"Brother Fraternity" - Phi Delta Theta

 

In May 1878, 20-year-old George Banta was on a train returning to Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, from a Phi Delta Theta Convention. He sat with Monroe McClurg and shared his concern over the fraternity political situation in Indiana, noting that Indiana needed another female Greek group. Brother McClurg agreed and offered a solution. In Oxford, Mississippi, where he attended "Ole Miss," a fine ladies' fraternity with a few other chapters in southern girls' schools prospered. The group was Delta Gamma, and McClurg was happy to put Brother Banta in touch with the young women. George Banta wasted no time in contacting the Delta Gammas in Oxford. They, too, were eager to expand and invested him with the power to form chapters in academically well-recognized northern colleges. George Banta set about achieving their expansion goal, having been told to select the Greek letters of his choice for the new chapters. It was logical that when he organized the first northern chapter at Franklin College the Greek letter should be Phi, in honor of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. No doubt, the first initiate was his fiancée, Lillie Vawter.

George Banta later wrote, "I think we were also told to adopt our own ritual and bylaws, the latter to serve as well as it might for a constitution. These were used to organize at Hanover, Buchtel (now University of Akron), and Wisconsin...and probably at Northwestern. I cannot recall when nor in what order the organizations were effected at Hanover and Buchtel (but) in both cases it was through the direct and active effort and cooperation of membership of my Fraternity."

From these events, no doubt, comes the relationship between Phi Delta Theta and Delta Gamma, one that in no firm nor official way ever existed.

The support of the Phis is recorded often in Delta Gamma's early history, notably on two occasions. Delta Gamma's second Convention was held May 24-26, 1883, in Akron at the new Phi Delta Theta hall, with the hosts showering all manner of social attentions on the visitors. And when a rival group at Wisconsin was found pilfering the Delta Gamma mailbox, the ladies of Omega chapter asked the correspondents of other chapters to use the post box of a friendly Phi Delta Theta.

When George and Lillie were married in 1882, he had served as president of the Phi Delta Theta's General Council for two years, the first to hold this office. The marriage was brief, because Lillie died in 1885, leaving a young son, Mark. George later remarried and was the father of two children, George, Jr., and Eleanor, who became a Delta Gamma at Indiana University, as did her two cousins a few years later.

George Banta's interest in Delta Gamma's welfare never wavered. He was a leader in the fraternity world, and his advice was often sought. He was a frequent visitor to Delta Gamma Conventions. Often the guest speaker, his first appearance at the 1909 Convention was the most memorable. He sat on the platform with the officers when the door of the hall opened to admit two of Delta Gamma's Founders, attending Convention for the first time. Mr. Banta rose, bowed to the two ladies and stepped down to greet them each personally. He appeared for the last time at Convention in 1934, a year before his death.

Phi Delta Theta as Delta Gamma's "brother fraternity" is a myth, but the myth can be credited to the energies of one brother, who saw to the growth of this truly international organization, Delta Gamma.

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