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EQV Fraternity 1954 - 1968

History Part I   

The Origins of EQV

By Gus Napier (’60)

It was a difficult divorce; but given how different the two parties had become, one that was probably inevitable. Like so many breakups, there was plenty of acrimony and ambivalence; there was the agony of indecision, even mutual efforts at reconciliation. In the end, one party had changed and grown, while the other clung to the past. We of Phi Gamma of Alpha Chi Rho were the mal-contents, the up-starts, and if you will, the revolutionaries.

The story of the birth of EQV is connected with the emergence of a new consciousness in mid-twentieth century America, and it also has a contemporary ring to it. Our fraternity’s story is a small one, but we dealt with important issues, and I believe we showed courage and foresight. It is a story worth telling, and it contains victories worth celebrating. . It foreshadowed many of the changes in public policy that are now accepted as a matter of course and which are characterized as the legacies of the 1960s and the civil rights movement.

The origins of a fraternity

Alpha Chi Rho was begun in 1895 by the Reverend Paul Ziegler, an Episcopalian minister from Detroit who had gone to Trinity College in Hartford. Ziegler’s son Carl also went to Trinity; and when he did not get into his father’s literary society (fraternity), Beta Beta, the father helped his son and a couple of friends who had also been denied Beta Beta membership form a new fraternity at Trinity. It is noteworthy that the son, Carl, later also became a minister, and was a staunch prohibitionist. The new fraternity, Alpha Chi Rho, was designed to be “different from existing Greek societies,” with a more religious orientation. As one reads the history (a highly slanted version is available on the web), it appears that in the early years as new chapters were begun, there was conflict from some quarters about the standards for membership being too stringent, too “idealistic.”

Alpha Chi Rho was founded as a Christian fraternity; and until 1954, its first “landmark” read, “Membership from among Christians only.” Wesleyan’s origins were also Christian, and certainly in 1911 when Phi Gamma chapter was established on our campus, there would have been an apparent synchrony between the ideals of the College and those of the Fraternity. Until fairly late in its history, Phi Gamma seems to have had a religious ethos. Bill Murphy (’60) writes about meeting an alumnus who returned for a reunion and “…how strange we thought him to be for wanting to sing hymns and other songs around the fireplace on Sunday night.”

The original home of our chapter was in rented quarters in the former Pike residence. In 1925 the College announced its intention of leveling the Pike building to make way for the new biology lab (Shanklin), and the brick building on the corner of Court and High Streets was constructed by the local chapter.

Fraternal Discontent

The first public surfacing of discontent with Alpha Chi Rho’s ideology and its membership requirements occurred in 1954, when, at the national convention, “liberal elements” in the fraternity forced a change in the first landmark. The phrase “…membership from among Christians only” was replaced by a passage requiring members to respect Jesus of Nazareth as their moral exemplar. This change was reflected in the “exoteric manual.” However, the secret ritual of the fraternity (the “esoteric manual”) remained unchanged, and it required that initiates swear allegiance to Christianity as a theological doctrine. This conflict between the Fraternity’s more inclusive public face and its restrictive private requirements was at the heart of our chapter’s conflict with the National. It was a very 1950s script: keep things looking “nice” on the surface, and do your unsavory work behind closed doors.

As our chapter fought to get Alpha Chi Rho to bring its secret principles in alignment with its publicly-advertised ones, the darker side of the “real” attitudes of the fraternity emerged, and they revealed a National organization dedicated to discriminatory practices against non-Christians, and against African Americans as well. While there was clearly some sympathy for our positions in the larger membership, our chapter stood alone in defying the National.

Leading up to our chapter’s open conflict with the National, there was a disconnect of sorts between the two groups. Ted Wieseman (’58): “There wasn’t much contact with the National for a number of years, apparently. Curley Walden was for many years the Executive Director (he retired in ill health in 1959), and he was an old man by the time I came on the scene. Curly visited from time to time, but the visits must have been somewhat perfunctory.”

While the National was “not paying attention,” our chapter apparently papered over the potential conflict with the National by quietly changing the ritual, omitting the offending phrases. Ernie Dunn ’59 estimates that many changes where made to the ritual. By 1957, most members had not been “properly” initiated.

