History of VA Beta

The Virginia Beta Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi was founded in 1855 at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). It was the first fraternity chapter established at Washington College and was the third chapter of Phi Kappa Psi founded. With the exception of a four-year period during the Civil War, it has continued in existence without interruption since its founding.


The Founding of the Chapter and The First Rush

The Virginia Beta Chapter was founded through the efforts of an extraordinary young man, Charles C. Wertenbaker, a member of Virginia Alpha, who had the great foresight to recognize that the true future of the Fraternity was on the other side of the Blue Ridge mountains in Lexington, Virginia, the cultural and intellectual center of the Shenandoah Valley. Brother Wertenbaker was a native of Charlottesville and was the first student initiated at Virginia Alpha after the original group initiated in 1853.

The original charter of the Chapter is dated March 2, 1855, and is signed by the officers of Pennsylvania Alpha and Virginia Alpha, including Thomas Cochran Campbell and Thomas P.T. Moore. The charter was held in the possession of the Chapter until the National asked if the charter could be held at their headquarters to insure its safekeeping. After an extended and heated internal dispute among Virginia Beta alumni, possession of the charter was transferred to the National in the late 1970s, and a replica was provided by the National for display at Virginia Beta’s chapter house. The original charter remains in good condition at the headquarters of the National in Indianapolis; the replica is believed to be in the possession of unidentified alumnae of Mary Baldwin College.

In forming the first fraternity chapter at Washington College, C.C. Wertenbaker faced a formidable undertaking. Not only had there been no experience with secret Greek organizations on campus, but there were only a small number of students to draw from. In addition, at least from the perspective of current students and alumni of Washington and Lee, it would be brazen and foolish for a Wahoo to attempt to undertake any rush or similar recruitment effort at this campus. Nonetheless, Wertenbaker must have been an extraordinary young man of enormous energy and powers of persuasion, someone who would have excelled in today’s world of grass roots political organizing; or perhaps someone who was armed with unlimited amounts of “walking around money.”

According to the membership records of the National Fraternity, there were twenty-one students at Washington College who were initiated into the Virginia Beta Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi in 1855. The names of the original members of the Chapter are as follows:


Badge Number Name Hometown
0001 John B. Brockenbrough Lexington, VA
0002 James McDowell Graham Lexington, VA
0004 William F. Figgat Fincastle, VA
0005 John L. Massie Waynesboro, VA
0006 Henry M. White Lexington, VA
0007 Alfred H. Jackson Weston, VA
0008 John B. Paine Fincastle, VA
0010 John D. Crawford Staunton, VA
0011 David E. Laird Lexington, VA
0012 Edmund F. Bowyer Bottetout, VA
0013 Matthew X. White Lexington, VA
0014 Greenlee Davidson Lexington, VA
0015 John H. Moore Lexington, VA
0016 William T. Poague Fancy Hill, VA
0017 Samuel M. Reid Lexington, VA
0018 Charles A. Ballou Halifax, VA
0019 James M. Boyd Lynchburg, VA
0020 James E. Poague Fancy Hill, VA
0021 Andrew J. Hayslett Kerr's Creek, VA
0022 John L. Estill Lexington, VA
0023 James M. Barr [Not on W&L Roll]


The twenty-one men initiated by Virginia Beta in 1855 represents a substantially larger rush class than the Chapter has realized in rush in any recent year, and is a number that compares favorably with any successful rush experienced by the Chapter or any other fraternity on this campus. What makes the rush conducted by Brother Wertenbaker something truly extraordinary that must rank above any rush ever conducted by any fraternity on any campus anywhere is that the number of Virginia Beta initiates in 1855 represented just short of one-third of the students who were listed in the Matriculation List for Washington College for the 1854-1855 session! Where can the Chapter find an extraordinary young man like Mr. Wertenbaker today? Surely not in Charlottesville!

