that the Chapter at this time did not make as big a splash socially as some of the others was worth mentioning.

            In the fall of 1891, Brother Wm. G. Little, of Livingston, Alabama, returned to the University after a year at Phillips-Andover in Massachusetts.  He had become interested in the new game of “foot ball” during his absence, and being a good player, as well as having the energy and personality to put the thing across, organized the University of Alabama’s first foot ball team.  Only one game was played that year, against the Birmingham Athletic Club, February 22nd, 1892.  The two teams being the only ones in the lower South, caused quite a sensation, and the name who was responsible, Alabama’s captain, Brother Little, was hailed as the Father of Southern Football.

            The notoriety of Brother Little in college caused Alpha Tau’s stock to rise out of all reason, every Freshman who entered the University had a sneaking desire to belong to the same fraternity as “Bill” Little.  No trouble at all was experienced in picking the class over carefully and getting only the most desirable.  The Chapter had no rooms of its own, but met in the rooms of the brothers in barracks.  The Barracks here are admirably adapted to this.  The buildings form a quadrangle, each one forming an “L”.  It was customary for as many Brothers as possible to secure rooms at the bend of this L, so enabling them to enjoy a closeness of contact and intimacy almost equal to that prevailing in the house today.  Each man, from the newest Freshman to the Worthy Master, would entertain in turn.  One would arrange to get a box from home each week and the Brothers would retire to this room for the regular weekly meeting and refreshments.  We have on the authority of a man in the Chapter at this time that the above arrangement is the only one they could make and not starve to death.  It seems that the manager of the mess hall was more interested in the fatness of the profits than of his boarders.  The Chapters were of course much smaller then than now, rarely exceeding twelve or fifteen members.  The student body of the University was composed of approximately one hundred and fifty men, about one-half fraternity men.

            The next year or so saw athletics of all kinds firmly established here and Alpha Tau Omega firmly established in athletics.  We had the reputation for fifteen years or more of being an “athletic” fraternity.  Following Brother Little as captain of the football team came a whole galaxy of lesser lights to lead the Crimson Tide, largely taken from our own Chapter.  The man considered by many the greatest backfield man Alabama has ever produced, Brother B. A. Burks, was in college from 1904-1908.  Tales equaling the wildest of Ralph Barbour’s stories of the college football player are sworn to by men who saw him play.  He carried whole teams on his back when necessity demanded it, cut down interference as it was never cut down before, and kicked like “Brown’s Mule”.  Along with him were his brother Henry, Derril Pratt, now playing baseball with the Detroit Americans, and “Chick” Hannon, all members of Alpha Tau Omega.  This was in the days of the greatest rivalry between the University and the Alabama Polytechnic Institute at Auburn.  There was a great big hulking ATO from the Auburn chapter on the team for several years who used to disagree with Brother Hannon about every point of the game.  They forgot they were both wearers of the Maltese Cross and everything they should have remembered when meeting on the football field, they swore publicly to be enemies for life.  Yet in the recent war they were discovered sleeping together nightly, fighting together and were noted for never being separated the whole time they were in France.  They were so attached to one another in fact that it hurt Taylor so to see the diminutive Hannon attempt to get on his horse unassisted that he would pick him up by the slack of the breeches and put him on.

