Leading the charge

The Official Story of Our Founding

by the Founder, Otis A. Glazebrook

If my life’s history be written, the truth will be that its most splendid service was performed through Alpha Tau Omega.

Born in 1845, Otis Allan Glazebrook, at the time this picture was taken, had risen to the rank of Cadet Adjutant at VMI. He graduated first in his class in 1866.

Although he had an early interest in a law career, upon leaving VMI he entered the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, and was ordained in 1869.

His friendship with fellow Virginian and Phi Kappa Psi member President Woodrow Wilson led to Dr. Glazebrook’s 1914 appointment as U.S. Consul to Jerusalem. Soon after World War I began, he was made responsible for the interests of eight nations in the Holy Land. He remained in the Consular Service and in 1920 was posted to Nice, France, where he served as U.S. Consul until he retired in 1929.

Dr. Glazebrook died April 26, 1931.

I, Otis Allan Glazebrook eldest child of Larkin White Glazebrook and America Henley Bullington, was born in Richmond, Virginia, October 13, 1845, at the residence of my parents, corner of Second and East Clay Streets, Richmond, Virginia. I was under private teachers until thirteen years of age, when I entered the Preparatory Department of Randolph-Macon College and was there until Virginia seceded, I received one of the first appointments to the Virginia Military Institute after the war began, and then went to Lexington, Virginia, and entered this institution.

With other members of the Corps, I was sent to a different training campus to train the recruits for the Confederate Army. When the cadets were ordered to New Market, I accompanied them and took part in the battle. Some months before the surrender of General Lee the Cadet Corps was ordered to Richmond. The Corps passed through Appomatox en route to Lynchburg the time of the surrender of General Lee.

After this surrender, the Institute and everything else being disorganized, I returned to my home in Richmond, and remained there until the fall of 1865. It was during this sojourn in Richmond that the thought matured of creating an organization, to have its starting point from the Institute, for the purpose of making a fraternal organization of young men, of a national character and entirely free from partisan or sectional bias. This thought first occurred to me in the consequence of an interview with General Smith, the superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute and afterwards my father-in law, in which he gave me a letter he had received from a Northern Greek Letter Fraternity, requesting him, General Smith, to put it to touch with an influential member of the Corps of Cadets, in order to further the re-establishing of its chapters in the south, which had been discontinued on account of the Civil War, I told General Smith that under the circumstances I did not feel at that time I could sponsor the re-establishment of an organization then existing in the north, and of which I knew nothing personally, in the south. This ended the matter.

I, however, kept this interview in my mind and determined that at the opportune time I would form a fraternity which would have for its object the bringing about of fraternal relations among all college men in the United States, independent of north and south. Under this impetus I wrote a constitution and initiation ritual, emphasizing and illustrating certain fundamental principles of a moral character, upon which I thought such an organization could be usefully and successfully founded. At that time I was not a member of any Masonic or other secret organization. I still had one more year to complete at the Virginia Military Institute, and it was my intention at the completion of my Institute courses to take up the study of law as a profession. However, I was very much interested in religious matters and a confirmed member of the Episcopal Church.

Having drafted the constitution and ritual in the shape of a secret work symbolizing the virtues upon which I proposed to base the organization, I considered the advisability of associating with me some one or more young men, naturally turned to members of my own class who would return with me in the fall to the Institute. At that time Alfred Marshall of my class was residing in Richmond. He was the son of the British Consul at Richmond, and a close cadet friend of mine. Also at that time Erskine Mayo Ross, whose family was from Culpeper County, Virginia, was visiting Richmond, and although in the class ahead of mine, was a close personal friend. He had graduated from the Institute in 1864 and had determined to go to California to begin his career.

As the most available men I invited Marshall and Ross to my house in Richmond, and I unfolded my plan and asked them if they would be willing to join me in launching such an enterprise. After reading the draft of the constitution and secret work, I requested them, if they approved, to sign their names after mine to the constitution, which they consented to do, making no change whatever in the draft of the constitution or the ritual. I signed first, Marshall next and Ross last. I told them that I would take the constitution and secret work to Lexington, and as Marshall and myself were returning to the Institute at the opening of the fall term of 1865, we would inaugurate the enterprise by placing the first chapter at the VMI. Ross, after a short stay in Richmond, went to California and made it his home. Upon our return to the Institute, Marshall and I selected from the Corps of Cadets a group of men who were the outstanding members of their respective classes. We called them together and informed them of our purpose, and upon their agreement I read them the draft of the constitution and secret work, administering the oath to each one separately, and thus formed the Mother Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega. My impression is that I suggested that Marshall should preside as Worthy Master, as I would deliver an address, setting forth more fully the plan and purpose of the organization which was in my mind, and which address was subsequently delivered in the form of an oration which I believe is today in the archives of the Fraternity.

