The Snowball Rebellion

In 1848, Miami University had two fraternities on campus, Alpha Delta Phi and Beta Theta Pi. However, the president at the time, Erasmus McMaster, did not trust fraternities or any secret societies, and the students were frustrated with McMaster’s negative attitude.

On January 12, 1848, a huge snowstorm hit Miami’s campus. Several students, including members of both fraternities, decided to band together and make a statement to President McMaster and the board. In the middle of the night, the students made giant snowballs and rolled them up to block the doors of the main building on campus. McMaster was furious and declared he would find every student involved and expel them. The student body did not believe he would remove everyone, so they recruited even more people to fight back. This time, they also packed tremendous amounts of snow and ice inside the hallways of the building. The temperature dropped overnight, and the snow froze, turning into ice and making the building an unusable mess.

The following week, the boys were called in to explain their actions. After a lengthy trial, McMaster expelled forty-six students who would neither apologize nor promise to be better in the future. Each time a student was removed, his classmates would carry him off their shoulders. The Snowball Rebellion was a great representation of organizations’ independence and the bond formed among fraternity members.

This momentous event overall led to the brotherhood mindset on Miami’s campus, which aligns with the founding of Phi Delta Theta in December of this year.

Founding of the Fraternity

In the fall of 1848, the only two societies (as fraternities were then known) at Miami University, Alpha Delta Phi and Beta Theta Pi, were suspended due to some members’ participation in the Snowball Rebellion. As a result, as the Christmas holidays approached, the atmosphere on the Miami University campus was gloomy and uncertain.

Robert Morrison, a pre-theology major from central Ohio, suggested to a close friend and classmate, John McMillan Wilson, that they consider putting together a new collegiate brotherhood.

From this elemental beginning, Phi Delta Theta evolved into the positive international force for good it has become over the past 175 years.

Morrison and Wilson, thinking in terms of providing a permanent base with growth potential, sought out underclassmen they visualized as joining them. They approached men they knew who would be open to founding a new society.

Thus juniors John W. Lindley and Robert T. Drake were approached, as were sophomores Ardivan W. Rodgers and Andrew W. Rogers, all of whom accepted the concept.

All six men were among the depleted ranks of Miami students who did not attempt to go home to join their families for the Christmas holidays because of the difficult travel conditions and bitter winter weather.

The need for close companionship had to be evident when the six met the night of December 26, 1848, in Wilson’s second-floor room in North Hall, directly above Morrison’s room. Wilson passed around a paper, asking each man to sign, stating they would keep the discussions of that meeting a secret. According to Morrison in his “Memorabilia” papers, “From that hour, we six were a Band of Brothers, and then began the life and work of the ΦΔΘ Fraternity.”

They met two nights later in the same room to consider an appropriate motto and constitution. Morrison and Wilson put the consensus ideas into terminology that became The Bond that every initiate has signed to become a member of the Fraternity.

On December 30, the ‘Immortal Six’ put their signatures to The Bond 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.

Creation of Ohio Alpha

According to Morrison, in a letter to W.B. Palmer, he was “anxious to have the organization date in 1848, and then we could, as we did with our first initiate, have our first banquet on New Year’s Day, 1849.” So it was at that fourth meeting of the founders in that historic week that resulted in the initiation of the first new Phi, Morton George Williams, on January 1, 1849. While Fraternity records list the parent Ohio Alpha Chapter as being founded in the initial meeting of December 26, for practical purposes, the Alpha chapter had its beginning as such with that fourth meeting.

A banquet at an Oxford restaurant celebrated the initiation of Williams. The members were divided into two divisions at that meeting to prepare essays and read them at alternate meetings.

The April 25 meeting saw the adoption of the bylaws. It is important to note the bylaws were not part of The Bond because they dealt with the preparation of the essays which were read in class as part of the academic studies of the founders.

The founders felt it was necessary to keep Fraternity activities and goals to themselves as the two earlier Miami fraternities. Alpha Delta Phi and Beta Theta Pi were under suspension due to the Snow Rebellion. Hence, the Fraternity remained sub rosa (secret) for the first three years of its existence, meaning Brothers Morrison and Wilson spent less than a year as part of Phi Delt campus activities since both graduated in 1849.

Early meetings were not regularly held and were on call and held in the members’ rooms, in the recitation halls, or, in good weather, outdoors. When conducted outside, a sentinel was always posted to keep outsiders from getting close enough to hear what was going on.

