The Story of Our Founding
"I saw that there were many advantages in such an association, which could not otherwise be enjoyed. Such combinations of individuals are as old as the wants of man and coeval with the growth of literature."
- John Reily "Pater" Knox, 1839 (Founder Beta Theta Pi)
1873 stands as a pivotal year for Beta Theta Pi nationally, for its Alpha Nu Chapter, and for the University of Kansas. That year the Alpha Chapter at Miami disbanded its undergraduate body, remaining only as a managerial association of alumni to correspond with satellite chapters. In 1870, aware of the struggles of the Miami chapter, one of its freshman members followed his family when it relocated to eastern Kansas. Lindorf Delos Lockhart Tosh was thus forced to continue his education at the fledgling University of Kansas in Lawrence, enrolling as a sophomore and joining the Oread Literary Society. This society and its rival, the Orophilian Society, essentially comprised the University’s social and extracurricular organization.
In spring of 1872, L.D.L. Tosh, having deemed the student body capable of supporting a Beta chapter of sound quality, began recruiting several young men involved in the Oread Society’s co-educational, secretive inner society known as the Degree of Oread. In addition, he contacted the two other Betas living in Lawrence: Colonel Wyllys Cadwell Ransom (Michigan ’48) and Reverend Theodore Yale Gardner (Western Reserve ’64). Having agreed in their desire to organize a chapter, Tosh and Col. Ransom drafted an appeal to the General Convention, which Reverend Gardner signed as a tertiary sponsor. Permission was granted and the Alpha Nu chapter officially began during a meeting of Ransom, Tosh and its five other charter members on December 16, 1872. Ransom was elected President of the chapter and Tosh its first Corresponding Secretary. In addition Ralph Collins ’73, Ellis Bradford Noyes ’73, Edward Harvey Bancroft ’74, Charles Francis Basset ’75, and John Dale Lambert ’75, formally agreed to the establishment of the new chapter.
Alpha Nu held its first initiation January 8, 1873. Col. Ransom wrote to Miami early in January to inform the fraternity headquarters of the incipient initiation and began preparing the altar for the induction of each of its members. That evening, in the Lawrence home of Col. Ransom, Alpha Nu completed its final step toward incorporation into Beta national, became the first fraternity at the University of Kansas, and began an extensive history that stretches to the time of this writing. From the origins of its national fraternity to its roots at the University of Kansas, Alpha Nu has been engrained with a deep appreciation for the ideals of the fraternity, most especially the cultivation of the intellect as the paramount aspiration of its members.
The Usher Mansion
Since 1913, Kansas Betas have called 1425 Tennessee Street home. It is also called Usher Mansion, named after the individual who build our house in 1873, coincidentally the same year we were founded at the University of Kansas. John Palmer Usher was Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of the Interior from 1863 to 1865. After the war, he became the General Solicitor for the Union Pacific Railroad, a position that required him to live in the small Kansas River town of Lawrence. Having become quite wealthy as a lawyer in the pre war years, he was able to construct an impressive mansion on a plot of land beneath the newly formed University of Kansas. The house was nothing like Lawrence had ever seen. It is constructed from Vermont limestone, with blocks that were 18 inches thick (in order to assuage Mrs. Usher over her deathly fear of Tornados). The Italian renaissance style of architecture was also a contrast to the still old-western ambiance that Lawrence maintained in the post war years.
The interior of Usher's mansion was outfitted in the finest materials the late 19th century could offer. The gold leafed walnut wood work on the first and second floors, which still survives today, was done by the Pullman Palace Car Company, the Rolls Royce of luxury train car manufacturers. Additionally, the mansion served as a social gathering place for the nation’s elite whenever they had cause to come to Kansas. Most notable among Usher’s guests was the poet Walt Whitman. Whitman stayed with the Ushers from September 14, 1879 until September 16, touring Lawrence and the University and staying up late with the master and matron of the house telling stories from their days in Washington. It seems likely that Whitman, who composed a brief poem about the beautiful qualities of Mt. Oread, might well have done so from his room in the Usher Mansion.
Some artifacts of the Usher family have remained in the house. A marble fireplace donated by Lincoln's Cabinet to the Usher family still sits on the first floor. A clock given to Usher from Lincoln as a gift for his service to the Union still ticks away 148 years later. A signed letter from Lincoln asking JPU to meet him at the White House "at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning" is a prized possession of the house.
After John Palmer Usher died in 1889, Mrs. Usher continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1912. Although Usher no longer inhabits his mansion, his mark is made in the form of a large monogram of his initials on the main spindle of the grand staircase in the foyer of the house.
Alpha Nu Founders
- Lindorf Delos Lockhart Tosh ’73
- Ralph Collins ’73
- Ellis B. Noyes ’73
- Edward H. Bancroft ’74
- John D. Lambert ’75
- Charles F. Bassett ’75
The First Pledge of Alpha Nu
Franklin P. MacLennan '76
- Col. Wyllys Cadwell Ransom (Michigan ’48)
- Rev. Theodore Yale Gardner (Western Reserve ’64)
KU Buildings named for Alpha Nu Betas
- Battenfeld Scholarship Hall – J. Battenfeld ’ 41
- Carruth-O’Leary Hall – H.W. Carruth ’81
- Haworth Hall– E. Haworth ’81
- Malott Hall – D. Malott ’21
- Murphy Hall– F. Murphy ’36
- Spencer Research Library – K. Spencer ’26
- Templin Residence Hall – O. Templin ’86
- Irving Hill Road– I. Hill ’96
- Oswald Residence Hall - C. Oswald '51
- McCarthy Hall - Kent McCarthy '80