Clubhouse for the Crestfallen | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Clubhouse for the Crestfallen

Feb 14, 2020

Today is Valentine’s Day, and store windows are decorated in red and pink and the finest restaurants are booked with dinner reservations. It is a day for love, but for a certain group of young men at the University of North Dakota in 1902, it must not have been the day of love they hoped for. Just eight days later, on February 22, the ten men, who described themselves as “turned-down, heart-pierced young men,” would come together to form the Varsity Bachelor Club.

When the Club formed under the leadership of William Lemke, the purpose was to “retain the status of bachelorhood.” The group’s romanticism, however, must have gotten the better of the boys, for in its first publication suggestions for the group were “to see that the members are married as soon as possible” and “to promote the matrimonial interests of the club.” In addition, it was proposed that the young men should remain together forever, and no others should be allowed to join the group.

The Varsity Bachelor Club must have decided later that their determination and dedication should include more than yearning for matrimony. The Club turned their focus to the improvement of the University. The members took this goal seriously, and the Varsity Bachelor Club became the first fraternal organization endorsed by the University.

With their new goal, the members transformed from a group of lamenting young men into student leaders. In 1905, the Club began offering a scholarship to the member who showed the most all-around improvement, and in 1907, the Varsity Bachelor Club got their first, official “bachelor’s pad.” Both the scholarship and the clubhouse were firsts for UND. The scholarship was the first awarded through the University and the clubhouse was the first extra-curricular building built on campus.

Although the Club had moved beyond its initial motives, it continued to reach out to bachelors through its publication, The Varsity Bachelor, to “bring bachelor brethren into closer touch with each other.”

Debt from building the clubhouse, however, would soon force the Club to change its name as it campaigned to join a national fraternity. In 1913, the club joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

It was never stated how many of the members found matrimonial happiness through the club, but leader William Lemke married in 1910, seven years after graduating. He later went on to become a progressive U.S. Congressman for North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook by Tessa Sandstrom