During this period of “lax supervision” by the National, Phi Gamma had assembled a very lively and diverse membership. Frank Avantaggio (’56), a retired surgeon who now lives in Damariscotta, ME, was chapter president during this period of change: “I believe there had been over the years a number of Jewish members, and then we got an opportunity to pledge these two great African-American guys, Lenny Moore (’59) and Ernie Dunn (’59). They were terrific, and we wanted them as members. There was no great discussion; we just pledged the people we wanted to, so we invited them, and they both accepted. At that time we had several Jewish members as well.” Ernie believes that there was considerable discussion before he and Lenny were pledged: “They knew that in doing so it would not be in keeping with the policies of AXP, which prior to that time had been ‘lily white.’” Ted Wieseman recalls that Avantaggio told him that “Curly Walden did pay a visit after Ernie and Lenny were pledged, and when he noticed that we had minority members he may have been upset, but he did not raise any objections.

A climate of diversity

Ted Wieseman: “EQV was born in a community ethos created by these earlier classes. Some of us joined because of this ethos, others acquired it by interacting with the group.”

Gus Napier: “When I joined AXP in the fall of 1956, I did so partly because of the diversity of the membership. I had grown up in the Jim Crow south, and it was important to me that Phi Gamma had pledged two outstanding African American men. I was also drawn to the sheer liveliness of the fraternity and what I later learned was its intellectual boldness.”

Bill Murphy comments on how much exuberance poured out of the membership. He recalls evenings when the after-dinner singing went on and on, making it hard for the president to get any order for announcements or fraternity business. “I’m pleased that AXP had as much diversity as the campus itself. I’m pleased to have been part of a fraternity with mixed religions and mixed races. I joined AXP because I knew Ernie Dunn from my high school, and I believed that if Ernie liked the house, it was good enough for me.”

Gus Napier: “I recall one particularly memorable night when someone stood up to announce a meeting after dinner—I believe it was Murphy convening the chapter’s Methodists (he does not remember it). Then someone else called a meeting. Soon most of the membership chimed in, calling meeting after meeting of various sub-groups: Jews, WASPS, Catholics, southerners, African Americans, left-handed people, people who had gone to prep school, scholarship students, guys from Connecticut, and from New York. It was hilarious and joyful and a spontaneous celebration of sorts of our diversity. I remember thinking, ‘What a great group I have joined!’”

Conflict emerges

These two worlds—the diverse and lively local and its restrictive parent--soon came into sharp and unpleasant contact. Don Hinman (’59), who was co-president for his year with Doug Bennet (’59), relates this tale, which may be apocryphal but is nevertheless symbolic of the impending clash: “The story is that the National Secretary came for his annual visit and found Frank Avantaggio and another brother having a swordfight on the stairs with the sacred cross and the sacred crook, or whatever they were called. And apparently he nearly had a stroke.” Frank doesn’t remember this event.

But Ted Wieseman has vivid recall of much uglier scenes, played out in sotto voce during the spring and early summer of 1957 when he was president of the Chapter. “It was probably April, and with no warning these two guys from the National appeared. One was, I believe, Frank Williams, a heavy-set man, and not bright. The other was Stanley Bedford, who was the National’s vice-president and soon to become president. Bedford was the dominant player and did most of the talking. He looked a bit like a villain: short, with a pencil mustache and slicked-back hair, something like a cross between a numbers man and an enforcer.”

An “enforcer” he seemed to be. He wondered why no one was wearing an AXP fraternity pin. Wieseman: “Though he made disparaging remarks about our ‘Negro’ pledges, he seemed more focused on our Jewish members. He wanted to know how a Jew could in good conscience pledge a Christian fraternity.” There seems wide agreement that the National was focused on our inclusion of Jewish members. Ernie Dunn: “Race was a problem, but it was not the problem that initiated our separation from the National. It had to do primarily with the Jewish brothers who had joined prior to my coming to Wesleyan.”