In the fall of 1850, a transfer student from Farmers College in Cincinnati, Benjamin Harrison, described as a “slight, fair-haired youth of 17,” came to Miami and was initiated. The future President of the United States was to serve his Fraternity well all his life, beginning with his time as chapter president in the stormy 1851 year.

By 1855, Ohio Alpha had initiated seventy members and was established as the Fraternity’s Alpha chapter.

First Initiate, Morton George Williams

On January 1, 1849, the six founders welcomed the first man chosen for membership into the Fraternity. Morton George Williams, of LaPorte, Indiana, was initiated and quickly elected to the role of secretary for the Alpha chapter. Although his time with the parent chapter of Phi Delta Theta was short, he served in his capacity eagerly until he departed from Miami University in April of 1849.

Shortly after he left Miami University, M. G. Williams enrolled as an undergraduate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. While getting settled at his new institution, Williams wrote back to the founders in Oxford to express his longing for the brotherhood he once had. Upon a membership vote, he was granted the ability to establish a chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Centre College on July 26, 1849. Upon receiving notice of this great news, Williams began to seek out potential members for the new chapter.

After months of hard work, M. G. Williams and the three other members he had initiated into the new chapter at Centre College received great news. On May 6, 1850, the men were granted the approval for a charter to establish the Kentucky Alpha Chapter of Phi Delta Theta.

In the winter of that year, M. G. Williams fell ill and took a leave from his academics while resting in Danville. After months of declining health, he was transported to Louisville, Kentucky, for further treatment. On September 11, 1851, Williams succumbed to consumption and became the first loss of an initiated member of Phi Delta Theta. After the founders learned of his passing, Williams was referred to in a letter from John McMillian Wilson to Robert Morrison on November 27, 1852, as the “first chosen, the first taken, and the best beloved.”

Original Badge Designed

Under Robert Morrison’s direction, the first badge was completed by a local jeweler on June 12, 1849, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Morrison suggested the shape of a shield with an eye affixed to the upper portion, and John McMillan Wilson proposed a scroll fixed to the lower area. Morrison added that the Greek letters ‘ΦΔΘ’ shall be inscribed on Wilson’s scroll. Morrison stated that “the scroll is essential; the eye is not though….”

In Morrison’s directions to the jeweler, he wrote, “The whole pin is to be solid gold, of the thickness of a new Spanish quarter or thereabouts, the edge to be left at your discretion, keeping in mind that severe plainness and beauty are desired. The back is to be left plain, as that will be the place for the wearer’s name. The general outline, of course, to be, as the drawing represents, a handsome shield.”

The badge has been changed several times but still symbolizes the sacred brotherhood of those wearing it.

Second Chapter, Indiana Alpha

Expanding Phi Delta Theta beyond the campus of Old Miami was on the founders’ minds from the beginning. In the Articles of Union, voted on at that third meeting, December 30, 1848, provision was made for “the organization of colleges,” which meant chapters in current terminology.

The second chapter was Indiana Alpha at Indiana University in Bloomington, some one hundred miles west of Oxford. It was organized and chartered in October of 1849, a mere ten months into the life of Phi Delta Theta.

The founders were Robert Gaston Elliott and his brother, Samuel Steele Elliott, who lived just across the state line, eight miles west of Oxford.

The Elliotts had attended Miami for two years and were close friends of Morrison and Wilson. They had learned that the Indiana legislature had just passed an act to provide two scholarships from each county in the state to attend the state school. They applied for those scholarships from Union County and were accepted. They contacted Morrison and suggested the possibility of setting up Phi Delta Theta at their new school.

They signed The Bond under the watchful eyes of all Ohio Alpha members and headed west to plant the seed in a new state less than a year into the Fraternity’s history.

First Expelled Members

The Fraternity has always been a place of both high standard and accountability. Early in the organization’s inception, action needed to be taken against initiated members of the Ohio Alpha Chapter.

The first man expelled from Phi Delta Theta was P. McC. Morgan, ’53. He was initiated on January 15, 1851, and, during the spring of that year, was expelled for violating The Bond. However, the first serious trouble of Ohio Alpha occurred in the fall of 1851, when the Society was nearly three years old. It resulted in the expulsion of J. H. Childs, ’52, J. G. McNutt, ’53, and the withdrawal of Harmar Denny, ’52, S. R. Matthews, ’52, and A. C. Kemper, ’53. The offense of which Childs and McNutt were guilty was repeated intoxication.

