Keeping a record of student life throughout campus history has long been one of the primary missions of the University of Maryland Archives. Part of that goal is the effort to collect as much history and documentation from active student groups as we can, including the numerous Greek organizations on campus. Recently, the children of alumnus Harry Hasslinger, the first president of Alpha Tau Omega at Maryland, donated the original petition to formally establish a chapter of Alpha Tau Omega on Maryland’s campus. The petition was drafted in 1930, and the Epsilon Gamma chapter of ATO was formally established on campus that same year, making it the 11th recognized fraternity at the University of Maryland.
This document tells us a lot about student life at Maryland in the early 20th century and serves as an example of how new fraternities are created. The cover of the petition states that it was authored by “Delta Psi Omega.” This was the local chapter that later became the Epsilon Gamma chapter of Alpha Tau Omega. Local chapters are small organizations that exist on one campus and have no national network or affiliations. Delta Psi Omega was created in 1920 with, as the petition tells us, the goals of “promoting true college spirit, a high standard of scholarship, a sincere interest in personal welfare and happiness of each other, and of cultivating lasting friendships, creating and maintaining true brotherly love and fidelity, and perpetuating it as a fraternity.” In 1930, the local chapter president, Harry Hasslinger, asked for partnership and union with Alpha Tau Omega, as their mission aligned most closely with that of the brothers of Delta Psi Omega.
The petition includes information about campus history, such as the university’s financial statement from 1929 and descriptions of other social, honorary and women’s fraternities. We can also view photographs of buildings around campus and see how campus has physically changed in the intervening years. Some buildings, like Gerneaux Hall, have either changed dramatically or no longer exist. The photo of Byrd Stadium is the old Byrd Stadium, which stood where Fraternity Row is now. There’s also a shot of the “Engineering Building,” which may look more familiar to many of you as Taliaferro Hall.
The brothers included a photo of the then-Delta Psi Omega house in the petition, and we have since learned that Alpha Tau Omega still occupies that same house nearly 90 years later! Bob Nichols, the Associate Director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, told us that the house underwent a major renovation after this photo was taken and was re-clad with brick. Now, the Alpha Tau Omega house matches the other surrounding university buildings (and other fraternity and sorority houses) on the outside, but the inside is still very similar to what is pictured in the petition. In fact, the parlor still has the same basic configuration, and the grandfather clock seen in that photo is still one of the Epsilon Gamma chapter’s most prized possessions.
After a brief period off-campus in the 1990s, a group of dedicated Alpha Tau Omega alumni worked to re-charter the chapter at Maryland and re-instill the organization’s intense values of leadership. In the years since being re-chartered, the Epsilon Gamma chapter of Alpha Tau Omega has become quite a dominant force in Greek life at UMD. They are the only chapter to have received the President’s Cup for Top Chapter more than twice – they’ve actually won the award 6 times in the last 12 years. The men of Alpha Tau Omega were also recognized by the National Interfraternity Conference in 2009 as the Best Chapter of any fraternity in America.
Documents like this petition are enlightening for a number of reasons, and not just to people interested in or involved with Greek life. These kinds of records help to tell a more complete story of student life, which is extremely important in remembering and keeping the history of any college or university. If you’re in a fraternity or sorority at Maryland, feel free to come and visit the archives. We may have some information you’ve never seen before about your organization, or you may be in possession of significant records or photographs that should be preserved. Feel free to open the conversation with us about taking care of your chapter’s history! We’d be more than glad to help where we can!