It might be worthwhile at some point to do an in-depth study of the First Rush in an effort to apply today the factors underlying its remarkable success. Based on the limited information set forth above concerning Virginia Beta’s first rush class, the First Rush appeared to have a well-defined geographic strategy. Almost one-half of the first initiates were from Lexington, Virginia. Obviously, the Chapter had “a lock” on students from Fancy Hill, Virginia. While this might suggest that a “Townie Strategy” might be the key to a successful rush on this campus, Washington College in 1855, unlike the Washington and Lee of today, drew almost all of it students from Rockbridge County and the Shenandoah Valley. There were only three students on the Matriculation List from outside of Virginia (and you can be assured that none of them was from north of the Mason-Dixon Line).

While little is know about Brother Wertenbaker, most likely the success of the First Rush was attributable to his unusual personal qualities. There is some indication of this by the atrocious attrition experienced by the Chapter after the great success of the First Rush. According to the National’s membership records, eight of the twenty-one founding members eventually followed Mr. Wertenbaker back to Charlottesville and transferred their membership to Virginia Alpha (an act that surely would be regarded by many today as an act of high treason!). Perhaps Brother Wertenbaker possessed unique abilities to lead, persuade and/or energize his peers. Most certainly, he was someone with extraordinary commitment. As is often stated, extraordinary people are usually no more than ordinary people with extraordinary commitment.

The First By-Law

Unfortunately, many of the records of Virginia Beta were destroyed in a fire that occurred in the Chapter room of the present house during the mid-1980s. The minute books and initiation rolls maintained throughout the twentieth century were destroyed during that fire. Someone, fortunately, had the foresight and good judgment to have earlier records of the Chapter sent to the University’s library for storage in the University’s archives. While these records do not include minutes from the initial year of the Chapter’s existence, they do include minutes commencing in 1856, and continuing until the Chapter suspended activities due to the Civil War. The minutes are fascinating due to the care, humor and penmanship of their author and the sense of commitment to the young institution that had been established.

The minutes of the first meeting of the Chapter held during the 1856-1857 Session provide some insight into the issues and challenges of the Chapter at that time. The minutes of this meeting are as follows:

At a call meeting of the Degree of Plato, Messrs. Houston, Anderson, Dunlap + Free, of the Degree of Socrates were proposed for membership in this Degree, and elected.

Bro Massie proposed the following By-law which was adopted:
“That any Bro spitting on the floor, or stove, smoking in the Hall, or making any unnecessary noise in this Hall, either before, during, or after, meeting, be fined the sum of twelve + a half cents.”
Chapter adjourned,
G. W. Finley

This By-Law adopted at the meeting appears to be the first By-Law adopted by the Chapter, and does not appear to have ever been rescinded, modified or amended. In other words, the Chapter should continue to rigorously enforce, and insist on complete adherence to, the First By-Law, with perhaps an amendment to adjust the level of the fine based on changes in the Consumer Price Index (or the appropriate predecessor index). This early use of the fine to ensure obedience by members to the fundamental principles of the Chapter appears to have proved effective as, at least as to spitting on the floor and the stove, the repugnant activity has in recent years subsided.

The First Social Committee

The early records of the Chapter say little about the social life of the Chapter and its members. With the Civil War and the conflict leading up to the war dominating the life of the nation, it is not surprising that the members during the Chapter’s early years were primarily focused on more weighty matters. There is no doubt that much of the attraction of Greek organizations during the early years was attributable to the secrecy and mystery of the organizations. The members of Phi Kappa Psi are well aware of the particular appeal of the secret ritual of the Fraternity developed by Thomas Cochran Campbell in 1853. As time passed after the Civil War, however, the focus on the social life of the Chapter became more apparent.

There has always been much confusion for members of Virginia Beta about the concept of “Founder’s Day” due to the use of such term, and the significance placed on it, by both Washington and Lee and Phi Kappa Psi. For students and alumni of the University, Founder’s Day is the date for celebration of the men for whom the University is named, George Washington and Robert E. Lee, which is by tradition celebrated on Lee’s birthday, January 19. For the Fraternity, Founder’s Day is February 19th of each year, the date on which it was founded at Jefferson College in 1852. As revealed in the minutes of the Chapter in its early years, the Chapter has paid more recognition to Founder’s Day as celebrated by the University.