The opening of the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton railroad took place in October of 1851. The community ceremonies to greet the first train in Hamilton, fourteen miles from the Miami campus, attracted widespread attention. Several Miami students made the journey to Hamilton to be part of the celebration, and two Phis became overly involved. Obviously intoxicated, they had to be helped into the stagecoach that brought them back to Oxford.

Reprimanded at the next chapter meeting, the pair expressed regret, apologized for their actions, and promised to reform. The Phis of the time were almost all members of the Young Men’s Temperance Association in town. After one of these meetings, the same pair became publicly intoxicated again and were brought to trial. Benjamin Harrison presided at the trial, where the offenders were expelled unanimously. Nonetheless, three other members, close friends of the miscreants, resigned. Thus, the Fraternity lost five of its twelve members, but the seven who remained pledged to recruit new members and keep the Fraternity ideals intact.

Over the years, numerous crises would develop, but this one could easily have derailed the group. As described in Havighurst’s history, “Behind the events of that season lay a fundamental question: what kind of a society was Phi Delta Theta to be, and would The Bond endure as the basic law of the Fraternity?” Interestingly, the two members who were expelled and two of their sympathizers who resigned in protest became charter members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter, chartered at Miami on March 8, 1852. Later, a split in that fraternity’s ranks resulted in Sigma Chi’s founding in 1855, the third member of the Miami Triad.


First General Convention

Three years after the founding of the Fraternity, John McMillan Wilson proposed a meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, with Robert Morrison. While four chapters were in existence then, Ohio Alpha, Indiana Alpha, Kentucky Alpha, and Indiana Beta, only the first two had representation at the Convention on December 30, 1851.

The business of the Order included the discipline of two Ohio Alpha members accused of intoxication, J.H Childs and J. G. McNutt. In addition, J. A. Anderson, Miami 1853, submitted for consideration the expansion prospects of several schools in the region. Two positive steps included a committee establishing new chapters using the term ‘colleges’ and the designation of Ohio Alpha as Grand Chapter.

Members Wore Badges Publicly

Phi Delta Theta at Miami University existed in secrecy for three years due to an anti-fraternity ruling. Although Miami never had any anti-fraternity laws in place, the founders deemed it necessary to keep the brotherhood secret during its formative years. With that, member’s badges had to be worn privately only at meetings and places remote from Oxford.

In 1851, Miami University president, Dr. William C. Anderson, was told about Phi Delta Theta under a pledge that he would not use the knowledge in any way as a college officer. President Anderson created a more fraternity-friendly environment on campus and even became an honorary member of the Fraternity.

On June 26, 1852, Anderson invited fraternity members to a party. Five Phi Delta Theta members wore the badge publicly in Oxford. It was this moment in which Phi Delta Theta made themselves publicly known on Miami’s campus. Now, Phis all over can wear their badge publicly as a symbol of their commitment to Friendship, Sound Learning, and Rectitude.

Passing of Ardivan Walker Rodgers

Ardivan Walker Rodgers was born in 1824, north of Oxford in Piqua, Ohio. His parents had eight children, of which Ardivan was the fifth. He enrolled at Miami in 1846, and two years later, Ardivan met up with Morrison and Wilson.

Brother Rodgers was a sophomore founder and best of friends with the other AWR, Andrew Watts Rogers. Though not related, the two friends shared the same physique, six feet tall and muscular in stature. They were often together on campus, side by side, and easily recognized by their fellow students. He was known as one of the best-informed men on every subject, a bit brusque, and though sometimes aggressive, always just. The chivalrous Ardivan Rodgers warmed any group with his friendly greeting and easy smile. He never knew a grudge and often smothered a quarrel.

Brother Rodgers graduated in 1851 and went back home to Piqua to teach. He was married to Mary Sawyer, daughter of John Sawyer. They had three children: John Sawyer, Walter Lowrie, and Ardivan Walker Jr. He moved to St. Mary’s, Ohio, and finally taught in Brighton, Iowa. Just eight years after he helped pioneer the great and beloved Phi Delta Theta brotherhood, Ardivan caught typhoid fever, which was quite common in those days. He was the first to join the Chapter Grand in 1856. He is buried in Brighton, Iowa, just south of where the Fraternity’s Iowa Alpha Chapter would be founded in 1871.

Sometimes, years after his early death, undergraduate Phis thought of the noble Ardivan Rodgers while the chorused voices sang:

And when at last,
This life is past,
We’ll join the Chapter Grand.
May luck and wealth,
Life, hope, and health,
Be with the Phikeias’ band.