1920-1947: Troubled Peace and Another War

The post-war years were marred by the calamity of the Great Depression in the United States, and Zeta Psi suffered with her natal country. The ranks of brothers at campuses across the nation had been decimated by war, and chapters had struggled to survive. Yet they had persevered—not one chapter went inactive in those years. But expansion was slow, as the chapters rebuilt their strength after the toll. By 1930, the nation had fallen into deep economic trouble, and students struggled to attend college, let alone accede to a brotherhood demanding of time and energy. Not only was the collegiate population averse to expansion; but in the meager times, campuses were reticent to open their doors and resources to new fraternities. Only two new American chapters were chartered during this period, Phi Lambda at the University of Washington in 1920, and Sigma Zeta at UCLA in 1924. The foundation of the Sigma Zeta marked another long step forward in the Pacific, as the first national fraternity at what was then known as the Southern Branch of the University of California.1 But the triumph in Los Angeles was not soon duplicated elsewhere: by 1930, no new chapters would be chartered in America until after the Pyrrhic economic boom occasioned by the Second World War.

Several chapters foundered during these times when campus men were called from academics for national service: the Lambda Psi at Wisconsin lapsed in 1933, as did the Alpha at Columbia in 1938, as war beckoned ominously; the Alpha Epsilon chapter at Illinois would fall inactive in 1946, and the Eta at Yale in 1952, hobbled by brothers lost overseas and a dispirited student body.2 Fortunately, all four chapter would be revived one day, though some languished for decades before dedicated elders and brothers from farther afield recolonized the illustrious chapters lost to war.3

Br “Red” Motley

Br “Red” Motley

Indeed, it was only through the bold and munificent leadership of the few left behind as college men and elders alike were sent overseas after the perfidy of Pearl Harbor that Zeta Psi continued to thrive during the bloody conflict. Letter-writing campaigns and depots for the comfort of Zetes on leave were set up around the country, paid for by these few elders and leaders. Br Chester A Lydecker (Α 1914), as Phi Alpha through 1943, was the initial proponent of the outreach programs, launching the effort as soon as war was declared.4 But it was Br Arthur Harrison “Red” Motley (ΑΒ 1922), who succeeded Br Lydecker in 1943 as Phi Alpha, who kept the program going strong even as ever more brothers were shipped east, taking particular interest in the sending of personalized letters describing the exploits of their chapter brothers and their universities.5 Yet there was only so much succor those left at home could offer. By the end of war, nearly four thousand Zetes had served their countries, and not all returned.

Autographed monochrome portrait of Br Dr Lewis Pilcher

Autographed monochrome portrait of Br Dr Lewis Pilcher

Yet these decades were not without moments of profound joy among Zetes. Zeta Psi celebrated its diamond anniversary (the seventy-fifth year since of its foundation) in 1922, with festivities in its birth town of New York. Auspiciously, it happened that both the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans had elected brothers of Zeta Psi as their commanders-in-chief for that year.6 As was traditional for the two formidably influential organizations, the two men were individuals of substance and repute: Br Dr Lewis Stephen Pilcher (Ξ 1868), GAR,7 and Maj Gen Br Julian Shakespeare Carr (Υ 1866), UCV.8 Thus at a dinner held for Zetes in New York that year, the two commanders-in-chief shook hands and broke bread as brothers, rather than the leaders of two organizations still as militantly opposed as forty years before. Br Henry Thomas, the evening’s toastmaster, remarked, “If the North and South had only placed the controversy in the hands of Zeta Psi, there would have been no war. At last the mistake has been realized, and now we see our two Brothers, each in command of his old army.”