Phi Kappa Psi Hall
[December 22, 1885]

The meeting was called to order by Bro. Houston, and all members answered to roll-call. The minutes of the preceding meeting were read and appointed.

A petition was read from Stanford Univ. Cal., for a charter at that place, signed by six other Phi Phis; and the Chapter voted unanimously in its favor.

There being no further communications, reports of committees, nor Unfinished business, the New business was in order. Bro. Nelson levied an assessment for current expenses. The disposal of the funds in the treasury was postponed until further information.

Bro. Tunpin moved that we celebrate the 19th of Jan. by an entertainment in honor of Miss S. L. Preston. Bro. Nelson made haste to second the motion, and the chapter voted unanimously in its favor. Further arrangements were left to the committee on entertainment.

There being no further business, the meeting closed in due form.

John W. Davis

The foregoing minutes reflect an early trend of the “Social Committee” chairman to have unfettered control, without accountability, for the budget. It is obvious from these minutes that Bro. Nelson, the Brother responsible for the “Entertainment Committee” had run over budget and was seeking his Brothers’ approval for a special assessment. This may have established a trend, that we are all familiar with, and, as is likely to be the reaction of the Brothers in this situation, the budget issue was deferred and the next social event with Miss S. L. Preston readily approved, with the enthusiastic second from Bro. Nelson, the social chairman. In an effort to have a complete history of the Chapter, information relating to Miss S. L. Preston is being actively pursued, but is not yet available for public distribution.

The First House Corporation

All of the living members of Virginia Beta have suffered through the unwanted intrusion and general annoyance that derives from the purported well-intentioned efforts of our House Corporation. The current House Corporation, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, Virginia Beta Chapter Incorporated, was incorporated on May 3, 1938, as a Virginia non-profit corporation. This corporation was formed for the purposes of acquiring the property where our Chapter’s house currently resides at 301 East Washington Street. The directors of the House Corporation serve without compensation or prospect of any benefit, other than the pleasure of putting the current actives through the same misery that they experienced while actives in dealing with the directors of the House Corporation. The directors of the House Corporation have no economic stake in the venture, and therefore are not “owners” of the asset. This runs counter to the current trend in our country towards creating an “ownership society” and differs from the first efforts of Virginia Beta alumni to create a “for-profit” corporation that would sell stock for purposes of acquiring a chapter house for the Chapter.

In 1905, a dedicated group of Virginia Beta alumni embarked on an entrepreneurial and risk-laden venture to finance the purchase or construction of a chapter house for Virginia Beta, which at the time was struggling through a difficult period. According to correspondence related to this effort, three or four other fraternities on campus had plans to occupy houses at the commencement of the following school year. A committee of alumni had determined that:

The chapter should have a permanent and secure home of its own, around which might center our thoughts and recollections of our Alma Mater and fraternity life, and where long separated friends might occasionally reunite.

The committee consisted of Edward W. Wilson (1894, Badge No. 0155), of Philadelphia, as chairman; Thomas E. McPheeters (187[0], Badge No. 0087), a businessman in St. Louis; Walter Macorkle (1877, Badge No. 0112), a Wall Street lawyer; Francis R. Crawford (1902, Badge No. 0185); Louis G. Jeffries (1902, Badge No. 0187), of Lynchburg; Captain Thomas D. Ranson (C.S.A.) (1859, Badge No. 0045), a lawyer in Staunton; William A. Anderson (1860, Badge No. 0050), then Attorney General of Virginia; Samuel G. Anspach (1889, Badge No. 0129), of Lynchburg; John W. Davis (1889, Badge No. 0137), a lawyer in Clarksburg, West Virginia; William R. Vance (1892, Badge No. 0148), a professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; Edmund R. Preston (1897, Badge No. 0168), a lawyer in Charlotte; and George E. Haw (1901, Badge No. 0179), a lawyer in Richmond. The committee determined to raise money through an offering of stock in the Washington and Lee Association of Phi Kappa Psi, a Virginia stock corporation.

