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History of Beta Eta Chapter

Today Beta Theta Pi maintains over 120 chapters on college campuses in the United States and Canada. Membership places us as one of the four largest fraternities nationwide. Today we are the oldest fraternity at the University of Maine, having been the second fraternity ever founded at UMaine and the first Greek letter fraternity ever founded at UMaine. We were the first fraternity to join up with a national fraternity during a time when fraternities did not set up chapters at colleges under land grants such as the University of Maine, much less newly established colleges. Our chapter led the way for all other fraternities at the University of Maine to go from being local fraternities to aligning themselves with strong national fraternities with chapters across the country. Below is the story of Greek Life at then Maine State College from Merritt Caldwell Fernald's 1916 book "History of the Maine State College and the University of Maine" and the story of Alpha Sigma Chi and how we came to be Beta.

History of Beta Theta Pi & Greek Life at Maine State College & the University of Maine

The first fraternity at Maine was established when but two classes had graduated and when the institution had been open less than six years. The time was opportune, for the enrollment was 121 and the fraternity material abundant. At this time Bowdoin had been open 72 years and had 167 undergraduates and six fraternities. Colby had been open 54 years and had 62 undergraduates and three fraternities.

One important factor militated against fraternities at Maine. This was the hostility of the classical colleges to the land grant colleges and the consequent reluctance of existing fraternities to enter them. At this time the only institutions established under the land grant act in which chapters had been placed were Cornell, Illinois, and Virginia Polytechnic, and no chapter had been established in any of the older state universities at so early a period of its life.

In view of the attitude of the Greek letter fraternities, it was natural for a group of men at the Maine State College to accept a charter from the Q.T.V. fraternity, founded at the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1869. On February 28, 1874, David P. Penhallow, M.A.C., 1873, installed the Orono chapter of Q.T.V., the second chapter of that fraternity. The charter members were John I. Gurney, 1874; David R.Huner, 1874; Charles F. Colesworthy, 1875; Alfred M. Goodale, 1875; Edson F. Hitchings, 1875; George M. Shaw, 1875; and Sidney S. Soule, 1875.

The college authorities were inclined to look with doubt upon the fraternity idea, but a committee waited upon President Allen to give him information he desired. Dr. M.C. Fernald, then Professor of Mathematics and Physics, and himself a fraternity man, used his influence favorably. A statement of the principles and objects of the fraternity was laid before the trustees which proved satisfactory to that body.

The pioneer fraternity prospered from the start, but it did not remain long wihtout opposition, for on September 25, 1875, the Eternal Companions (E.C.) Society was organized by William T. Haines, 1876, and eleven associates. This society was formed with a definite purpose of obtaining a charter from a Greek letter fraternity. The endorsement was secured of prominent alumni of one of the leading eastern fraternities, but it soon became apparent that the prejudice against the land grant colleges was so great as to make success impossible in this or any other of the older eastern fraternities. The idea of a charter from a Greek letter fraternity, however, was firmly fixed, and an offer was declined of a charter from D.G.K., a fraternity which, like Q.T.V., had been established at the Massachusetts Agricultural College.

It so happened that one of the members of E.C., Newell P. Haskell, 1876, entered Cornell for graduate work and there became intimate with memebrs of Alpha Sigma Chi, a fraternity established at Rutgers in 1871, with other chapters at Cornell, Princeton, St. Lawrence, and Columbia. At Mr. Haskell's suggestion, correspondence was begun which led to the admission of the society into that fraternity in 1878. A year later Alpha Sigma Chi was united with Beta Theta Pi. This gave Maine a chapter of one of the leading western fraternities, and its presence proved later of material help to local societies in their efforts to secure admission to other Greek letter fraternities.

No other fraternity was organized until 1884, when the K.K.F. Society was formed, with fifteen members. The early policy of the Q.T.V. and Beta Theta Pi in regard to membership had differed, the former maintaining a chapter which usually went to 30 or more, while the latter restricted its membership to a considerably smaller number, rarely exceeding 20. Influenced by this policy, doubtless, the Beta chapter encouraged the organization of K.K.F., and although the number of undergraduates in 1884-85 was but 90, the new society was a success from its start. In 1886 it was granted a charter by Kappa Sigma, giving that fraternity its first chapter in the northeast.