If Ted’s meeting with the National officers was unpleasant, it was mild in comparison to what followed. Wieseman: “In June, the Chapter was called to a meeting in New Jersey. I stayed after classes were over to be able to attend it, and Bill Olson (’58, deceased), the ritual officer, went with me. It was a night meeting in Newark, around 8:00, in an empty building. I recall the bright florescent lights. Bedford was in charge, but there were some others there as well. It was a kind of inquisition, with accusations and threats. They wanted us to ‘get rid of those guys,’ and they were particularly focused on our Jewish members. We were to hold rigorous initiations using the full esoteric manual. They said that the National owned the house with the implied threat to kick us out if we didn’t comply. It was a truly awful experience.”

Walter Burnett (’59) also remembers attending such a meeting in New Jersey with recollections similar to Ted’s. In addition to the fluorescent lights, it was hot. He remembers sweating profusely. The behavior of the national leadership was of total intimidation. The threats of taking away the house were unabashed and the demand for getting rid of Ernie and Lenny was made explicitly clear. He left the meeting with a sense of unreality and disbelief. The racial and religious bigotry and the obsession with the fraternity ritual by the “adult leadership” were beyond his comprehension.

When Ted and Bill came back to Wesleyan, they went to see Dean Don Eldridge (’31), an alumnus of the Chapter: “Eldridge was very supportive and encouraged us to stand up to the National. He warned us that we would have trouble with the alumni, and he disputed the National’s claim to ownership of the house. As this thing played out, Eldridge functioned as a kind of CEO/adviser for the chapter.”

Ted and Bill also went to see Stuart Heddon, the Chapter’s influential alumnus, who lived in western Connecticut. Heddon had guided Wesleyan’s economic success in the stock market after World War II (he had engineered the purchase of My Weekly Reader, for example). “Heddon had come out of World War II with a kind of ‘stand up for what you believe’ attitude, and he encouraged us to oppose the National. He said, ‘Tell the truth.’ We knew we had him in our corner.” President Butterfield, however, was apparently non-committal: “…his decision was to stay out of this phase of the conflict.”

By the fall of 1957, a new ethos, this one of cohesion and defiance, was beginning to take place in the Chapter. Gus Napier: “I believe that Wieseman was instrumental in this shift, that he was a principal architect of a new consciousness at Phi Gamma.” If the Chapter’s leadership was emboldened by support from Eldridge and Heddon, some of the pledges took courage from this emerging climate. At the initiation, the differences between the exoteric and esoteric manuals were explained, and two pledges, Paul Cable (’61 deceased) and Paul Woodfill (’61 no information available about him) refused to participate in the ritual until it was changed. The members then voted unanimously to attempt to modify the ritual according to the National’s accepted procedures. Gus Napier was named chair of the ritual committee and work was begun on an alternative set of guiding principles.

During the winter and spring of 1957-58, a number of meetings were held between the Local and the National. In February, 1958, Bedford, by now National president, attended a meeting of Phi Gamma and announced that no ritual changes had been contemplated by the National. A month later, on March 4, Bedford and Sterling Mayo, Vice-President, attended a meeting in Middletown; Wieseman represented the chapter, as well as alumni Gould (’48) and Anderson (’40).

Support from our alumni and a rebuke by the National

In June of 1958, a number of graduate members of the local were invited to Wesleyan to what was a very well-attended Annual Meeting. After a long discussion, the alumni urged that at the National meeting in September, an alternative reading of the Ritual be pursued, and in the event that the National convention did not accept such a motion, the proposed revised ritual be used until this question was settled for those pledges who had not accepted the old ritual. This support from the alumni group was heartening for the chapter.

Ernie Dunn ’59 and Don Hinman ’59 represented our chapter at the National’s annual meeting in the fall of 1958. Dunn: “I will never forget walking into that hall. A complete silence fell when I entered. I believe no one in the fraternity but Bedford and Mayo knew that there was an African American member. I was the first one.” Not only was our chapter’s attempt to modify the ritual unsuccessful, but a retaliatory motion passed (later referred to committee), to re-draft the exoteric manual in accordance with the esoteric.


