“I think you might be interested in examining the period of Phi Kappa Tau’s founding. In doing so, one should know something of the times that preceded the event. Let us look at what some historians call the Gilded Age of American history, the period between 1870 and 1900.
An agricultural economy was changing to an industrial one; street paving was replacing dirt streets; great bridges, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Eads Bridge were being built; cities were being lighted by electricity; long distance telephones were being installed; electric and hydraulic elevators were making tall buildings possible; great slums were being established; display advertising began to adorn our highways; a baseball league was forming; the wild west shows and the great circuses were taking to the railroads; the big bosses were manipulating our city governments; the industrial barons were in their prime; the labor unions were taking their present form; and the automobile manufacturers were trying to decide whether their power should be derived from electricity, steam or gasoline. It was a time of Theodore Roosevelt and the big stick, and the airplane was in the minds of the Wright Brothers.
This 30-year period, ending the 19th century, was the transition from a simple plain America to the one we live in today.
The base of our educational system was broadening, the little red school house was passing out and many colleges were becoming universities. Notwithstanding all this progress, the college fraternities tended to remain the same as they were in the early part of the 19th century.
Hazing was an important part of the ritual, and neither the chapter nor its members recognized any obligation to the school or even their own brothers, and very little to its national organization. The chapter was an entity to itself. Instead of being a social body, it had become an unsocial one. Hence movements against the fraternities in Boards of Trustees and legislatures became prevalent. The criticisms of fraternities heard today truly apply to the fraternities of those days.
But those fraternities had many advantages: educational, social and financial. They satisfied the natural desire to belong, the tendency of youth to gang up, and the satisfaction of sharing a secret, although the real secret was that generally there was no secret.
It is in this atmosphere that Phi Kappa Tau was founded.
Using hindsight, one of our most misused senses, our Fraternity can be regarded as a product of the times. In this light, had our Fraternity not started at Miami University, it could have started at any one of many other places. Personally, I have in mind Ohio University, The Ohio State University or Centre College, where our present esteemed Beta, Gamma and Delta chapters are located.
It was a move to eliminate the faults that were in existing fraternities and at the same time retain all their good features.
It recognized an obligation to the school, to its members and to the community -at-large.
To meet these obligations, a close relationship between the chapter and the Central Office [Executive Offices] was established. How well have we succeeded? You of our many chapters are the best judges.
Since imitation should be considered a compliment, it is satisfying to know that almost all of today’s outstanding fraternities have followed Phi Kappa Tau’s lead.”