By 1889 the number of undergraduates had increased to 130 and a fourth fraternity was organized, the S.I.U. Society, which entered Alpha Tau Omega in 1891. In an announcement of its establishment, The Cadet said: "Its beginning may be considered auspicious. It was manifestly evident that another society was needed in college."

The institution continued to grow so that by 1894-95 the attendance was over two hundred. In 1894 Omicron Epsilon Eta Pi was organized, and in 1895 Delta Rho, both with strong men. The former entered Phi Kappa Sigma in 1898 and the latter Sigma Chi in 1902. Iota Phi was organized in 1898 with an excellent membership, and in 1901 it entered Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

The members of the local chapter of Q.T.V. had become dissatisfied with that fraternity as early as 1891. It had established a third chapter at New Hampshire College, the affiliated with Dartmouth, in 1881, and a few years later entered Pennsylvania State, Worcester Polytechnic, and Cornell, but the Worcester and Cornell chapters disbanded and that at Pennsylvania State entered Kappa Sigma. The lack of success of the extension policy had much to do with the dissatisfaction of the Orono chapter, which finally, in 1899, withdrew and immediately entered Phi Gamma Delta. Most of the Q.T.V. alumni have affiliated with htat fraternity. Phi Eta Kappa was organized in 1906 under favorable auspices, and Delta Kappa followed, in 1909. The latter united with Lambda Chi Alpha in 1913.

The early meetings of Q.T.V. and Beta Theta Pi were held in halls or rooms in Orono, but both fraternities sought permanent homes. On March 4, 1876, a proposition was made at an E.C. meeting to purchase the hall in the Stillwater Bank Building, a brick building with a granite front, which stood on the east side of Mill Street not far south of the present post office. The proposition was adopted on March 25, and a deed was executed in the name of six members of the society.

The members of the Q.T.V. Society were at the same time considering plans, and on March 25, 1876, a committee was appointed to wait upon the trustees to confer with them in regard to a location for a hall on the Campus. Consent was given and work was begun as soon as weather conditions permitted, and a two-story building where Coburn Hall now stands, much of the work being done by members of the chapter.

The idea of chapter houses which should serve as homes to members of the fraternities was under consideration at an early day. The Q.T.V. records of a meeting in the fall of 1877 state: "Some talk was made by Elwell (1878) about chartering the old farm house for a boarding house for some of the brothers who might like to get up a club," and the following meeting the proposition was carried without dissent, but nothing came of it at the time.

At a meeting of Beta Theta Pi, April 23, 1881, upon motion of Charles S. Bickford, 1882, it was voted to start a chapter house fund. This grew to several hundred dollars. A committee was appointed to wai upon the trustees at the June, 1883, meeting in regard to a location upon the Campus, and their consent was given. A lot on the knoll below where the Phi Kappa Sigma house now stands was also offered by Eben C. Webster, 1882. Plans were prepared, but before work could begin the Orono Savings Bank, in which the funds were deposited, suspended, effectually blocking further progress for the time.

In the fall of 1884, a proposition was made at a Beta Theta Pi chapter meeting by James D. Lazell, 1887, that the chapter lease from the College the residence on the Campus then occupied by Professor A.E. Rogers. Later in the year the house was vacated and a ten-year lease arranged. The members of the chapter moved in during April, 1886. Upon the expiration of the lease, it was renewed with two conditions, of which one was that extensive repairs should be made by the chapter, and about $1,000 was expended for this purpose. The second condition provided that upon its expiration the Betas might, if desired, build a new house upon the site of the old one.

In the fall of 1886, Q.T.V. voted to raise a fund for a chapter house, the plan being utilized the old hall in its construction. Some money was raised but not enough for the purpose, and the idea was abandoned for the time. In 1889 the chapter leased from the College the residence which it had voted to rent twelve years earlier.

The first house at Maine erected for a fraternity was the Kappa Sigma house, built by the College in 1895 under an agreement providing for a purchase by the fraternity.

In 1895 Alpha Tau Omega rented the Paul Webster house, on North Maine Street, and bought it in 1908. Extensive improvements have been made.

The idea of building was kept in mind by Q.T.V., and a house was erected in 1897-8, the plan of utilizing the old hall being abandoned. The house was financed by members of the chapter, and the last of the indebtness was discharged at the 1915 Commencement.

Sigma Chi bought the Joseph Treat house, on North Maine Street, in 1902, and made extensive improvements upon it.