Angered by this rebuke, the local chapter, led by President Doug Bennet, voted to hold an initiation using the revised ritual, and to notify the National regarding this decision. This initiation was held on October 9, 1958, and was attended by Sterling Mayo and Stanley Bedford. At the end of the initiation all the members of our chapter were suspended for refusal to conduct an initiation council in accordance with Ritual codes. The Chapter then voted to re-name the suspended chapter “The Black Walnut Club,” the name of our eating club; and our slate of officers was re-elected. Then the two pledges who had refused to be initiated the previous year—Paul Cable and Frank Woodfill—were initiated. Bennet, in an article in the Argus: “A strict interpretation of our ritual discriminates against diversity of membership. Such discrimination is, we feel, in opposition to our ideals and also to those of Wesleyan University.” That left the building on High Street with two resident fraternities: Phi Gamma with no members, and the Black Walnut Club (BWC), brimming with idealism and energy.

Our suspension by the National was hot news on campus for some time; there were numerous articles in the Argus, and our stand attracted favorable opinion from the faculty, from President Butterfield, and from other students. In November we all received individual letters from the National informing us of our suspension and announcing a “hearing” at the headquarters in New York City: “Failure to appear will constitute acknowledgement of guilt.” Since there was no question of our “guilt,” no one from the Chapter attended.

Please listen!

On January 9, 1959, Corresponding Secretary Bob Patricelli (’61) wrote a very articulate letter to the Garnet and White, the Fraternity’s magazine, explaining our position, and which we paraphrase: No we are not, as Curley Walden charged in the previous issue of the magazine, “…clever forces hammering away to break up the American college fraternity.” We are not anti-fraternity, anti-Christian, anti-religious or aesthetic intellectuals with no respect for tradition. We have, in fact, stronger religious connections than many fraternities on campus; but we do not believe that a person’s religious belief should be a criterion for membership in a college fraternity, and on this stand we were suspended.”

Patricelli’s letter summarized the history of the conflict, explained why we took the stand we did, cited, our alumni support, quoted Butterfield’s praise of the way we had handled the crisis: “…with maturity, patience, reason, and courtesy.” Bob asked for response from the National membership.

The letter was not published. When you do not have an open mike, you cannot speak.

Enter Robert Moore ’15, from stage right, dressed in black and white

Moore was a member of our own chapter, and his influence was decisive in the defeat of our efforts to change the National’s position. His “open” letter of April 4, 1959, is a classic paranoid diatribe. One presumes that he had an open mike at the National; the letter went to all of AXP’s alumni.

According to Moore, dark forces are plotting to destroy all that we hold dear—in particular, good Christian fraternities. These forces reputedly originated in New York City immediately after World War II: “The campaign was carefully planned, well-financed, well-publicized.” This sinister group (there is no doubt that he means Jews) made little progress in destroying fraternities at Trinity, Gettysburg, and Pennsylvania, but they succeeded at Amherst and Williams, “…where the battle was lost for too little too late. At Wesleyan it is late but not too late (italics his).”

Moore traces the attack on fraternities at Wesleyan to a 1955 report of the Sub-Committee on Fraternities of The Educational Policy Committee, chaired by Assistant Professor Robert S. Cohen (’42) “…not a fraternity member and a person with close associations with Communist organizations.” The report, negative regarding fraternities and their discriminatory policies, is published and then, according to Moore, mysteriously disappears. Professor Cohen “takes off for Boston University” and the gauntlet is picked up by Morton Jay Tenzer, Instructor in Government, who issues another report in 1958 which lists all fraternities having clauses and covert agreements. According to Moore, Tenzer recommends that if the University doesn’t adopt the committee’s recommendations, individual faculty members should initiate private punitive measures against the offending houses.

Moore of course links our chapter with these dark forces, and he credits us with disrupting an otherwise peaceful fraternity. We have been rebuffed by the National Convention of 1958, yet we persist.

Moore does not deny that Alpha Chi Rho is a Christian fraternity. What is wrong with having a Christian fraternity, he argues? He aligns Alpha Chi Rho with Wesleyan’s Christian tradition: “As long as members of Alpha Chi Rho respect the norms of human conduct that have been Wesleyan’s since the days of Wilbur Fisk and Laban Clark, we apprehend no reason why we should retreat before the attack of persons like Cohen, Tenzer and others who are aliens and destroyers of the authentic tradition of Wesleyan. That tradition is Christian (italics his).”