Brs Julian Carr and Dr Lewis Pilcher

Brs Julian Carr and Dr Lewis Pilcher shaking hands

The institutions established under the inspiration of Br Comstock continued to flourish during this ebbing of expansion and waxing of consolidation. The central office had moved to New York in 1911, but only to temporary accommodations. A little over a decade later, in 1922, Zeta Psi obtained its first permanent international headquarters at the Zeta Psi Club at 31 East 39th Street in midtown Manhattan.9 Short years later, in 1928, the efforts at crystallizing the fraternities illustrious history begun under Br Piperson continued with one of the greatest efforts at redaction of the Zeta Psi history, the publication in 1928 of The Zeta Psi Story: An Informal Chronicle of Eighty-Four Years.10 The task was undertaken by Howard and Douglas Bement (Ξ 1896 & 1919), the latest in a long-standing lineage of dedicated Zeta Psi brethren.11 The expansive and meticulously researched codex recorded the history from chartering to the present of every chapter then extant, and has provided an essential reference for the early lives and achievements of Zetes into the future. Finally, in 1944 the institution of scholarship of which Br Comstock had dreamed finally became a reality, culminating in the establishment of the Zeta Psi Educational Foundation in 1947 with the appointment of Br Dr John V N Dorr (Δ 1894) as its first president.12 The idea had languished in the interregnum of the two World Wars, and only through the inspired leadership of Br Motley as Phi Alpha and afterwards did it finally reach fruition. In many ways, the lull of expansion provided the very opportunity for the greater brotherhood to form lasting institutions and realize fully the vision of Br Comstock.

Individual chapters as well used the period of slow growth to retrench and regroup for stronger future growth. For many, the time had arrived to establish the kind of chapter house which had begun to proliferate among fraternities in the late nineteenth century. A few illustrations of the more outstanding houses must suffice. The Sigma at Penn had obtained property in the late 1800s, but had not had the resources to develop it until the early 1900s, when it tore down the old structures and commissioned a palatial new house designed by the renowned Philadelphia architects Br Clark Wharton Churchman (Σ 1899) and Walter H Thomas.13 The Beta at UVa in 1923 and 1924 commissioned a chapter house after Jefferson’s nearby residence at Monticello, replacing its smaller residence with one suited to the reputation of the fraternity.14 And the Kappa at Tufts purchased one of the prestigious manses along Professors’ Row and renovated it for use as chapter house befitting the first Greeks on the Tufts campus.15

And while few chapters were chartered in America, Zeta Psi’s presence in Canada grew dramatically. The Pi Epsilon chapter was chartered at University of Manitoba in 1921, Sigma Epsilon at the University of British Columbia in 1926, Mu Theta at the University of Alberta in 1930, Alpha Mu at Dalhousie in 1938, and Theta Phi at the University of Western Ontario in 1947. This rapid growth only furthered Zeta Psi’s pioneering spirit in the north, as each of the new chapters was the first at its respective institution. The Canadian Foundation would be convened in 1939 to bring together the burgeoning Zeta Psi presence in Canada, and provide guidance and direction through scholarships, congress, and assistance for continuing northern expansion. With the war over, the legions of brothers abroad returning, and the institutional presence of Zeta Psi on firm foundation, Zeta Psi looked to the post-war period with optimism.

1 Indeed, the Constitution of Zeta Psi had to be amended to permit the chartering because the Los Angeles campus was technically an extension of that in Berkeley, and the document theretofore stated that only one charter could be granted to any given institution. The early history of the foundation of the Sigma Zeta is given in the Bements’s The Story of Zeta Psi, which the chapter provides on its website for the curious reader.

2 For example, the administration of Yale, even before the war, had begun the system of residential houses and eating clubs pioneered by Princeton to disbar Greeks from campus in the late nineteenth century (q.v. Note 3.13 supra). It was only after the war, however, that the administration banned formal rush in an effort to clean up the university’s image after a series of scandals rocked the fraternities, particularly a Delta Kappa Epsilon instance of hazing in 1958. Greek life at Yale was subsequently effectively shuttered until its resurgence in the late twentieth century. The Yale Herald has an expansive story on the rise and fall of Greek life at Yale.

