By Robert J. Miller, Historian
Between 1848 and 1880 the affairs of the Fraternity were in the hands the National Grand Chapter (Ohio Alpha), and State Grand Chapters (the first chapters chartered in each state) until the 1868 convention created an Executive Committee which had very limited powers. All the foregoing were discontinued in 1880 when the Indianapolis convention provided for a General Council of four members. A fifth member was added in 1896. This elected body was, in effect, the “chief elected officer” of Phi Delta Theta.
Due to the growing work of correspondence and record keeping the General Council conceived the idea of a paid employee to assist with the day-to-day details of fraternity management. The Scroll for February/April 1919 listed, for the first time, a Central Office in Oxford, Ohio with the name of Fred R. Cowles, Kansas ‘04 as Assistant to the General Council. In the same directory, Brother Cowles was listed as President of Zeta South Province. The identical listing appeared in the Scroll through February 1922. The April issue of the magazine announced the appointment of Arthur R. Priest, DePauw ’91 as the Traveling Secretary for the Fraternity and Cowles was no longer listed as a Province President. In the interim, the headquarters office was moved to Indianapolis and the “Assistant to the General Council” became the “Executive Secretary.”
At a General Council meeting on September 29, 1923, Brother Priest “was asked to take over the Central Office.” At the following General Council meeting on October 7, 1923, Cowles was “dismissed” and Priest was appointed Executive Secretary. During Priest’s tenure of 14 years he was assisted by seven Assistant Secretaries. He was succeeded in 1937 by Paul C. Beam, Indiana-Illinois ’25. It is ironic that the retirement of Priest, the appointment of Beam and the death of Cowles were all reported, complete with photographs of each, in the June 1937 Scroll. Brother Beam served for eighteen years until his death in July 1955. He hired a total of fourteen assistants, the last of which arrived in Oxford on the day of Brother Beam’s death.
Beam’s eleventh appointment was Robert J. Miller, New Mexico, 50 who came on board the Good Ship Phi in June 1951. In the spring of 1953, Miller’s title was changed to Assistant Executive Secretary and in the summer of 1954 he was named Administrative Secretary. He succeeded Brother Beam as Executive Secretary. His title was changed to Executive Vice President in 1972 Miller employed 78 ”Field Secretaries/Chapter Consultants” during his 35 years in office, one of whom was Robert A. Biggs, Georgia Southern ’76. Biggs was named Director of Chapter Services in 1978 and continued in that position until 1991 when he succeeded Miller. This accounts for a total of five executive officers who have been responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the fraternity since 1919.