Side-stepping the charge of discrimination, and having bathed himself and the Fraternity in white, Moore issues his call to arms. “FIGHT!” he commands. “There are those whose counsel is cowardly submission to what some call progress. There are those who have no fight in them. But already there is a body of well over two hundred Graduates of Phi Gamma who stand by Alpha Chi Rho’s moral right to be an autonomous Christian Fraternity without compromise or equivocation—as it has been from the beginning. And for this they will fight by every honorable means.”

And fight he, and they, did.

Two decisive meetings in New York

In April of 1959, our chapter was notified by the National that a meeting with Phi Gamma’s alumni was to be held in New York City on April 25. When we (the suspended leadership) asked to be included in the discussions, we were told that we could attend only a portion of the meeting, and only as observers. Denied a voice in these proceedings, Gus Napier, president of BWC, wrote to all Chapter alumni, and included Patricelli’s unpublished letter to the Garnet and White. These two letters outlined the causes of our actions and defended them, but Napier’s letter also described the suspended Chapter’s present condition: “We have aroused much favorable comment among the undergraduates, the faculty and the administration for our action in regard to the National fraternity. President Butterfield’s comment speaks for the older group, while the fact that we have an eating club full to capacity with a waiting list speaks for our popularity with the undergraduates.” He described the renovations we were making to the house from undergraduate funds (including furniture for the library and a new lawn!), our creation of a new lecture series inviting noted writers, painters and musicians to speak at the Fraternity. He also detailed the work of three committees that were at work drafting the structure of a new organization, which we clearly intended to create if a compromise could not be reached with the National. At the heart of this on-going work was the creation of new and liberal principles: “(these principles) call for dedication to certain moral ideals, for a sense of responsibility to the group, for a close co-ordination with the educational goals of Wesleyan, and for standards of membership which value social existence and friendship but which negate any discriminatory practices—be they economic, racial or religious.”

Finally, our grievances were cited:

“We have had our rushing choices negated by religious restrictions in the Ritual; and when we tried to abide by our intellectual and moral convictions, we were expelled temporarily from the Fraternity. We have even suffered the indignities of an attempted seizure of our bank account and of an attempt to discredit us on this campus. We have been continually suppressed in our efforts to present our stand and have witnessed many attempts, from proxies to secret meetings, to organize the Alumni against us. We only ask that you consider the relative validity of each position when you are asked to decide in favor of one or the other.”

Then our Chapter alumni met with the National in New York on April 25. While Moore’s forces were at work on the right, a more progressive group of Phi Gamma alumni seemed to be coming forward. There is little record of what transpired at that meeting in New York, but some of our alums must have come to our defense.

A compromise is reached!

On May 18, there was another meeting in New York; and at this one a tentative compromise with the National was reached. Members of the Phi Gamma Building Association were present, as well as National President Sterling Mayo and Vice-President Paul Brown (note the change in AXP leadership, which may have played a role in the compromise). Our chapter was represented by Jay Levy (’60), and Don Hinman. In an Argus article on May 22, Levy quotes BWC president Napier: “This meeting was the first one on which a workable compromise was agreed upon by both residents and National officers. If approved by the full National Council, these revisions will eliminate all clauses which we consider discriminatory. With these changes, the Phi Gamma chapter feels it has accomplished a significant victory in eliminating discriminatory practices at Wesleyan.”

The full National Council did approve the compromise, and our suspension was lifted. It was certainly a victory, but it was to prove pyrrhic.

Onward we rush

In July, 1959, in-coming freshmen in the Class of 1963 received a letter from Stephen Derby (’60), our rushing chairman, on Phi Gamma of Alpha Chi Rho stationary, welcoming them to Wesleyan and inviting them to consider our fraternity. It was a warm and idealistic letter, and began with our new guiding principles, one of which was:

“We believe that the basic determinant of a candidate’s eligibility for membership should be his potential for contributing to friendship, mutual respect and consideration within the Brotherhood. We maintain that race, religion, and nationality are not acceptable criteria for selecting members.”

The letter expresses our skepticism regarding conformity to organizational demands:

“Our only criterion is to find people who will make a unique contribution to our fraternity. In short, we reject the concept of complete homogeneity, believing that each member will benefit more from contact with “individuals,” and being firm in our conviction that a person’s religious beliefs, race, or nationality need not reflect his true strength of character.”

