(In honor of the Fraternity’s 75th Anniversary, Sidney Suntag, Executive Secretary Emeritus, published The History of Tau Epsilon Phi -— 75 Years of Friendship. This momentous undertaking charted the history of every chapter founded through 1985 as well as a detailed accounting of the growth of the entire Tau Epsilon Phi Fraternity. The summary below covers TEP’s history from its founding in 1910 until 1985. A history from 1985 to the present is forthcoming.)
The Story of Tau Epsilon Phi
by Sidney Suntag
For many years, there existed in the Department of Pharmacy at Columbia University, two fraternities. Neither of which, however, would allow the admission of members of minority races, religions or creeds.
During the year 1909-1910, two small groups of men became intrigued with the idea that friendship acquired during collegiate days should be bound together through some means for the remainder of one’s life. The desirable qualities that one gathered from those around him should be interchanged for more than the mere two or three years of collegiate association.
Neither of these groups had any inkling of the existence of the other until the opening of the school term the following year when providence interceded to bring together these men. One of these groups based their linking together on the idea that a social club was the solution to their problem. The other group felt that a fraternity (about which they knew little except through observation of the two groups on the campus) was the correct solution. With the contact of these two groups, it was immediately evident that neither could get along without the other and the union was made.
On October 10, 1910, during a lunch period, a hurried conference was held between the two groups in a deserted lecture hall. The spirit of organization was so instilled in the eight original gatherers that another meeting was arranged for that very afternoon after school hours.
At ﬁve o’clock that afternoon, a determined group of young men met in Central Park to hold a lengthier discussion and see the plans that they had dreamed of approach reality.
The problem of the moment appeared to be finding a meeting room but this was settled quickly with an appeal to the school for permission to use an empty lecture hall. That appeal was granted.
The ﬁrst regularly recorded meeting was called to order in the library of the Department of Pharmacy, Columbia University, on Friday afternoon, October 19, 1910. Four additional men, two of whom later dropped out, were invited to the meeting.
These ten founders of Tau Epsilon Phi were Robert L. Blume, Julius M. Breitenbach, Charles M. Driesen, Ephraim Freedman, Leo H. Fried, Harold Goldsmith, Samuel Greenbaum, Julius Klauber, Israel Schwartz, and Julius J. Slofkin.
Here in this quiet library, surrounded by volumes of books, in this haven of a social refuge, where the faculty met to deliberate their policies, at the very same table, stood these ten men, and each in turn, took unto himself a solemn and binding oath, pledging himself to secrecy and ﬁdelity, sincerity and devotion, eternal friendship and brotherly love.
The first ofﬁcers chosen by the newly born organization were Harold Goldsmith, President; Charles Driesen, Vice President; Israel Schwartz, Secretary; and Julius Breitenbach, Treasurer.
Next came the naming of the group and, with the little knowledge of fraternities that these ten could gather among themselves, they wisely chose the name of Tau Epsilon Phi to signify that for which they were founded.
The first pin chosen was oval in shape with the inscription TEΦ reading downward in gold upon a black background with gold trim around the edge. This pin is the precursor of the oblong, jewelled badge of distinction of today.
So inspired were these ten that the difficulties which normally confront newly established organizations did not seem to be a hinderance but seemed to serve as a stimulant for the group to carry on in the work they had started.
The work done by the members was so careful that the framework of the original constitution remains in use today, like that of our country. The initiation ceremony and the ritual were carefully planned and ﬁnally evolved.
The greatest difficulty then arose—recognition by the college authorities. However, through the efforts of Max J. Breitenbach Sr., and Jacob Weil, fathers of Julius Breitenbach and Monroe Weil, this was ﬁnally accomplished.
Toward the close of the first year, Maximillian Nemser was pledged and initiated. With the close of the year, difficulty arose, for the novelty of a fraternity had worn off. The ideals of the founders proved to be too strong, however, and the organization continued.
Three of the founders returned to school and six men were initiated. As the second year passed, the strength and fame of the organization grew. With this fame came the possibility of expansion.
The idea of expansion was largely that of Monroe Weil, and after he had been initiated, he quickly convinced the others that it was a necessary move. Subsequently he gathered together friends of his attending New York University and the New York College of Dentistry and the groups were initiated as members of Alpha Chapter. However, they later became Beta and Gamma Chapters.
Delta chapter was started by Ben Pologe, through the process of being pledged by the Alpha group before transferring to Cornell. He then started the chapter by gathering about him four good men. The fame of the organization was quickly spreading and Epsilon was installed at Fordham. Then the need arose for a gathering of all chapters and some sort of national organization.
Expansion, for the time being, had ceased until a deﬁnite plan could be formulated to govern such expansion. For four years controversy raged and finally in 1916, the first Constitution of the fraternity as a national organization with a national set-up was a reality, and the fraternity could once again forge ahead.
Shortly after the adoption of the Constitution, the two Boston chapters, Boston University and Tufts, were established, and in close proximity, Iota at Yale was installed.
It was at that time that the ﬁrst issue of The Bulletin made its appearance to spread the fame of the fraternity to the members wherever they might be.
Expansion continued rapidly with Kappa at Vermont being installed and a charter granted to Lambda at Harvard. The South was invaded a year after the close of the First World War with Mu and Nu being installed on the same day1. Another chapter was added in the Boston region2. Then came the proud day in 1920 when Tau Epsilon Phi became an international fraternity with the installation of Omicron at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Slightly less than ten years had elapsed from that ﬁrst harried conference to the installation of chapters throughout this country and Canada.
The chapter roll grew quickly thereafter with Georgetown University and Pennsylvania being granted charters on the same day in 1921, and 1922 seeing the establishment of chapters at Syracuse, Dickinson, Charleston, and Georgia Tech. In the following year, Tau Epsilon Phi invaded the Middle West with the granting of a charter at the University of Michigan. During that year, the ﬁrst copy of The Plume made its appearance, and at last the fraternity had a real magazine.
The growth of the fraternity following World War II was truly phenomenal with more than 40 chapters added during the 1950’s and well into the 1960’s. The prosperity of the brotherhood came to a screeching halt in the late 1960’s with the heating up of the Vietnam War, when the entire fraternity system declined.
During the period of 1969 to 1975 TEP lost almost all of the gains it had achieved in the previous two decades but the fraternity persevered. While a substantial number of other national fraternities went out of existence, TEP held onto a meaningful number of chapters and survived. In the mid—198O’s the fraternity system came back strongly with TEP leading the way in reviving many of its old chapters, while adding many new ones. The future is bright!
1 These would be the Emory University and University of Georgia chapters.
2 This would be Xi Chapter at MIT.