            The Chapter had grown somewhat in these years and it was found that the meetings could no longer be held comfortably in the members’ rooms, and so secured a room in the then new Masonic Temple in town.  It had also reached that stage in its life where the matter of a Chapter House should receive more attention than mere dreams of one.  Very few fraternities at the University were possessors of houses either rented or owned, and so the lack was not felt as keenly as might be supposed.  However, in the fall of 1910 the Chapter decided that their age and dignity demanded that a roof to call their own be put over their heads instead of room in barracks or in town and so appointed a committee, of which Brother D. K. Jones was chairman, to look into the matter.  After some dickering and bickering a house on Queen City Avenue, some five blocks from the Campus was rented.  Rarely over eight or ten brothers lived in the house at one time and the chapter found the new venture rough going, but with careful management and lots of onion soup instead of more palatable food, it was put across and the Chapter has not been without a house since.  Attempts had been made prior to this time to raise money with which to build a home of our own, and had met with moderate success.  The brothers were rather inclined to collect a few hundred dollars from the alumni, and then instead of putting it where it couldn’t be spent for anything but a house would use it for current expenses of the Chapter, and possible for something which couldn’t come under the head of expenses.  This state of affairs didn’t exist for long, however.  It was soon seen by some gifted brother that this wouldn’t do, and so in 1910 it was decided to effect an organization apart from the active Chapter to handle the building fund.  At the instance of Brother C. H. Penick, Tenn., Omega, a resident of Tuscaloosa and a law student at the University, a dinner at the Florence Hotel in Birmingham was arranged in January, 1911, at which the above mentioned organization was perfected and the first money destined to be used in paying for the house was collected.  Brother G. R. Harsh, Jr., of Birmingham, who took an active part in the raising of the money, describes the history of our present house as follows:

            “The idea of a permanent home of its own had its inception almost with the very chartering of Beta Delta, of course.  Men could hardly be banded together as close as in fraternity life without this idea urging itself upon their consciousness.  But money unfortunately, was and is an important element in any venture of the size involved in building a chapter house for a growing fraternity; and, again, unfortunately, money is very difficult for chapters with their ever changing personnel to accumulate.  From time to time in a succession of years, the dream of a Chapter House of its very own had inspired the undergraduates of Beta Delta to numerous campaigns for building funds, but with little tangible success, and the Chapter had continued to combat with the uncertainty of the house problem.  Then one day in the fall of 1912 came the news that the new President, Dr. George H. Denny, had recommended, and the Board of Trustees had approved, the requirement that after the first day of September, 1913, all Freshmen be required to room on the campus grounds of the University.  This step toward a bigger and better University was the entering wedge of the building movement which took hold of the fraternity ranks at the University shortly thereafter.

            “Realizing that the requirement that all Freshmen live on the Campus would work serious hardships on the various fraternities which sough to maintain Chapter Houses in town by reason of depletion of their ranks, the authorities, on Dr. Denny’s recommendation, offered to furnish building room on the campus, and to make a substantial loan of a sum equal to as much as sixty per cent of the amount required to build to the various fraternities desiring to take advantage of this offer.  Later, in 1916, a requirement that all fraternities move on the campus was approved, and during the spring, summer and early fall of 1916, the active Chapter of Beta Delta, together with such active alumni as they could enlist, among them Hugh Martin, L. B. Leftwich, J. L. Drennen, C. F. Tillery and G. R. Harsh, Jr., of Birmingham, and D. K. Jones and R. C. Foster, of Tuscaloosa, and C. F. Bates, of Mobile, worked strenuously in an effort to raise sufficient funds to enable the Chapter to enter into negotiations with the University for the required loan, and finally on September 30, 1916, succeeded.

            “A building Committee, composed of L. B. Leftwich and G. R. Harsh, of Birmingham, DeVane K. Jones, of Tuscaloosa, and G. C. Outlaw, C. S. Whittlesey and A. P. Dorgan, of the active Chapter was appointed, and Messrs. Miller and Martin, architects, of Birmingham, engaged to draw plans and specifications.  On November 20, 1916, bids were received by the building committee and opened and the contract awarded to H. C. Burns a contractor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

            “Work was begun early in December, 1916, and progressed, slowly it seemed to those awaiting its completion, and satisfactorily under the superintendence of Brother Shaler C. Hauser, of the University and Brother Martin, the architect.  Finally, in April, 1917, the work was completed, and the result, an attractive brick and stone-tex house with a wide tile veranda clear across the front, was one of the most beautiful additions to the fast increasing number of pretty structures on the campus, occupying, as it does, a choice location on the North side of University Avenue at the West end of campus.”

