The Beginning of Tau Kappa Epsilon
On January 10, 1899,Charles Roy Atkinson, Clarence Arthur Mayer, James Carson McNutt, Joseph Lorenzo Settles, and Owen Ison Truitt met at 504 East Locust Street in Bloomington, Illinois and drew up the first constitution for a new fraternity at Illinois Wesleyan University. The purpose of the new organization was to be an “aid to college men in mental, moral and social development.” The founders sought to be a different organization than the other fraternities at the time by establishing a fraternity where membership would be based on personal worth and character rather than wealth, rank, or honor. Mental development would be emphasized by the study of classic literature at weekly meetings, and thus the new fraternity became known as the Knights of Classic Lore. The first public announcement of the Knights of Classic Lore appeared in the February 1, 1899 issue of the Argus, which is the student publication of Illinois Wesleyan University.
During the time of the formation of the Knights of Classic Lore were trying hard to get the Illinois Epsilon chapter of Phi Delta Theta restored from prior chapter closing. Prominent PhiDelt alumnus Richard Henry Little became a persistent sponsor for the Knights to petition Phi Delta Theta for charter. The Knights first petitioned Phi Delta Theta at its 1902 convention in New York, but efforts were unsuccessful. After renting rooms at several locations beginning in the spring of 1899, the Knights of Classic Lore finally acquired its first fraternity house, known as The Wilder Mansion, in September 1902. Simultaneously with the acquisition of the new house, the Knights also adopted the name Tau Kappa Epsilon. The change in name was expected to create a better impression in future petitions to Phi Delta Theta. The second attempted petition was presented at the 1906 convention in Washington, D.C. after the support of many chapters in Phi Delta Theta’s Zeta Province had been gained, but was again unsuccessful. During this time, however, TKE continued to grow stronger in its own existence.
In late 1907, TKE was preparing to petition Phi Delta Theta once again at the 1908 convention, when an event took place that would forever change the course of history for the fraternity. At the annual initiation banquet on October 19, 1907, speeches were made that both advocated and questioned the continued petitioning of Phi Delta Theta. At the banquet, Wallace G. McCauley delivered a blistering speech known as “Opportunity Out of Defeat.” The powerful address called for an abandonment of the petitioning initiative and a new campaign to make TKE into a national fraternity itself. While there was some opposition at the time, the movement ultimately took hold, and by 1908, TKE was well on its way to becoming a national fraternity in its own right. The speech was published in the first issue of The Teke, in January 1908, and by November of that year, work was beginning on a new constitution. At the chapter meeting held on Monday, February 15, 1909, the new constitution became official. The first Conclave of the Grand Chapter of the new national fraternity of Tau Kappa Epsilon convened on February 17, 1909.
Our TKE chapter at Washington University in St. Louis, or Xi Chapter (pronounced “zi”), was founded September 17-18th, 1920 as the 14th TKE chapter and has been active ever since, making Xi the oldest continuously-running TKE chapter in the world. As one of the first official members of the Washington University Greek community, TKE gained popularity as a way for students to live on campus. Our first housing was actually a block in Tower Hall Dormitory – what we now call Karl D. Umrath Hall. In 1924 Xi chapter became the first fraternity on campus to raise the money needed to buy a house. 1 Fraternity Row occupied the land that is now the Law School and would house our chapter for many years. During World War II, we made another move in order to donate our house as military barracks for troops in St. Louis. TKE spent time off campus in the 80s, and the original house was demolished to make way for a new building and expansion along Lower Fraternity Row. We received our new home on the lower row in 2001. Today, the crest outside of our house is the sole remaining stone “Bastard Crest” in the world, a rare crest in worldwide TKE history that very few chapters were founded under.
TKE at Washington University is both the oldest fraternity on campus and the longest continually-active chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon in the world. In September of 2020 Xi Chapter will turn 100 years old.