In the days when unorganized class rushes were traditional at Cornell University, the class of 1907 when sophomores attempted to prevent the freshmen from attending their banquet. This class was the last to have its frosh banquet and preceding rush because of previous disastrous results.
Several members of the class of 1908, anticipating the rush, purchased sufficient edibles and secreted themselves under the rafters of a famous old freshman rooming house several days earlier to avoid capture and imprisonment. The 1907 men, however, procured ladders, cut holes in the roof, and reached the first year men. [q.v. The Famous Freshman Melee]
The freshmen became close friends. In the fall of their senior year, six of them banded together for weekly meetings, brining in one sophomore, a member of the class of 1910. Organization took place on the even of what was to be the last Cornell-Princeton football game for many years, that of October, 1907. Meetings were held weekly at a pre-Volsteadian rendezvous in Ithaca on Saturday evenings. Outsiders, however, coined new names for the Mug and Jug, so the meeting place was changed. The year of 1908 saw meetings held in the rooms of members in turn. As the semester neared a close, the one sophomore, having been invited to membership in a national fraternity, raised the question of permanency. It was then decided to recruit more members from the lower classes and draft plans for a permanent club.
The name of the new organization was taken from the first letters of the first line in the first stanza of a German “bier knieppe” song, found on the large tankard used in the days of Mug and Jug. The song starts “Im Schwarzen Wahlfisch Zu Ascalon,” so Iswza was the adopted name. The original seven men were assigned letters, and the initiates were numbered. The pin was square, tilted through forty-five degrees, the letters SWZA appearing in the corners. There were three pearls on each side, and in the center square on blue enamel was a gold turtle; on its back was the letter I, and in the center of the I was a small opal.
The seven original members were Otto Brandt, Jr., Newark, N.J.; L.M. Brockway, Walcott, N.Y.; C. J. Hunn, Ithaca, N.Y.; F.K. Pearce, Brooklyn; N.D. Preston, Brooklyn; A.U. Wetherbee, Union Springs, N.Y.; and E.J.C. Fischer, Hazleton, Pa. The additional members admitted on the organization of Iswza were G. P. Brockway, F. J. Grant, B. Kelley, R.B.T. Kiliani, E.W. Nicholoy, and W. M. Sutton. The members were scattered about town so there was little opportunity for rushing. In the fall of 1908 the men started to concentrate by rooming closer together. Fischer, Grant, Kiliani, and Sutton rooomed at 305 Dryden Street. In the fall of 1909 a house was rented on Linden Street and more men were initiated. [q.v. From Mug and Jug to ISWZA]
The first house was occupied for two years,and then the group moved to Bryant Avenue for two years. In the fall of 1913 decision was made to purchase a house at 614 Stewart Avenue for $18,000. This house was occupied until 1920, when it was sold to Sigma Alpha Mu.
Soon after the purchase, the undergraduates felt a desire to petition a national fraternity, and conferred with the alumni. Joseph A. Carr, who was killed in action in the World War, was in contact with Albert Cross, Pennslvania, Negotiations were completed, and on October 11, 1913, Iswza became Omicron, the twelfth chapter of the Fraternity. All members of Iswza save Nicholoy, Grant, Kelley, and Blythe have since become members of Lambda Chi Alpha.
The loyalty of the Omicron alumni can be determined from the unusually large attendance at Ithaca on or about February 7 of each year, the founding day of Iswza. Annual dues of $6 made possible the early payments on the houses the chapter has owned.
The chapter progressed until the war, when the house was vacated owing to S.A.T.C. rulings. One by one the men departed until only Cuthbert Fraser remained in the fall of 1918. However, by the opening of the second term members came drifting back, and the work of reorganizing the chapter was started. The big problems confronting the chapter were the pledging of men to fill the places of those who did not return and paying off the financial obligations that had accrued during the war period.
The alumni gave invaluable assistance. Before the war, when the alumni were comparatively few, a rather loose organization existed. Class secretaries were chosen, but their chief duties were the collection of dues which had been for indefinite purposes. The men kept in touch with each other by means of "round robin" letters, but as the number increased the need for a chapter periodical grew. The Omicron Alumni News was soon instituted, and has been issued three or four times yearly ever since.
The need for a stronger alumni association grew. A group of alumni gathered in New York City to draft by-laws and provide for a permanent and strong organization. The house itself, was owned by Iswza Fraternity, Inc., a holding corporation, which had given notes to cover the cost of its purchase.
The chapter speedily outgrew its old house, and in the spring of 1920 at the 1910 class reunion at the first intercollegiate regatta held in Ithaca, the alumni voted to sell the old property and to purchase the present one at 125 Edgemoor Lane. This new property, overlooking the Cascadilla Gorge and having a replacement value of $100,000, was more suitable to the growing needs of the chapter and placed Omicron in a position that compared favorably with that of other chapters on the campus. The scheme of financing has been such that the indebtedness is expected to be discharged by 1933.
In the first several years after purchase, efforts by the undergraduates were concerned chiefly with improving their property. Participation of members in university affairs dropped. University rush systems became disorganized. Omicron experienced several lean years. Since then, however, much progress has been made.
In 1924 the original members of Mug and Jug established the Pearce Memorial Library. Endowment and piano funds were started in 1923. That fall the latter fund was sufficiently large to allow the purchase of a new baby grand piano. Lastly, a strip of land bordering the chapter’s property was bought from Chi Phi, whose house adjoins. The university wanted to construct a public walk on the strip, but members of Omicron desired to retain the chapter’s privacy. Numerous improvements have been made this fall. Work of filling in and grading the grounds has been started. Furniture has been re-upholstered. The sophomores and the steward department have joined to provide a new set of silverware. Representation in diversified university affairs has mounted to an imposing height.
In conclusion it can well be said that Omicron enjoys a high position, at Cornell and in Lambda Chi Alpha. It ranks high scholastically; its property is owned and financial arrangements generally sound.