About Beta Theta Pi & the Omicron Chapter at The University of Virginia
The Greek Movement
As liberal arts students at the College of William and Mary in 1776, the founders of Phi Beta Kappa — the first Greek letter society — were required to be well versed in Greek language, culture and history. Consequently, they were aware of the central importance in Greek cultural history of an institution known as the Mysteries.
At nine o’clock on the evening of the eighth day of the eighth month of the year 1839, eight earnest young men, all students at Miami University, held the first meeting of Beta Theta Pi in the Hall of the Union Literary Society, an upper room in the old college building (known as “Old Main”).
Hanover College is a modest private school near Madison, Ind. From a quiet promentory the campus overlooks the Ohio River and beyond to Kentucky. Founded in 1853, Iota chapter existed sub rosa, like most fraternities at the time. Membership in Beta Theta Pi was cause for expulsion from college.
By the turn of the century, two important features of Beta Theta Pi had become apparent. The first — Beta character — had already manifested itself in stories such as that of John Holt Duncan and the men of the Michigan chapter who refused to forsake their membership and their badge.
With the establishment of the Administrative Office and appointment of an administrative secretary in 1949, the stage was set for spectacular growth and a solid future for Beta Theta Pi and its fraternal colleagues in the years ahead.
Men of Principle
The year was 1998, and Beta Theta Pi was about to embark upon what would become arguably one of the most pivotal moments and periods in the Fraternity’s history. The founding in 1839, the acclaimed Beta Firsts of the 1870s and 1880s, the establishment of the first administrative secretary and Administrative Office in 1949, and the long-awaited new Foundation and Administrative Office of 1994 were significant, grand achievements. They were major culture-shaping influences of Beta Theta Pi, for sure.
William Raimond Baird, Stevens 1878 — All-time leading expert on college fraternities; creator of Baird’s Manual of College Fraternities which is still in publication more than 80 years after his death; editor of The Beta Theta Pi for a quarter century; moving force behind the Alpha Sigma Chi alliance; most prolific of all Beta writers; responsible for collecting most of the information now available about Beta’s early history; inspiration for Founders Fund in 1919 when the bulk of the estate of him and his wife was left to Beta Theta Pi.
Seth R. Brooks, St. Lawrence ’22 — Leading inspirational force in the Fraternity from the time he became General Secretary in 1950 until his death in 1987; General Secretary for 10 years; President for six years; delivered the principal inspirational (keynote) address at most conventions 1955-95; author of the popular Inter Fratres articles (one of which won a Freedom Foundation award) in the magazine for 36 years; first recipient of the Oxford Cup.
George M. Chandler, Michigan 1898 — Unquestionably, Beta’s greatest authority on heraldry; designing the uniform Beta Badge worn today and the current coat of arms, the Great Seal, the Beta flag, the modern shingle (certificate of membership) and specifications for a chapter room. He served for 60 years as the first historian, 1900-60.
Ralph N. Fey, Miami ’40 — President, 1972-75; General Treasurer, 1961-64, he defined the role as Beta’s first Administrative Secretary, 1949-58, he organized the first Administrative Office in 1949; hammered the idea that a secret of Beta’s success is to “keep it simple.”
Willis O. Robb, Ohio Wesleyan 1879 — The influential leader of the Fraternity just prior to the Shepardson years; one of the leaders in founding the National (North-American) Inter-fraternity Conference (NIC.)
Francis W. Shepardson, Denison 1882/Brown 1883 — General Secretary for 10 years and President for 20 years thereafter; while President, also edited The Beta Theta Pi for 13 years; dominant force in the fraternity from 1910 until his death in 1937; one of the two most prolific Beta writers with at least five books; known as “Mr. Beta Theta Pi;” he and Baird were perhaps the two most prominant fraternity men of the first half of the 20th century.
Francis H. Sisson, Knox 1892 — The only Beta to serve in all four of the current Board positions – President, Vice President, General Secretary and General Treasurer. Award of chapter excellence named after him.
G. Herbert Smith, Depauw ’27 — Became General Secretary a couple of years before Shepardson’s death; as General Secretary, 1935-46, and later President, 1946-51, he guided the Fraternity from the Shepardson years through World War II and until the early 1950’s; author of original Son of the Stars, the fraternity pledge manual, and its first four revisions.
Charles Duy Walker, Virginia Military Inst. 1869 — First General Secretary; started the Beta magazine, The Beta Theta Pi; divided the chapters into districts for management purposes and created the position of district chief; one of the first two General Officers to oversee the affairs ot the Fraternity between conventions.