The offering documents for this stock offering are attached as Appendix 1. The offering contemplated the purchase of stock by alumni at a purchase price of $25.00 per share, with each investor to buy four shares over a period of four years. The offering also contemplated that the Chapter would adopt a by-law that would require each active and initiate to subscribe for shares in the corporation with payments to be made in installments of 12.5 percent annually. In addition, the actives would be required room rents of “at least the neighborhood price for similar rooms”. In addition, monthly dues would be paid to cover “heat, light, furnishings, etc.”. Most importantly, the offering documents contemplate that the rent and dues would continue to be paid after the debt for the house is fully paid for in order to permit maintenance and improvements for the house and to pay dividends on the stock! What is particularly interesting is that the offering documents don’t discuss any payments by the actives for social or entertainment.

It is not clear from the documents reviewed who had the financial acumen to design this offering of stock in the Washington and Lee Association of Phi Kappa Psi, and what underwriters were chosen. J.P. Morgan & Co., the largest investment house in the country at that time, does not appear to have participated in the offering, or at least to take credit for it; but then they may not have made it through whatever “beauty contest” was used to select the underwriting syndicate! It is also not clear how successful the offering was, either for the stated purpose of acquiring a house for the Chapter, or for the investors from the standpoint of their ultimate return on investment. In any event, the current House Corporation has determined that it should investigate the financial structure used by the First House Corporation to see how we might convert our existing structure as a non-profit corporation so as to permit the rent and dues of the actives to be used to pay dividends to alumni, or perhaps salaries and appropriate incentive compensation to the officers and directors!

The First Virginia Beta Hall of Fame Class

Virginia Beta has an impressive number of members with extraordinary accomplishments achieved as students at Washington and Lee and afterwards. Many brothers over the years have served as president of the student body, captain of athletic teams and leaders of other student organizations. Not surprisingly, many members of Virginia Beta have distinguished themselves after leaving campus in their careers and/or public service.

The Virginia Beta House Corporation has determined to establish a “Virginia Beta Hall of Fame” to recognize the outstanding members. While the first class of members was not formally inducted until 2006, the following noteworthy members of Virginia Beta have been selected for the first class to be inducted.

Edmund M. Cameron (1920 – Badge No. 0310)

Brother Cameron was born in Pittsburgh in 1902, and attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana, before enrolling at Washington and Lee in 1920. He was initiated into Virginia Beta in 1920. Brother Cameron was a standout athlete at Washington and Lee, serving as captain of the football and basketball teams. He became an assistant football coach at Duke University and was given the added responsibility of serving as the head basketball coach. Brother Cameron compiled a 226-99 record as the head basketball coach at Duke for a period of 14 years. He also had a brief tenure as head football coach, leading one team to a victory in the Sugar Bowl. Brother Cameron is best remembered as the Athletic Director at Duke. William E. King, a former archivist of Duke University, described Cameron as “one of the university’s most revered coach-administrators.”

Brother Cameron was inducted in the National Football Hall of Fame, the Atlantic Coast Conference Hall of Fame and the Duke University, North Carolina and Virginia Halls of Fame. In 1972, Duke decided to name its now famous basketball arena after Brother Cameron, which he described as “his most cherished honor”. Obviously, he was unaware at that time that he would later be inducted into the Virginia Beta Hall of Fame.

For more information on Brother Cameron, please click here to review his Wikipedia entry.

