The fraternity was founded in 1852 by two students at Washington and Jefferson College: Charles Page Thomas Moore and William Henry Letterman. Their favorite professor was Joe Wilson. Wilson’s eldest son, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, or simply Tom, was to become a member of the Virginia Alpha chapter, and to serve as both the president of the chapter during his time at the University, and later, of the United States.

Charles Moore entered the University the next year to study law and establish the second chapter of the fraternity in early 1853. He experienced immediate success, selecting fifteen members, the first becoming the most prominent distiller in the Commonwealth. The remainder of the fifteen were mostly or entirely lawyers. From its beginning, the chapter has selected members who rose to prominence. Of the initial fifteen, Michie of the Charlottesville tavern and law firm, and Wertenbaker, who was eponymous with Wertland Street in Charlottesville, are of local fame. Three early members rose to be generals in the Civil War while in their 20s, and all 15 members appeared to have fought in the war. Major Woodville Latham moved to California and invented the motion picture projector and became a movie producer.

The chapter, which was closed during the war, reopened in the fall of 1865. There is no evidence that any other fraternity was reestablished earlier, and thus we are probably the oldest continuous fraternity in the history of the University. Our first post war initiate was Joseph Bryan, born in 1845 in Gloucester County, Virginia. Bryan served in the Civil War and re-entered the University in 1967-1968, studying under John B. Minor. His experiences in the war shaped his life, and he became a lifelong advocate of States’ rights. Bryan became the founder of a prodigious clan, owner of newspapers and locomotive works. His success and resultant philanthropy became legend. Today there are two monuments to him on the Virginia State Capitol grounds, and several parks, areas and buildings throughout Virginia were funded by and named in his honor – including “Bryan Hall” at UVA. Although records are lost in history, we believe he was influential in enabling construction of our present home.

The Real Estate

James Madison owned the greater area north of The Rotunda and sold much of the soil to the University for landfill on the Lawn, thus making the depression which is today Madison Bowl. In mid-century, John A. G. Davis purchased the plundered Madison property. After students murdered him in 1840, the area from University Avenue to the railroad tracks and from Rugby Road to Madison Lane remained in his family. By deed in 1906, the widow Davis conveyed to The Thomas Jefferson Eating Club, our property, subsequently conveyed to Montalto Corporation in 1927, when the Eating Club could not make a go of it.


Since 1906, the house has had a most varied and nonstereotyped membership. Many have been enormously successful; seven have been Congressmen, several governors of states, business titans, three World War Two generals, one Vice Admiral, and Tom Wilson, who became a Nobel Peace Prize winner, President of The United States, and the most popular person on earth at the time. Several buildings at The University are named for our alumni as are two bridges across the Potomac. Current alumni have headed University campaigns and have been president of the Alumni, others range from professional African big game hunters to the president of the New York Bar.

Benjamin P. A. Warthen, Esq. ’62 contributed to this article.