3 None would return with any alacrity, however. Lambda Psi would be inactive until 1997, the Alpha until 1981, the Alpha Epsilon until 1992, and the Eta until 1990.

4 Br Lydecker was also active in the Rotary Club in his hometown of Jersey City, serving as District Governor from 1937-1938.

5 Br Motley was a notable entrepreneur and businessman, rising from a position as traveling salesman for a brush company to a publishing magnate at the helm of Parade magazine, then the most popular Sunday supplement. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine on 7 October 1946 and inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.

6 The Grand Army of the Republic, of course, was the association for Union veterans of the Civil War; the United Confederate Veterans were their more straightforwardly-named counterpart for the South. The practice of each was so hold an annual “national encampment” which served both as a reunion and a recreation. By 1950, the last of the Civil War veterans had succumbed to old age. The GAR was continued as the SUVCW, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. They provide a roll of all commanders-in-chief of the GAR. The UCV was continued as the SCV, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

7 Br Pilcher was a trend-setting physician, founding the Annals of Surgery and serving as an editor for almost half a century. A prolific writer himself, his extensive collection of medical tomes is stored in the Rare Books Collections at the Taubman Library at the University of Michigan School of Medicine. Also cf. an original view of a photo of Dr Pilcher in his operating theater, and his granting of an honorary Juris Doctor from Dickinson, site of the original Alpha chapter.

8 Br Julian Carr’s life, like that of Br Pilcher, is a veritable paean to the triumph of ingenuity and hard work. He rose to prominence promoting local tobacco interests, and served in the Third North Carolina Cavalry and witnessed the Confederacy’s surrender at Appomattox, and was granted the title of Major General in the UCV and was commonly called the “General” by friends—indeed, it would be inscribed on his gravestone at Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, which may be viewed at the UCV’s cemetery archives. He was major philanthropist of educational and industrial concerns, founder of the eponymous Carrtown near Chapel Hill, and a great benefactor of the South. He would posthumously be inducted into the Business Leader Hall of Fame. His personal papers are stored at the UNC documentary archive, and a brief biography may be found in the 1914 Biographies Catalogue.

9 Our international headquarters records briefly the history of its physical premises, dating back to before it was even constituted as an international headquarters at the head of the organizational structures recommended by Br Comstock.

10 Although the book has been out of print for many decades, it can still be purchased through various rare and used book-dealers. Amazon.com provides a useful gateway to several through its marketplace sellers.

11 The extensive and meticulous Bement Family archives collate the history of the Bements’ history and accomplishments.

12 Br Dorr was an accomplished chemical engineer and freelance inventor. The Moline Foundation tells how he pioneered the novel idea that the lines down the center of highways encouraged accidents by forcing drivers to hug the median in poor visibility conditions. As a solution, he suggested painting lines down the outside of highways as well, thus allowing drivers to maintain safer distance from oncoming traffic. He was the recipient of the Perkin Medal in 1941 by the Society of Chemical Engineers, and endowed a philanthropic trust in New York, the Dorr Foundation.

13 The Philadelphia Architectural Society records that Br Churchman had joined the firm of Thomas, Churchman & Molitor in 1905 after his apprenticeship, joining Thomas, who was a fellow Penn alumnus. A story of the early history of the Sigma, along with the construction of the chapter house and blueprints thereof, may be found in Penn”s historical archives. Churchman’s son, Charles West Churchman (Σ 1935), would become a groundbreaking academician and Nobel prize nominee in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. (His obituary appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.)

14 The University of Virginia historical archives provide photographs of the original residence and the new manse of 1923, along with images of the interior and blueprints. It also depicts the building today, looking remarkably the same as when it was first constructed in the 1920s.

15 The Tufts Digital Library contains a considerable number of images of the estate during the tenure of Professor Shipman, who owned it before the fraternity, and renovated as a chapter house for Zeta Psi.