St. Elmo Hall was established at the University of Virginia in 1908 as the Rho Chapter of the Delta Phi Fraternity. Delta Phi had been founded in 1827 at Union College in Schenectady NY. Along with the Kappa Alpha Society (1825) and the Sigma Phi Society (1827), Delta Phi is part of the “Union Triad” and is considered one of the forefathers of modern Greek system. Delta Phi is the third oldest college fraternity in the United States and the oldest fraternity in continuous operation.
The Maltese Cross of the Knights of Malta was adopted as the emblem of Delta Phi in 1833, with the points of the cross representing faith, scholarship, brotherhood, and the 12 chapters of Delta Phi. The name “St. Elmo” was first used in 1889 by the Omicron Chapter of Delta Phi at Yale University, reflecting the historical interconnection of the Knights of Malta and St. Elmo, a fourth century martyr and the patron saint of sailors. In addition to the Rho chapter at the University of Virginia, the name St. Elmo is used by several other chapters, including the University of Pennsylvania (Eta) and Johns Hopkins University (Xi).
Establishing the Rho chapter was authorized at a special convention of Delta Phi in 1907. Eight University students were the nucleus of the new chapter. Out of this original group, one of whom became a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, grew a diverse and active brotherhood that earned a reputation for high scholarship and dedication to the ideals of Mr. Jefferson’s University.
St. Elmo Hall thrived during its early years, but, at the outbreak of World War II, all active brothers joined the armed forces. In 1946, a small group of dedicated alumni brothers returned to Virginia to revive the Rho chapter, which had lost 11 brothers in the war. This group, which included founding members Channing W. Daniel ’10, James L. Camblos ’10, Carey F. Jacob ’13, and Donald S. Beard ’25, organized a successful reopening of St. Elmo Hall. This also marked the beginning of a long tradition of active alumni involvement and generous financial support for the fraternity. It is this loyalty that has helped St. Elmo maintain its reputation as one of the preeminent fraternities at the University.
By the early ’80s, the physical condition of the St. Elmo fraternity house had deteriorated, as had the condition of most of the University’s fraternity houses. Recognizing this crisis required the collaboration of the University administration and fraternity alumni organizations, a small group of St. Elmo alumni took the initiative to develop a long-term solution to restore fraternity houses. This group was led by William V. Daniel ’52 and included Bayard Sharp ’36, Henry F. Harris ’51, and Allen B. Rider ’76. The result was the creation of the Historical Renovation Corporation (HRC), which was an independent, not-for-profit corporation funded initially by the University’s Board of Visitors. Through the use of historical renovation tax credits, tax-exempt financing from the Charlottesville Housing Redevelopment Authority and alumni investment, HRC-sponsored individual limited partnerships purchased, rehabilitated, and eventually returned individual fraternity houses to individual alumni house corporations. St. Elmo was the first fraternity to renovate its house using this HRC partnership structure, with many of St. Elmo Alumni investing in the St. Elmo Club of UVA, Inc., the alumni house corporation formed to own the property at 130 Madison Lane. By 1984, the St. Elmo fraternity house underwent a substantial renovation. Over the following decades, St. Elmo alumni, through the St. Elmo Club, have funded further renovations and improvements.
A tradition that maintains alumni engagement is the five-year reunion of all classes. The 100th Anniversary of St. Elmo Hall, in 2008, was a remarkable event attended by 350 alumni, representing approximately half of living alumni. Including wives and dates, over 500 guests attended the Saturday dinner/dance at the Farmington Country Club. University President and Mrs. John Casteen hosted a special tribute the night before at Carr’s Hill, the President’s residence. Special recognition was given to St. Elmo’s longtime Faculty Advisor, Gordon C. Burris, for his deep interest in and assistance to Elmo undergraduates. Also, William V. Daniel was honored by President Casteen and the University of Virginia Alumni Association for his many contributions to the University.
Similarly well-attended reunions celebrated the 105th and 100th anniversaries of St. Elmo Hall. We eagerly await the 115th reunion, scheduled for November 3-5, 2023.
In conjunction with its 100th Anniversary, St. Elmo launched the Second Century Campaign, to “secure the future of St. Elmo Hall.” Over $1.5 Million was raised, providing a permanent endowment for the future. In addition, as a gift to the University commemorating the fraternity’s centennial, St. Elmo alumni established the St. Elmo Hall Jefferson Trust Subscription, supporting the Jefferson Trust, an endowment independently administered by the Alumni Association to provide grants to under-funded groups and programs at the University. As with its financial commitment to The Jefferson Scholars program, St. Elmo Hall is the only fraternity to sponsor a Jefferson Trust Subscription. This tradition of philanthropy and generosity to the University is a hallmark of St. Elmo Hall.
No history of St. Elmo Hall would be complete without acknowledging the inspirational leadership of its patriarch, William V. Daniel, who passed away on July 4th, 2010. Bill, whose father Channing was one of the founding members of St. Elmo in 1908, oversaw the fraternity for over four decades, as Alumni President, Treasurer, and ever-present Alumni Advisor. No matter what his official title was, there was no doubt he was in charge. His concern and influence permeated every aspect of St. Elmo: operations and financial management of the House; oversight of the undergraduates; interaction with University officials; long term planning; Alumni relations; and fundraising. Of his many responsibilities, the one Bill enjoyed the most was working with the active members, providing guidance and setting high expectations for their behavior and loyalty to St. Elmo and the University.
Bill’s influence and stature extended well beyond the house at 130 Madison Lane. He believed fervently in the importance of the Greek system at the University, and given the standing of St. Elmo Hall, he enjoyed a high profile and commanded enormous respect among the entire fraternity community. When the fraternity system was under siege during the late ’70s and ’80s, Bill led the effort to restore the viability and respect for the Greek system. The result was the formation of the Fraternity Alumni Council, which President Casteen asked Bill to organize and lead. Thanks to his vision and dedication, the fraternity system at Virginia survived, and thrives today as an integral part of student life.
As the brothers of St. Elmo prepare for their 115th reunion, the nearly 800 living alumni remember Bill Daniel with great respect, affection, and gratitude for his lifetime of service to St. Elmo Hall.