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Phi Delta Theta
The Beginnings

As the Christmas holidays approached in 1848, the atmosphere on the Miami University campus in Oxford, Ohio was gloomy and uncertain. This was the mood in which Robert Morrison suggested to a close friend and classmate, John McMillan Wilson, that they consider putting together a new collegiate brotherhood.

Together, these men recruited 4 other underclassmen. Thus, John Wolfe Lindley, Robert Thompson Drake, Ardivan Walker Rodgers, and Andrew Watts Rogers were approached, all of whom accepted the concept.


All students couldn't make it home that Christmas because Winter travel conditions were too extreme. The six met the night of December 26, 1848, in Wilson’s second-floor room in Old North Hall (now Elliot Hall) to firm up their desire to establish a Fraternity. 

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They met two nights later in the same room to consider an appropriate motto and constitution.  Morrison and Wilson put the consensus of these ideas into the terminology that became The Bond of the Phi Delta Theta.  This is the same Bond that every initiate into the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity has since signed.

On December 30, the “Immortal Six” put their signatures to The Bond of the Phi Delta Theta in Wilson’s room. Their names remain a vital part of the rituals that continue today in every chapter room across the United States and Canada. The Bond has remained unchanged from that day to this. So far as it is known, it is the only document of any fraternity of such a character and it is easy to understand the veneration with which all members of Phi Delta Theta regard it.

Founding at
The Old UChicago

In 1856, the University of Chicago was founded by Baptists. The land of the University, which was originally part of the lakefront tract, was owned and sold by Senator Stephan A. Douglas. Once purchased by the Christians, the school's 1856 charter required that most of the members of the Board of trustees be of the Baptist faith.

Meanwhile, Phi Delta Theta's steady growth after its founding came to halt during the Civil War.  Four chapters closed, including Illinois Alpha (Northwestern, founded 1859).  Br. James Farrington Gookins of the Wabash chapter settled in Chicago after his work as a Civil War artist.  In the Fall of 1865, he rounded up six or seven Phis to establish our chapter at the University of Chicago.  The Charter for the new Illinois Alpha was issued on October 14, 1865, by the National Grand Chapter.  

In Celebration of establishing the Chapter, a literary program was held on January 11, 1866, at the First Baptist Church on Wabash Avenue, followed by a banquet the next night at Crosby's Opera House. At the banquet, the Chicago Phis distributed and sang the first Phi Delta Theta song.  Our Army for the Right was not only the first Phi Delta Theta song but the first of all fraternity songs.  Another important fact about the song was that it was the first time the sword & shield theme of Phi Delta Theta was used. This theme stuck and the sword & shield was adopted nationally on the fraternity badge.








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 Returning back to the history of the Old University of Chicago, a significant figure was James Hutchinson Woodworth.  He was a former Chicago Mayor and president of the Treasurer Bank of Chicago, and he served as the trustee from 1857 to 1869, as well as treasurer for a significant time.  When Woodworth died in 1869, the university's finances deteriorated rapidly.  The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the Panic of 1873 also severely hurt the university.

In alignment with the struggle of the university, the Charter of Illinois Alpha (Old University of Chicago) was suspended at the end of 1871. Thirty-one Phis were initiated at the Chapter leading up to that date.  In the following years,  the university administrators were hired and departed in rapid succession; by 1886, six presidents had served the university.  The need for a re-establishment became increasingly evident.

At the final meeting of its Board of Trustees in 1890, the group officially changed the name of the institution to the Old University of Chicago. This was to enable a new John D. Rockefeller-financed Baptist school, then being organized, to have a completely separate legal entity and take the title of the University of Chicago.



Embarrassed by their failure to sustain the university, Chicago baptists felt impelled to re-establish the Baptist university in their great city.  The newly formed American Baptist Education Society persuaded Marshall Field to donate ten acres of land in Hyde Park for the campus, John D. Rockefeller to pledge initial gifts of $1.6 million, and Prof. William Rainey Harper of Yale University to accept the presidency of the new University of Chicago. 

At first, the policy of the faculty and President Harper was to exclude fraternities.   Nonetheless, the school voted in 1892 to recognize Greek-letter societies. As fraternities moved in, Harper came to view them more favorably, writing in 1894 that the presence of fraternities "in the University has been a source of great advantage rather than of disadvantage.  In almost every case, the Fraternities have contributed each its share, not only to the social life of the institution but to its general welfare."

In April 1896, two third-year students - Harold Le Ickes and William Otis Wilson - were roommates in Snell Hall.  After similar unfortunate rushing experiences at other fraternities on campus, they decided to organize a group and apply for a Phi Delta Theta charter.  By the summer of 1896, the applicants had received the support of the province president and the General Council.  Because Northwestern had been restored in 1886 under its original title Illinois Alpha, the reinstated Chicago chapter received the title of Illinois Beta.  The charter was granted on February 18, 1897.  

Nine members signed the bond of the newly established Chapter, with Lester Bond Fulton being Bond number 1.  At the national archives in Oxford, Br. Fulton and his subsequent Bond numbers were renumbered to account for the thirty-one Phis initiated at the first University of Chicago. 