We are defeated

While the National Council had lifted our suspension in June, 1959, Robert Moore’s circulars from the “Committee to Preserve Phi Gamma of Alpha Chi Rho,” and his behind-the-scenes jockeying, were at work influencing the National leadership. In August, before the National convention, the National Council reversed its position on lifting our suspension. We were again suspended. The only person on the Council who voted against the reversal of their earlier decision was Sterling Mayo.

When the National Convention occurred, we were represented by Jay Levy, who was incoming Chapter president. Jay was assigned to room with the only other Jewish member at the meeting, Dartmouth’s chapter president Richard Levy. Jay: “Dick Levy and I decided we would try to convince the other AXP representatives to open up the Fraternity to all groups of people…but there was no interest in changing the National to accept non-Christian members. When it came down to a vote, any decision to change the Fraternity’s charter was rejected.”

The birth of EQV

At our first chapter meeting in September, 1959, Jay reported the National’s decision as well as his own negative experience at the convention; and a unanimous vote was taken to leave Alpha Chi Rho and to form a fraternity. Gus Napier: “I was leading the meeting at that point, and when I called for the vote I recall feeling a little fearful and a lot excited and saying to myself, ‘Where is this going to lead?’ There was tremendous enthusiasm for moving ahead.” After the vote, Jay and Bob Patricelli ran upstairs to search for a name. Jay: “We thought it shouldn’t be Greek, so maybe Latin. I had studied Latin and came across the phrase, “Esse quam videri,” which seemed to summarize what we were trying to do; and when we came back to the meeting, it was immediately voted in.”

It seems entirely fitting that as the second-term president for the Class of ’60, Jay Levy was the first president of Esse Quam Videre (EQV). Jay was a strong presence in the fraternity, and his accomplishments were many: an outstanding academic record, student body vice-president, creator of the “Education-Directed Studies Program” to familiarize students with the College Plan, and the co-conspirator in his and his twin Stuart’s famous college-swap in early 1958, a bold move that amused and befuddled the campus, including some in his own fraternity.

The jockeying continues

It is somewhat axiomatic that the ownership of territory is vital, and the possession of the building on High Street was a critical issue. In the fall of 1959, the Phi Gamma Building Association of Alpha Chi Rho, Inc. wrote to the alumni of the Chapter. Grieving for the loss of Phi Gamma but sympathetic to our cause, they began with: “There is no longer an Alpha Chi Rho chapter at Wesleyan.” They detailed the history of the dispute, and while they regretted its outcome, admitted that if we of the local chapter were to retain the integrity of our stand, we really had no choice but to leave the National. This alumni group did not believe that Alpha Chi Rho had any chance of re-establishing itself at Wesleyan, since a college rule prohibited a fraternity from coming on campus if it imposed restrictions on prospective candidates for membership. They lamented that the loss of the chapter was due largely to the efforts of Phi Gamma’s Robert Moore, who initiated the reversal by the National Council of its June action.

The alumni group did not want the house to belong to the National, who would absorb it into their treasury. They recommended changes to the by-laws and suggested leasing the building to Wesleyan for two years, with the assumption that Wesleyan would eventually own the building. And they called for a meeting at the Chapter house on October 17, at which time the proposed new by-laws would be voted on.

The letter is signed by some of our closest allies: Donald A. Eldridge, President; Henry B. Anderson, Vice-President; Frank A. Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer; William B. Gould; Gilbert W. Anderson; Frank Avantaggio; and by Augustus Napier (immediate past president).

When AXP eventually attempted to return to Wesleyan in 1963, some of our alumni were called back from their careers to explain the history and to comment. In an Argus article, the architect of our revolt, Ted Wieseman, then an attorney in Washington, stated that AXP remained a discriminatory organization “within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Any state university having a “Crow” chapter on its campus, according to this interpretation, would be subject to federal prosecution.”

Ted Thiesmeyer (’58), commented on the discrepancy between the way AXP was presenting itself to the Administration, and the reality of its continuing covert discriminatory policies: “They tend to deal in mutual ‘understandings’ and informal ‘agreements.’ Their pretend liberalism, as proclaimed in their brochure, is a flagrant misrepresentation of the actual situation.”

Once again, it was the old Alpha Chi Rho -- determined to seem rather than to be.

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