The Beginnings of Tau Kappa Epsilon
Our Beginning, Growth, and Development
On the cold night of January 10, 1899, students of Illinois Wesleyan
University, in the small Midwestern town of Bloomington, had just
returned from the Christmas holidays when Joseph L. Settles went to the
room occupied by James C. McNutt and Clarence A. Mayer at 504 East
Locust Street to discuss the organization of a new society on campus.
Joined immediately by Owen I. Truitt and C. Roy Atkinson, these five
students created the first set of regulations for the Knights of
Classic Lore, a society whose avowed purpose was "to aid college men in
mental, moral, and social development."
of his late arrival for this meeting, James J. Love was made the first
new member. Love, along with Edwin A. Palmer and George H. Thorpe
became the first initiates of this new organization. Although Settles
was the leader in organizing the society, Atkinson was elected
President and McNutt was chosen as Secretary.
There were two fraternities already in existence
at Illinois Wesleyan in 1899, both with more than 50 chapters
nationally. Phi Gamma Delta had been established in 1866, while Sigma
Chi had begun there in 1883. In addition, two other national
fraternities, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Tau Delta, had inactive
chapters at Illinois Wesleyan. The Phi Delts existed from 1878-1897 and
the Delts from 1877-1880.
A "Different" Organization
of the Knights of Classic Lore desired an organization different from
those represented by the existing fraternities. Their desire was to
establish a fraternity in which the primary requisites for membership
would be the personal worth and character of the individual rather than
the wealth he possessed, the honors or titles he could display, or the
rank he maintained on the social ladder. The Founders of the KCL had
little regard for many of the common characteristics of fraternities at
that time, including their usual snobbery and disdain for persons
outside of a fraternity.
It was not long after their recognition on campus
that the Knights of Classic Lore were approached by some alumni of the
Illinois Epsilon chapter of Phi Delta Theta, whose charter had been
surrendered in 1897. The Phi Delt alumni saw in this new group an
opportunity for the restoration of its charter, and interested
themselves in converting it into a strong local fraternity. Through the
persuasion and effort of Richard Henry Little, for columnist on the
Chicago Tribune and one of the most prominent Phi Delt alumni, the
Knights presented a petition to the Phi Delta Theta national
organization at its convention in New York in 1902. The petition was
In hopes that their organization might be more
attractive to Phi Delta Theta, it was decided that a Greek letter name
should be adopted. The name "Knights of Classic Lore" was therefore
abandoned and the Greek letters Tau Kappa Epsilon selected. As a
further step, a fraternity house was rented. This was the first
fraternity house at Illinois Wesleyan, although Phi Gamma Delta and
Sigma Chi had both been in existence on campus for many years. The
Wilder Mansion, former home of President Wilder of the University,
became the first TKE house.
In the ensuing years, the Phi Delt alumni
and some of the undergraduate members continued to press for
affiliation with Phi Delta Theta by promoting petitions at the 1904 and
1906 Phi Delt national conventions. In each instance the petition was
either withdrawn or postponed. It is reported that one of the petitions
came within one vote of being accepted.