Banta Elected to Membership in Delta Gamma1879
Returning home from the 1878 Phi Delta Theta Convention in Wooster, Ohio, George Banta encountered a Phi from the University of Mississippi. It was from this Phi that he learned of the founding of Delta Gamma in 1873 at The Lewis School, which was located only a few blocks from the gates of the University of Mississippi.
Young Banta became interested in establishing a chapter of this new fraternity for women at Franklin College. When Banta reached out to the Delta Gamma women in Mississippi, he stated that the interactions with the chapter were the “pleasantest compliments [he had] ever received in [his life].” Through correspondence with representatives of the Mississippi Delta Gammas, he learned of their desire to expand north and paved the way to bring Delta Gamma to Franklin College.
A series of setbacks, including the yellow-fever epidemic of 1878, and the great distance separating Oxford, Mississippi, and Franklin, Indiana, delayed this expansion. In hopes drive the process, Banta decided to ask for the authority to develop a new chapter, so the women of Delta Gamma would not need to travel to Franklin College themselves.
The members of the mother chapter of Delta Gamma thought well of the proposal and, to the surprise of Brother Banta, elected him to membership on May 27, 1879. What followed is best described in Banta’s own words.
“Of course, correspondence followed, and I was speedily given authority to organize and initiate a chapter at Franklin College. The three girls I first interested were Miss Mary Vawter, her cousin Miss Lillian Vawter, and Miss Kitty Ellis, my own cousin. Their initiation was extremely simple, consisting as I recall it of my communicating the few secrets to one, who in turn communicated them to the others… As Miss Lillian Vawter was my fiancee, it is probably not difficult to conjecture who the first Delta Gamma north of the Ohio River was, after myself… I clearly remember that we were told we should select our own chapter letter and we promptly chose Phi, in honor of the familiar name applied to my Fraternity.”
The establishment of the Phi chapter of Delta Gamma at Franklin was not the end of the story. In 1882, Banta married Lillian Vawter, a charter member of the Phi chapter at Franklin. He and other members of Phi Delta Theta were also instrumental in the development of Delta Gamma chapters at several other universities, George Banta and, indeed, other members of Phi Delta Theta, were instrumental in the development of Delta Gamma chapters at Buchtel, now Akron (1879), Hanover (1881), and Wisconsin (1881). Banta, in later years, assisted with the rewriting of the Delta Gamma ritual and attended many of the Fraternity’s conventions, the last being in 1934, a year before his death.
“It is to him the Fraternity owes its very existence. His interest in Delta Gamma’s expansion in the north provided the first footing needed as the small women’s colleges in the south closed.”
His wife, Lillian, died in 1885, leaving a young son, Mark. After her death, Banta moved to Menasha, Wisconsin, where he later married Ellen Lee Plesants, where he had two more children, George Jr., and Eleanor Banta. Both sons became members of Phi Delta Theta. George Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps and served as president of the Phi Delta Theta Grand Council from 1932-1934. Eleanor became a member of Delta Gamma.
Banta supported the Greek system throughout his life, attending early meetings of the National Panhellenic Conference and the National Interfraternity Conference. He founded Banta’s Greek Exchange, a quarterly magazine devoted to articles on fraternity affairs.
Delta Gamma paid special tribute to Brother Banta when the Delta Gamma Foundation established the George Banta Memorial Fellowship for 1957-58. Brother Banta is a wonderful example of how friendship extends past your organization and into the broader Greek community.