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. 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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{ 10 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!

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Jenna June 7, 2010 at 7:54 pm

That is unreal!

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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…

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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.

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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

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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?

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John Frost Jr. November 5, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Hi Alex,
Thanks for the very insightful article referenced. It really gives a much better perspective than the assumption the these honored fraternity members were part of the Invisible Empire.
I am very well aware of what happened after 1923 with one of the people featured – Morton Frost – as he is my grandfather. MC was a VERY honorable man throughout his entire life. For high school he graduated from Northwestern Military and Naval Academy in Lake Geneva, WI with highest honors. He continued on to earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, also with honors.

Following graduation, my grandfather joined the company founded by his father in Kenosha, WI. He actively worked there from 1923 until 1972. He held every corporate office throughout his career. He was recognized as a manufacturing expert across the state, as well as over the entire US!

One of the efforts my gramps was most proud of was leading the team that converted 100% of Frost Co. production to war production during WW II. They went from a production force of about 125 people working 40 hours a week, to a force of over 700 people working 7 days a week, 24 hours a day! This force received the Army/Navy “E” Award 3 times during this effort. This was an award for Excellence and was not easily earned. The company made over 100 different products to support the war effort, with the lead item being 20 mm brass shell casings – over 47 million of these were produced in less than 3.5 years. MC Frost led this effort and even wrote the book on how to run this improved production for other facilities to increase their production. The war production led by my grandfather, not only helped to win WW II, but it also saved the lives of many allied soldiers!

Service to his community was also very important to my grandfather. He served on the Kenosha Vocational School Board for 18 years and on the State Board for 2 full terms. He served as a regent of UW-Stout for 2 terms. He was a member of the Kenosha Hospital Board of Directors for over 20 years, serving as chairman for 10 years. He served on the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission, the Kenosha Public Library Board and the Kenosha Rotary Club.

While this has been a very long response, it is only a sampling of all of the positive things that my grandfather brought to our community, state and country. He was a very gifted engineer, an excellent manager, and someone that I have tried to model my life after.

Back to the original article – there was not a prejudice bone in Morton Frost’s body. He respected everyone and in return was followed and loved by all.

From the example provided by my grandfather, I have to believe that the other gentlemen listed in connection with the UW Yearbook photo must have many of the same qualities. I would love to learn how some of the other grandfathers and great-grandfathers turned out following their time at UW-Madison!

By the way – my grandfather and grandfather met at the UW (mom and dad did, too!) and there have been 3 more generations of Frost that have loved our time as Badgers! My youngest son, the youngest of his generation, will start there this Fall.

On Wisconsin!

John J. Frost Jr.

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Kerry Scott November 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm

John—thank you for giving the rest of the story on your grandpa. It’s always dangerous to judge someone, and especially dangerous to judge him on a single point in time. I’m glad to hear that at least one of these men had an admirable life, and I hope the others who have found this old post will consider telling us about their own ancestors. It’s always good to have a fuller picture.

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