Tau Delta Phi

Update: Feb 27th, 2013

The United Nations Fraternity

Click here for a 2013 study by Calvin Lee ’15 on the history of Tau Delta Phi and its predecessor, Gamma Phi Epsilon.

Tau Delta Phi: Colby’s Jewish Fraternity

based on a presentation by Katie Peterson ’10 (January 2010)

The beginning of a national Jewish fraternity at Colby was one at first fraught with discriminatory sentiments from Colby’s Baptist administration. “When they asked permission to form a Jewish fraternity, [the Jewish students] were informed that Colby was a Baptist school and there would be no Jewish fraternities” said Robert Hains, whose father, Jacob Hains, was one of the founding members of Tau Delta Phi.

Once the 1930s had arrived in Waterville, things were changing. It was during the late 1920s that Colby “was a Baptist school.” When a group of young men in the early ’30s approached the administration with a proposition to bring Tau Delta Phi, one of the nation’s Jewish fraternities, to Colby they were met with approval and by February 1933 they had 18 charter members.  The fraternity had grown out of another Jewish fraternity at Colby known as Gamma Phi Epsilon. However, this fraternity had not been officially recognized by Colby nor was it a national fraternity. By the end of 1933, ten more students had joined up for a total of 28 members by the end of Tau Delt’s first year. The next year, Tau Delt’s membership grew even more.

Lester Jolovitz ’39, a member of the fraternity, recalled that “Tau Delta Phi was usually known for its scholarship. It always was top amongst the fraternities. … Fraternities were very strong. People lived there and ate there. I didn’t because I lived at home and ate at home.  But, I spent a lot of time at the fraternity—studying and socializing.” School newspapers of the time reflect both of these activities, highlighting joint dances between Tau Delta Phi and other fraternities as well as the Jewish fraternity’s high levels of academic achievement.

Steve Sternberg ’41 describes a typical day in the fraternity and an amusing anecdote about the opportunities available through Tau Delt’s social events as follows:

I would’ve gone to class come back to the fraternity and ran down and had a hamburger down the street, and talk in the fraternity and do some homework and that would be it… I used to go to all the dances because I liked to.  My sister taught me how to dance before I left high school, and she did well with that.  We had parties at the fraternity house. And one of the parties I got the formula for making a liquor from a farmer and I ended up with all the glassware I had from a chemistry course. The whole thing was ridiculous. Anyhow I made it and we tasted it and it tasted pretty good. And the thing that happened to me was I didn’t realize how much alcohol I made and I got loaded.

Colby’s fraternity houses were down in Waterville itself near the old campus, which was bordered by the Waterville Railway Depot and College Avenue. This downtown community of fraternities was a vibrant place to live, with the fraternities hosting their own parties at the local venues, including the Elmwood Hotel, which was right beside the old Tau Delta Phi house.

In these days, Colby students were a major part of the local community life, especially the members of the Colby fraternities who lived in the closest proximity to the rest of Waterville. This was a college town unlike the Waterville we know today from the new campus on Mayflower Hill.  Colby students, especially the fraternity members, remained firmly rooted in the Waterville community, often going out with local girls, as described by Judy Schreider ’39:

There were, oh, quite a few Jewish boys, but their accomplishment was to get a non-Jewish girl to go out with them Saturday night. So they used to go into Waterville, and what they called them in those days were townies. ’Cause they felt all “Oh, gee, can you imagine I went out with a townie Saturday night?”  What that meant to those kids. And what some of those kids looked like, they looked like they never went out with a girl.

“I don’t recall any problems with the other fraternities,” said Steve Sternberg. Ken Jacobson ’50, however, remembers things differently. “The Jewish kids almost automatically went to Tau Delt. But other friends, sure, they’d try to get into one fraternity and end up in another one or something. Generally it was kind of unspoken that if you were Jewish you’d be in Tau Delt.” Ken himself did not join any fraternity.

The postwar years saw the beginning and steady increasing of tolerance for Jewish men among mainstream Colby fraternities as well as the dissolution of Tau Delta Phi as an exclusively Jewish fraternity. Where 1956 saw religious diversity emerge within Tau Delt, 1957 brought ethnic diversity: John P. Goolgasian was of Armenian heritage and Ben L. Hom was of Vietnamese descent. The members of Tau Delt who were also affiliated with Hillel slipped into the minority. As Judy Brody ’58 observed, “One of the fraternities here was really a national Jewish fraternity, Tau Delt, but they had some guys in there who were not Jewish.”  By 1959 a minority of Jewish men joined Tau Delta Phi, instead joining mainstream fraternities, and by 1960 a decent variety of fraternities were accepting Jewish men. Even though Judy Brody mentions diversity, she emphasized that Tau Delta Phi “was definitely a Jewish fraternity,” and non-Jewish members remained a clear minority.

Another change that came with the move to the Mayflower Hill was something of a disconnect with the larger Waterville community. In the years before 1948, Colby was still conducting classes at the old campus in Waterville and all of the fraternity houses were situated within the downtown area itself. As the 1940s ended, most activity at Colby came to be coordinated by Colby itself and located on campus instead of at Waterville hotels and venues.  Tau Delta Phi members continued to reach out to the community in some ways, though, including the ironic yearly visit to Waterville children by one of Tau Delt’s members, dressed in an obviously unconvincing Santa suit.

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