The KKK at the University of Wisconsin. No, Really.

The KKK at the University of Wisconsin. No, Really.

by Kerry Scott on 7 June 2010

I love using yearbooks for research.  They’re a great way to get a little more information about your ancestors.

For instance, I found my grandpa’s high school yearbook on eBay years ago.  He went to West High School in Minneapolis, graduating in 1933.  His senior quote was, “He dearly loves the lasses.”  He was also the treasurer of the history club.  I got a kick out of reading that, since I’m into history too (although maybe he joined to meet the aforementioned lasses).

Yearbooks are also great for the pictures.  I research a lot of collateral lines (i.e. lines that I’m not directly related to, like the descendants of my great-great-grandfather’s brother).  I don’t have any photos of those people, so yearbooks are a way to see what they looked like.  Since I’ve “known” some of these people for many years through my research, it’s great to actually see what they looked like.

That’s why I have several University of Wisconsin yearbooks from the early 1920s.  I originally bought them because they featured two of my ancestors, but they’re also fascinating to look at on their own.  When I was working on my big photo-scanning project, I got them out to scan the photos of my ancestors, and I started paging through them.

Guess what I found on page 516 of The Badger for 1923?

Yes, you read that right.  The Ku Klux Klan was on the University of Wisconsin campus in 1923.  They made it into the yearbook with all the other groups.  I had to Google to make sure it wasn’t maybe a different group…nope.  It’s the KKK.  Apparently the Klan was fairly active in Madison in the 1920s (and if you’re not familiar with Madison, I should tell you that it is the Very Very Liberal part of Wisconsin today, so this is hard to imagine…but there it is).

I just finished reading The Help, which is a novel set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s (and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, so if you haven’t read it yet, you should stop reading this and buy it right now.  Then plan on calling in sick tomorrow, because you won’t be able to put it down.).

This yearbook page is proof that the south didn’t have any corner on the racism market.  It’s also proof that you can find out all sorts of interesting things about your ancestors in yearbooks, and that some of those things may be unpleasant (although none of my ancestors are listed as members).

For the sake of Google and those with less-than-perfect vision, here are the names of the members:

Officers:

  • Everett W. Jones, President
  • Russell Frawley, Vice-President
  • Richard F. Gibson, Secretary
  • Morton C. Frost, Treasurer
  • Mord Bogie, Corresponding Secretary

Members:

  • Leslie Gage, Junior, Alpha Delta Phi
  • William Sale, Senior, Alpha Tau Omega
  • Russel [sic] Frawley, Junior, Alpha Tau Omega
  • Thomas Coxon, Senior, Beta Theta Pi
  • James L. Brader, Junior, Beta Theta Pi
  • Arthur Kinnan, Senior, Chi Psi
  • William Collins, Senior, Delta Kappa Epsilon
  • Joseph Hook, Junior, Delta Kappa Epsilon
  • George Gates, Junior, Delta Tau Delta
  • Dale Merrick, Senior, Delta Upsilon
  • Edward Frawley, Junior, Delta Upsilon
  • Everett W. Jones, Junior, Kappa Sigma
  • J. Houston Schee, Junior, Phi Delta Theta
  • Carl Ceasar, Senior, Phi Gamma Delta
  • Morton Frost, Junior, Phi Gamma Delta
  • Morton Bussy, Senior, Phi Kappa Psi
  • Harold C. Buell, Junior, Phi Kappa Psi
  • Albert Knollin, Senior, Phi Kappa Sigma
  • Hubert Townsend, Junior, Phi Kappa Sigma
  • John Babcock, Senior, Psi Upsilon
  • Vilas Hanks, Junior, Psi Upsilon
  • Joseph Holbrook, Senior, Sigma Chi
  • Mord Bogie, Junior, Sigma Chi
  • Robert McDonald, Senior, Sigma Nu
  • Lee McCandless, Junior, Sigma Nu
  • Reuben Chadbourne, Senior, Sigma Phi
  • Albert Halline, Junior, Sigma Phi
  • Richard Gibson, Junior, Theta Delta Chi
  • David Mahoney, Senior, Zeta Psi
  • Nelson Fairbanks, Junior, Zeta Psi

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Wilkinson Rojo June 7, 2010 at 11:55 am

Wow! Sometimes simple things from the library, like yearbooks and city directories, can turn up surprises. This is quite a BIG surprise!

Reply

Jenna June 7, 2010 at 7:54 pm

That is unreal!

Reply

Marsha Keeffer June 8, 2010 at 1:32 am

You’re right – The Help is required reading for everyone…it’s that good!

The KKK??! Those jerks with bedsheets? This is like seeing them in Berkeley or Santa Cruz. History can definitely shock…

Reply

Charles June 10, 2010 at 9:02 am

I am curious to know what exactly is the connection between the Ku Klux Klan and the fraternities listed.

Reply

Kerry Scott June 10, 2010 at 10:20 am

Charles—It looks to me like it’s an “inter-fraternal organization, ” which (I think) meant that members from different fraternities could join (but, presumably, not people who weren’t members of a fraternity). I don’t see anything to suggest that those specific fraternities were affiliated with the KKK…just these members.

This one is listed as a “Junior Interfraternity Social Society.” The two subsequent pages both have Sophomore Interfraternity Social Societies–the Skull and Crescent and the Inner Gate. Both of those have significantly more members than the KKK did (and have pledges listed…no pledges listed on the KKK page).

Someday when I have more free time I’d like to research each of the members listed and see what became of them. It would be interesting to know what they did for a living, what their sphere of influence ended up being, and whether they ever changed their views.

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Susan Tiner June 17, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I would be interested to know if the members had to know and agree with the views of the KKK, e.g., by signing some kind of pledge. I think young people sometimes join social organizations just to fit in and don’t necessarily fully understand what the organization stands for, but I don’t know if this ever happened with the KKK. It’s hard to imagine a hateful mindset in such young people.

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Alex April 13, 2011 at 9:30 am

Sorry to burst your bubble, but they weren’t affiliated with the invisible empire.
http://bdsmn.blogspot.com/2005/09/kkk-in-madison.html

Reply

Kerry Scott April 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm

That’s very interesting. Can you post some sources for that, so readers who want to learn more know where to look?

Reply

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