George E. Chamberlain (1872 – Badge No. 0091)

Brother Chamberlain was born in Mississippi in 1854, entered Washington and Lee in 1872 and was initiated into Virginia Beta that year. He was an active member of Virginia Beta while a student, serving as BG. After receiving his law degree in 1876, Brother Chamberlain moved to Oregon where he became involved in politics. After serving several terms in the state legislature, he was elected Oregon’s first Attorney General. He was then elected the Governor of Oregon and served for two four-year terms, before being elected to the United States Senate in 1908. Brother Chamberlain served two terms in the Senate, most of it coinciding with the tenure of Woodrow Wilson (Virginia Alpha 1879), and, although a Democrat, there appeared to be little fraternal spirit in their political relationship. Brother Chamberlain held the key position of Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and had the reputation of being fiercely independent, and frequently clashed with the President and leader of his party. Brother Chamberlain’s name was put into nomination as the vice presidential nominee at the 1912 Democratic Convention, but he withdrew his name after receiving 157 votes on the first ballot.

Brother Chamberlain remained committed to Phi Kappa Psi and Virginia Beta, as indicated in his papers in the Washington and Lee archives. He also appears to have been an astute investor, having been one of the founding stockholders of the Washington and Lee Association of Phi Kappa Psi.

For more information on Brother Chamberlain, please click here to review his Wikipedia entry.

John W. Davis (1889 – Badge No. 0137)

Brother Davis was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, in 1873, and enrolled at Washington and Lee in 1889. He was initiated into Virginia Beta in 1889. Brother Davis graduated from both the college and the law school at Washington and Lee. He also taught at the law school for a year before returning to private practice at his hometown. Brother Davis was elected to Congress, but he left after one term to become the Solicitor General of the United States. After five years as the Solicitor General, Brother Davis was appointed by Woodrow Wilson (Virginia Alpha 1879) to be Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Ambassador to the United Kingdom). Undoubtedly impressed by Brother Davis’s rigorous adherence to the First By-Law, King George V described him as “the most perfect gentleman I have ever met”.

After serving eight years as Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Davis became the name partner in a prominent “white shoe” Wall Street law firm now know as Davis Polk & Wardwell. Brother Davis was a dark-horse candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1920, and in 1924 was selected as the party’s presidential nominee on the 103rd ballot of the convention. He was defeated by Calvin Coolidge in the 1924 election, and returned to the practice of law in New York. He is known by most law students for his rules on appellate advocacy, which coined the term “go for the jugular”, and he was generally regarded in the profession as the greatest appellate advocate of the 20th century. Brother Davis also served as the President of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the American Bar Association.

Brother Davis was an active member of Virginia Beta while an undergraduate, serving as BG, and he remained an active Phi Psi after his graduation. He was one of the original investors in the Washington and Lee Association of Phi Kappa Psi, and was one of the speakers at the 1908 GAC. Unlike more recent members of his party who lost presidential elections, Brother Davis did not seem to wallow in sadness over the loss; instead he quickly moved on to make a name as a leader in his profession and an outstanding public servant. His appointment in 1938 to the first Board of Directors of the current House Corporation probably helped to assuage the hunger for power that presidential candidates are known to have.

For more information on Brother Davis, please click here to review his Wikipedia entry.

Homer A. Holt (1916 – Badge No. 0264)

Brother Holt was born in 1898, in Lewisburg, West Virginia. He attended Greenbrier Military Academy and enrolled at Washington and Lee in 1915. He was initiated into Phi Kappa Psi in 1916, and received his B.A. degree with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1918. After service in the U.S. Army, Brother Holt returned to attend law school at Washington and Lee where he served as the president of the student body. Upon graduation from the law school he served as a professor for two years before returning to West Virginia to practice law. He became involved in politics and was elected as Attorney General of West Virginia in 1932. Following his term as Attorney General, Brother Holt was elected as Governor of West Virginia in 1937. After one term as Governor, he returned to private practice and later became the general counsel of Union Carbide in New York.

As a student at Washington and Lee, Brother Holt was an active member of Virginia Beta. He served as AG of the Chapter, and remained supportive after his graduation. He was supportive of West Virginia Alpha, while practicing law and serving in government in West Virginia. While serving as the Governor of West Virginia, Brother Holt was elected to the first Board of Directors of the current House Corporation, which represented an honor and responsibility that may have affected his later political ambitions.


For more information on Brother Holt, please click here to review his Wikipedia entry.