At this time Washington College, a small Presbyterian school whose property adjoined that of the VMI secured as its president general Robert. E. Lee, changing the name of the college to that of Washington and Lee University. This movement on the port of Washington College was a great success. Immediately, many of the young men of the south, some who had been officers in the Confederate Army and others, sons of distinguished southern men, owing to the prestige of General Lee, matriculated at this institution. From a college of forty or fifty students this university now developed into a great school of nearly a thousand members. It offered a splendid field for our adventure. Recognizing that the very flower of the south was at this institution, we decided to organize a chapter there, which was immediately done, forming the Beta Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega. Meetings were held by both of these chapters, and they sometimes met together.

ATO badge sketchI had already made a sketch of a badge, the draft of which I had made in Richmond, choosing the form and letters and the symbolism which appear on the face of the badge today. This badge was accepted without modification just as I presented it, and the number to meet the wants of the Alpha Chapter was ordered from the Jeweler Galt in Washington. The first badge (which I always wore as my pin) was sent to me for approval, and is now in the possession of my son, Dr. Glazebrook of Washington. (The original Glazebrook badge is on display at the National Headquarters.)

The two chapters were known respectively as the Alpha and Beta Chapters of Alpha Tau Omega, the greatest harmony holding between them, and the greatest opportunity for making excellent selection of membership was afforded in consequence of the fact that there were no other fraternities in either of these institutions, and the young men who formed the student body of these institutions were the representative young men of the south.

After my graduation I was asked to return to the Institute the following year as assistant professor, and the same offer, as did James, but Marshall accepted. Doubtless this offer came to us because we had graduated first in the class. I being fortunate enough to take the first place, with James and Marshall respectively second and third. I declined this offer as I was anxious to be married, at that time being engaged to the second daughter of General Smith, the superintendent of the Institute. I determined Instead of going to the University of Virginia to continue my law course, to enter the Theological Seminary of Virginia, near Alexandria, and take the course in theology. Before carrying out this purpose, I married Virginia C. K. Smith, and returned to my father’s house in Richmond, where we then lived with my mother. My father having died a few days after my marriage I remained with my mother until after the birth of my first child, Dr. Larkin W. Glazebrook. With my little family and nurse I then removed to the seminary near Alexandria, Virginia, entering the middle class of that institution, and being ordained two years afterwards to the Episcopal Ministry. Being for the first year a deacon, I was under the complete direction of the bishop of the diocese, and was sent by Bishop Johns to Brunswick County, Virginia, where I took charge of two churches in that county. This county was in an isolated and remote section in the black belt of Virginia, twenty miles from a railroad, where I remained for seven years, and was prevented by this isolation from keeping in close touch with the Fraternity, but which I knew was being extended along the lines which I had proposed.

I was then called to church work in Baltimore, and while there organized and built the Holy Trinity Church, and I was in social connection with several Alpha Taus, which gave me the opportunity of again taking an active interest in Fraternity affairs. This I did, a conclave of Alpha Taus being held in Baltimore soon after my arrival. At that time and on the occasion of this conclave, Marine D. Humes, Joseph Anderson, Jr., I think, Thomas G. Hayes and others, active and energetic Alpha Taus, united with me in propagating the organization. It was my hope that we could place a successful Chapter at Johns Hopkins University, and the effort was made but it was not successful on account of the peculiar clientele of that school. From the beginning of my residence in Baltimore I again became most actively associated in the conduct and work of the Fraternity.

At the conclave or Congress, if we should so call it, in Baltimore it was thought well to re-write the constitution and more fully develop the ritual. The work on the constitution was committed to a committee, but I requested that the re-writing of the initiation and secret service should be left to me alone, and promised that it would be completed in time to be presented at the next conclave of the Fraternity, whenever and wherever that should be called.

After four years rectorship in Baltimore, I was called to Christ Church, Macon, Georgia, one of the important churches of the south, and I invited the next conclave or congress to meet in my house in that city, which took place in 1880 and is now known as the congress of that year. I began work on the ritual as soon as I reached Macon, and before the meeting of that congress had completed in full, it having been prepared in my study, and had it ready for presentation at the meeting in 1880, where it was adopted without alteration. In this new ritual the landmarks of the original initiation were strictly adhered to so far as the oath and symbolism were concerned, emphasizing the virtues which were symbolized in the original draft and which I considered, and the Fraternity has always considered fundamental, the very moral character and purpose of the Fraternity being contained in the symbolism of the first ritual and emblazoned from the first on the face of the badge in the emblems that have always appeared thereupon.

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