History of Illinois BEta

Harper walking to  Decennial Celebration with University founder John D. Rockefeller - 190
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Br. Wilson became the first president of the reinstated chapter, succeeded by Br. Ickes.  The Chapter rented a three-room flat at 5738 South Monroe Avenue (now Kenwood Avenue) as our first "fraternity house." During the time, there were seven other fraternities on Campus.


The graduation of the seniors left only four active brothers in the Fall of 1897.  Fortunately, Br. Charles Warren Chase led a successful rush, leading to a class of seven Phikeia (Phi Delta's Theta term for pledge). Br. Ickes, one of the refounders, remained involved with our Chapter by serving on the House Found Corporation and as chapter advisor. He was known as "Pa" to all members of the Illinois Beta Chapter and he went on to be a reporter, where he met former president and Brother Benjamin Harrison. He was also a progressive Republican, who supported Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and by whom he was appointed Secretary of the Interior.

By the end of the 1920s, there were 29 fraternities on campus and more men lived in fraternities than in dormitories.  In 1929, there was a school proposal that freshmen were required to live in the dorms.  This idea was immediately rejected in deference to fraternities and their alumni.  Despite this effort to keep fraternities strong, a major change occurred for both the College and the fraternity with the onset in 1929 of the presidency of thirty-year-old Robert M Hutchins. The "New Plan" he set in place radically revised the curriculum that was the origin of the Common Core. In 1939, Hutchins ended the university's football program after not winning a Big Ten game since 1936. Hutchins's first blow against fraternities was an edict that freshmen could not pledge a fraternity until the Spring quarter. The number of fraternities dropped in the next eight years from twenty-six to seventeen. The nigh mortal blow was struck in 1943 when undergraduates were prohibited altogether from joining fraternities. 

Football- The Maroons won six Big Ten football championships from 1899 to 1924. The origin

Br. Ernest Quantrell, a trustee of the University and alumnus of Illinois Beta held a luncheon meeting with senior representatives at the University Club.  He endured five hours of criticism on the Administration's attitude towards fraternities and football. The main argument was that these choices will hurt undergraduate life. A 1950 study reached a similar conclusion. Enrollment in the College went up after the Second World War but then plummeted from 4,000 in 1947 to 1,350 in 1953.  


Hutchins took a job at the Form Foundation in 1950 and the ban on undergraduate membership in fraternities was finally lifted in 1951. Unfortunately, the damage had already been inflicted on the Greek system at Chicago, which had previously flourished. By 1965, there were only seven fraternities. Illinois Beta was able to survive as a graduate fraternity.  

At the General Convention in the late 1950s, not long after the U.S. Supreme Court held segregated public schools to be unconstitutional, the undergraduate delegate of Illinois Beta, Br. F. Jay Pepper, rose to declare that the fraternity must abolish the requirement of the unanimous vote necessary in all chapters in order to issue a bid.  This voting system was allegedly used to prevent black students from joining. The counterargument was that any man as a brother meant that such a person ought to be a brother acceptable to all other brothers.  This topic developed several more times within the General Fraternity and nation during the sixties. Finally, in 1972, the proposal to abolition the unanimous consent requirement was adopted the year Br. Cheak Yee voted for its abolishment.

For a significant period into the 1980s, Illinois Beta was a chapter that not only won recognition from the General Fraternity for excellence and achievement but also inducted the cohort of brothers who have come to be the ongoing alumni leadership for several decades to date.  New composites hanging on the walls of the chapter hall and the letters ΦΔΘ (donated by Br. John Gregg) hanging on the front exterior manifested a growing fraternal spirit. 

Br. Yee served as chapter advisor from 1979 until 1986 when he departed from the city. Br. R. Scott Morris took leadership in reviving the Illinois Beta House Fund Corporation. Although conditions for fraternities improved in the late 1990s as the University began to recognize the value of having a social life on campus, The General Council, for risk-related reasons, decided Phi Delta Theta would go alcohol-free.  

For some time in the early 2000s, the marked deterioration of the chapter house and the perennial accumulation of unpaid bills signaled growing disregard for the demands of rectitude.  An open conflict with neighbors and wider disrepute on campus brought the chapter to the formal attention of the University administration.  Soon after, General Headquarters in 2010 undertook a formal membership audit. A team arrived, joined by Br. Morris for complete interviews of every active member. As a result thereof, some actives were expelled from the fraternity.  

In December of 2015, there was an incident with a Phikeia, as well as a pedestrian slipping on ice that led to the suspension of the Chapter for Risk Management Policy violations. The house was also shut down alongside the Chapter.  In the Fall of 2018, Illinois began the re-colonization process with a new set of members, under the leadership of our colony president Br. Gary Zhao.

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On January 24, 2020, the Chapter was reinstalled and thirty-two men were added to The Bond. Nine others of the refounding class were initiated soon after. Our fraternity gained momentum as Br. Chris Dann, our first Chapter President since re-installation, helped build the foundation of our Chapter.


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