The Maine legislature of 1903 passed an act authorizing the trustees of the University to guarantee loans for the erection of society houses upon the campus. All of the houses built since that time have benefited by this, and but few of them could have been built when they were without it. The Phi Kappa Sigma house was completed in 1903, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house in 1904, the Beta Theta Pi house in 1905, the Phi Eta Kappa and Theta Chi houses in 1908, and the Delta Tau Delta house in 1909.

Lambda Chi Alpha, in 1911, bought from Professor G.A. Drew his residence on College Street, adjoining the campus. In the fall of 1915 Sigma Nu began the construction of a house on the campus.

Early Beta Brothers on the Porch

The eight fraternity houses on the campus already completed could not be duplicated in 1915 for a hundred thousand dollars. The three houses off the campus, including their lots, are valued at thirty thousand dollars. These houses have been built without any expense to the State. They accommodate over three hundred students. Without them the problem of housing students would have been exceedingly difficult.

The History of Alpha Sigma Chi Becoming Beta Theta Pi

Alpha Sigma Chi was founded sub rosa at Rutgers in 1871-72. It had begun as a schoolboy organization called "S. A. C. " when several friends attended a preparatory school at Blairstown, New Jersey. Among these were Louis la Tourette, who died while attending Lafayette College, Elbridge Van Syckel, who went to Rutgers, and Ellis D. Thompson, who went to Cornell.

Syckel and some others started the Alpha chapter of Alpha Sigma Chi. Thompson started Beta chapter at Cornell in February 1874. Gamma at Stevens was begun in February 1875. A sub rosa chapter was started at Princeton in June 1875, but it never did well and soon became inactive. Though it was revived in 1876, it was but nominally existent by 1879. The Epsilon chapter was begun at St. Lawrence in the autumn of 1875, absorbing a local society originally called the "Five Liars," then the "P. D. Club," which had started in 1872. A well-attended national convention was held in 1876 at Hoboken, site of the Stevens chapter. Zeta chapter was started in May 1877 at Columbia, but dissention arose in the fall of 1878, and the chapter was expelled.A local society called the "E. C. Society" at Maine petitioned, and was established in May of 1878 as the Eta chapter. Nevertheless, in 1878-1879, the fraternity was not prosperous, and the stage was set for a dramatic scene…

The time: 1879. Not even Beta Theta Pi, the pioneering fraternity, had yet published her constitution (though she was about to do so), nor did fraternities trust each other much. There were a few magazines, but the occasional mention of other Greeks was rarely complimentary.

Therefore, someone trying to get information about a secret Greek organization would have been deemed impossible.

The place: the Stevens chapter of Alpha Sigma Chi. This fraternity, then actively existing in five chapters – Rutgers, Cornell, Stevens, St. Lawrence, and Maine – was not yet dying, but she was not in good health.

Enter a unique individual, a member of Alpha Sigma Chi, an engineer with a legal slant to his mind. Recently elected to the leadership of Alpha Sigma Chi, he evaluated the state of his fraternity and found little hope if matters would be allowed to continue as they were. He determined that the only real expectation for survival would be to ally with another large fraternity, perhaps losing some external insignia, but preserving the friendships and the inner and mystical bonds already existing. Nevertheless, how to find one? He set out to study the question, and his research resulted in a book now in its 20th edition. His conclusion: one fraternity was unquestionably better, using any applicable measurement.

The man was William Raimond Baird, and he decided, in a matter of speaking, to rush his entire fraternity into Beta Theta Pi. He knew about our magazine, he knew of the various difficulties we had faced and overcome. From outside, he felt the strength of our fraternal bonds. He had to be a Beta, and have every one of his brothers become Beta brothers. Could Beta resist someone who was persistent enough to research the shy Greeks of yesteryear? No, she welcomed the entire fraternity – active and alumnus – thereby advancing into the East, where Beta chapters were sparse, and forming a new district, of which Baird was made district chief.

ASC Chapter Beta Chapter Founded
Rutgers 1872 Alpha BΓ 1879
Cornell 1874 Beta BΔ 1879
Stevens 1875 Gamma Σ 1879
Princeton 1875 Delta (had died)
St. Lawrence 1875 Epsilon BZ 1879
Columbia 1877 Zeta (had been expelled)
Maine 1878 Eta BH 1879

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