Semi-Centennial Convention Hosted in Columbus, Ohio1898
For its fiftieth anniversary, the Fraternity wanted to meet in Oxford, Ohio, during the Christmas holidays. Dr. Lafayette Walker, Miami 1868, the president of the Oxford Female College (later merged with Miami University), had offered the college rooms for convention delegates. But it seemed that accommodations in Oxford would be inadequate for the number expected at a Semi-Centennial gathering.
Columbus was chosen for the convention site, with an anniversary celebration scheduled later at Old Miami. The Convention met in the Hall of Representatives of the Ohio State House, November 21–25, with a record attendance of 208. In the opening session, President Walter B. Palmer of the General Council reported: “At this historic milestone, the fiftieth in the course of Phi Delta Theta, we may look backwards and congratulate ourselves on a course well run. It is interesting and instructive to recall the various stages of our career as a Fraternity: the small beginnings and the gradual growth interrupted by the Civil War when the fires upon our altars all but expired, the slow recuperation, and then the splendid development which has placed Phi Delta Theta foremost among national fraternities.”
Along with ten business sessions, the Phis enjoyed a schedule of social events in the new Chittenden Hotel, where a large Fraternity flag floated from the roof. For the first time at any convention, two of the founders were present, Robert Morrison and John Wolfe Lindley. In the banquet hall, Morrison again used his sea-going metaphor: “Thanks to Divine Providence for beneficent guidance not only in the launching of the good ship Phi Delta Theta but during the storms when sailing was dangerous when shoals and rocks beset the way, we have safely reached a grand haven in this good hour.” Lindley spoke of the organization, founded by six young men who were closely united, that had grown to ten thousand members across the nation. Beside him at the banquet table sat Walter Palmer, who had written the most popular of the Fraternity’s songs:
From six at first we soon became.
Phi Delta Theta for aye!
A mighty host of wondrous fame,
Phi Delta Theta for aye!
At Columbus, plans were begun for a celebration during Commencement week in June 1899. That was a festive time in Oxford, for the university was saluting the seventy-fifth year of its functioning. Fifteen hundred flags decorated doors and shop windows along High Street. The old Main Building had been enlarged and renovated, with a newly furnished library room and a remodeled chapel seating five hundred people.
Following the Class Day exercises, on June 13, Phi Delta Theta began its Golden Jubilee. At 3 o’clock, led by Morrison and Lindley, the Phis marched into the chapel that was brightened with flowers and the Fraternity colors. The two founders, on their first return to Miami in forty-six years, spoke of the changes half a century had brought. Dr. A. A. Kemper, who had been initiated at Miami in 1850, read a poem that began:
Our fifty years are past
But not forever cast
Beneath the shadows of forgetfulness.
In his anniversary oration Alston Ellis, Miami 1867, said, “We have placed a tablet in the wall of the old North Dormitory, in connection with the founding of our beloved fraternity in 1848. We have not added to the fame of those who did such good work fifty years ago . . . . They need no monument to commemorate their work.” After his address, the members made a ‘pilgrimage’ to the neighboring building to see Founder Wilson’s room and the memorial tablet.
Four Ohio Alpha alumni who were members of the university board of trustees had secured the board’s approval of the memorial. The inscribed tablet of russet granite was set into the brick wall between the two windows of the second-story room where the first Phi Delta Theta meeting was held. December 26, 1848. On a polished raised surface in the shape of the Fraternity shield were engraved the names of the six founders and the founding date.
That June evening, 250 guests attended a fraternity reception in the new Herron Gymnasium. The next night Ohio Alpha held a Golden Jubilee banquet in the chapter suite on the third floor of Oxford’s Mansion House. A dozen toasts were followed by as many impromptu speeches. Beginning at nine o’clock, the banquet ended at 4:30 a.m. When the Phis said goodnight, the sky was bright with sunrise.