© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Clubhouse for the Crestfallen


Today is Valentine’s Day and store windows are decorated in red and pink and the finest restaurants are booked with dinner reservations for two. It is a day for love. For a certain group of young men at the University of North Dakota in 1902, however, today must not have been the day of love for which they had hoped. 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 could be aimed toward more than yearning for matrimony. The Club abandoned these objectives before long, and turned their primary 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 this new goal, the members soon transformed from lamenting young men into student leaders on campus. 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 the University of North Dakota: the scholarship was the first prize 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 by attempting to “bring bachelor brethren into closer touch with each other” through its publication, The Varsity Bachelor. Now, it seemed, the Club was seeking to celebrate bachelorhood rather than resenting it.

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 Varsity Bachelor Club joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

It was never stated how many of the members were able to find matrimonial happiness through the bachelor’s club. One of its leaders, William Lemke, did not marry until 1910, seven years after graduating from the University. Lemke later went on to become a progressive U.S. Congressman for North Dakota, just as he was a progressive leader in organizing UND’s first fraternal extracurricular club.