Tau Chapter - History
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"Yours is one of our great chapters.
Your past is full of honor."

- Seth R. Brooks, former President
Beta Theta Pi General Fraternity

Wabash College, one of the nation's highest-ranked selective liberal arts colleges, was founded in 1832 on the banks of Sugar Creek. Its mission was to provide a New England-style education to those in the then - frontier Midwest. The college was small (as it still is) but soon thrived. 

As was popular at several other colleges at the time, students organized "literary societies" such as the Lyceum and Calliopean which maintained their own separate libraries, organized debates between the other societies, and provided something of a social outlet in the still-primitive Indiana wilderness. Still, these organizations were purely extra-curricular and were not intended to foster close friendships among the students.

Tau Chapter's founder, John Coburn was a good friend of Oliver P. Morton, later the governor of Indiana. Coburn later led the famed 33rd in the Civil War and was the officer who accepted the surrender of Atlanta. After the war, he became a prominent attorney in Indianapolis and served in Congress. Read a short biography and order a book on Coburn.

Morton was a Beta at Miami University (of Ohio) where Beta Theta Pi had been founded just a few years before in 1839 by John Reily Knox and seven other Miami students. Morton arranged for Coburn to be initiated as a Beta and then start a Wabash College chapter. Thus, Beta Theta Pi, the first "national" fraternity, was the first modern-day fraternity at Wabash. Phi Delta Theta followed in 1850 and Phi Gamma Delta sixteen years later in 1866.

What distinguished Beta from the literary societies was that it embraced mutual assistance, academic endeavors, and friendship among its members.

Fraternity life in the 19th century largely centered on chapter meetings held in the room of a chapter member. These were pleasant affairs, often consisting of eating peanuts and singing songs. Some effort was also made at each meeting to read Shakespeare or other classics. Toward the latter part of the century, the Betas rented rooms in downtown Crawfordsville so    that their meetings would be unhindered by on- campus "spies."

Finally, in 1907, the Betas purchased a large Victorian home at 513 West Wabash Avenue from the family of one of the College's founders. This signalled the beginning of the "modern era" of fraternities at Wabash, as two other fraternities on campus also chose to build chapter houses. Now, brothers would not only meet, sing, and greet each other, they would also sleep and eat under the same roof in a co- operative manner.  The house was later remodelled in the late 1920's as an English Tudor Revival structure.

By the late 1950s, it became clear that the chapter house was needing to be replaced. Wabash College President Byron Trippet (a Wabash Beta alum),  suggested a plan for all fraternities whereby the College would participate in the construction or renovation of new houses. This is significant. Unlike some colleges and universities, Wabash has always seen great value in her fraternities. Longtime former Dean of Students Norman Moore is often quoted as saying, "Fraternities are the life-blood of Wabash."

In 1962, following a wildly successful Beta alumni fund- raising campaign, the Betas moved into the fine house they now occupy The chapter is now celebrating the156th anniversary of its founding. A 2.2 million dollar renovation and expansion of the house was completed in the fall of 2000. Utilizing the same mutual cooperation between Wabash and Tau as the 1962 campaign, a new wing to the rear of the house matched a completely new interior of the existing house. Beta Theta Pi had already formulated plans for such construction in the mid-1990s, but held off in deference to a capital campaign that the College was soon to announce. Both then formed a partnership that has served similar renovation and construction projects for the other campus fraternities.

1674 men and three women have been members of the Tau Chapter of Beta Theta Pi. Since Tau Chapter's founding, Wabash has fostered several other excellent fraternity chapters, who we number among our good friends. In such company, Tau Chapter is especially proud of several of its own accomplishments.  Since records have been kept, no other fraternity has won as many overall Intramural trophies and only one other has won as many scholarship trophies.  Five of Wabash's six Rhodes Scholars have been Betas. And an inordinate number of Betas have been selected for Phi Beta Kappa.

Our chapter's alumni continue these achievements. Among our chapter's more visible alums over the years have been two  Mayors of Indianapolis Reginald H. Sullivan 1897 and Stephen Goldsmith 1968. Former Indiana Lt. Governor Richard O. Ristine 1941 also served as Executive Vice President of Eli Lilly & Company.  Thomas Hays 1955 is the recent former president of May Department Stores which owns L.S. Ayres, Famous- Barr, among others. Byron K. Trippet 1930 was Wabash College's beloved long-time President and Dean.  Albert Baker 1874, Edward Daniels 1875, and Joseph Daniels 1910 founded and managed Indianapolis major law firm of Baker & Daniels. Carroll Ragan 1901 was the co-author of Wabash's fight song, Old Wabash and well author of the Wabash alma mater.

Fierce devotion to Wabash College is evidenced by the fact that Tau Chapter has supplied 29 members of the Wabash College Board of Trustees since 1871 and frequently leads in giving to the College. Baxter Hall, Detchon Center, and the new Trippett Hall are named for Wabash Beta alumni. The Frank Hugh Sparks Center is named for another former president of Wabash College who was a member of another Beta chapter.

The Active Chapter continues this legacy. It is, by all accounts, one of the most involved house on campus.  Betas are extremely active in all campus activities ranging from Student Senate and college admissions volunteers to the Sphinx Club honorary. Additionally, large numbers of
Betas are found on almost all varsity sports. Betas are famous for their loud support of their varsity brother-players as well as those competing in intramural sports.

The chapter is a multiple-winner of Beta Theta Pi International's Francis H. Sisson Award, granted each year to those chapters meeting the fraternity's highest standards. Its last such award was in 2005. It has also periodically won other national awards over the past 15 years ranging from Best Chapter Newsletter (we came in second in 1997), the Campus Involvement Award (1997, 1999, 2000), the very first quarterly "Cyber-Kai" Website Award (1999), the Leadership Award (2005), various scholarship awards, and an Alumni Relations Award.

While these are proud achievements, Tau Chapter is most proud of its reputation as a house of honorable, well-rounded members. Wabash College's liberal-arts mission is to create well-rounded men who will be able to adapt to whatever our changing world offers.

 

Copies of the 1997 complete history of Tau Chapter are available. Hardbound copies are $25 and softbound copies are $20. Postage not included. To order, send your check to 2829 Somerset Bay Indianapolis, IN 46240. Checks should be made payable to "Tau Chapter of Beta Theta Pi." You should include your name, address, and estimated cost of your preferred postage. As this is being handled by alums, turn-around time may vary.