            The Chapter was hardly settled in their new home before they were aroused from the calm pursuits of college life by a declaration of war against Germany.  In the fall of 1916, owing to the threats of war in the air, military science had been introduced as an optional course at the University.  Practically the entire Chapter was enrolled in the R.O.T.C. Unit, Brother Leftwich being Cadet Major, and Steiner and Thornbury Captains.  None of the Brothers left college immediately upon the declaration of war, but when the government called for college men to be trained as officers in the various training camps of the South, our ranks thinned rapidly; Brothers Steiner, Leftwich, Thornbury and Morgan entering the first R.O.T.C. Corps and saw active service immediately after being commissioned.

            The beginning of the 1917-1918 term saw a very much younger set in college, and even from among them one would occasionally hear their country’s call to arms and leave to enter the service.  The University began to take on more of the appearance of a training camp rather than a college.  We were constantly in fear of reading the name of some of our Brothers on the roll of honor, but in this we were exceedingly fortunate.  Only on affiliated with Beta Delta made the supreme sacrifice, Brother Jack Spratt of the class of 1912.  Although none in the Chapter had had the good fortune to know him intimately, we mourned his loss, and their appeared on our doors, among the other stars, one of gold.

            The beginning of the 1918-19 session saw the establishment of a Unit of the S.A.T.C., and consequently the cessation of almost all fraternity life.  The great influx of students due to the establishment of the S.A.T.C. overflowed all dormitories and rooming houses near the campus.  The University was compelled to commandeer the fraternity houses for hospitals, dining quarters, etc.  Handicapped as we were by the lack of a house, we succeeded in pledging the largest Freshman class in our history, seventeen being taken.  The Chapter was allowed to keep the Chapter room for their own use.  All of the furniture not absolutely required by the government was moved up there and the room used as a combination lounge and reading room, much the same as in the early days.  Very little time was found by the brothers for lounging.  All save five or six were enlisted in the S.A.T.C. as their military duties kept them occupied most of the time.

            This condition didn’t exist for long, however; upon the signing of the Armistice, November 11, the students were mustered out as quickly as possible and the return to normalcy began.  The next year saw several of the brothers who left at the end of the 1918-19 session back in school, older in experience and in years and consequently better fitted to run the Chapter.  All their experience and years were needed.  In common with the rest of the country, the University and the Chapter was disorganized, and the Chapter especially was in need of men of experience and judgement.  The Sophomores were hard to handle and the Freshmen inclined to be wild, all due to the fact that they hadn’t had any of what might be properly termed Fraternity life on account of the S.A.T.C. the first half of the preceding year and the general disorganized conditions which prevailed the latter half. By the exercise of rare tact and judgement, however, the recalcitrants were brought around to a proper view of things and by the middle of the year a better spirit than had ever before prevailed at Beta Delta arose.

            For the last three years there has been fluctuations in the fortunes of the Chapter.  It may as well be admitted that we have not been as well represented in college activities and on the athletic field as at various times in the past.  However in the later phase of endeavor, that is, on the athletic teams of the school, Brothers Talty O’Connor and Country Oliver, both halfbacks on the football team, have nobly lived up to the wonderful standard set by past Brothers of Beta Delta.  However, in considering all those things which go to make up an ideal fraternity, we believe that at this time Alabama Beta Delta has reached one of the highest points in its career. Our view of things and conditions cannot help but be biased in that we cannot get the correct standards and ideals of fraternity life as is was many years ago, but judging from the calibre of our Freshmen, the earnestness and co-operation of the Upperclassmen and the undisputed place that we hold in the estimation of the various other organizations on this campus, we cannot help but feel that “We’re on the right track” and are closer than ever before to those great standards as set forth by the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity.


Recent Chapter History

As told by Amos Burns