Until a recent breakthrough by leading William Short scholar Anthony Noble, very little was known about the man that Thomas Jefferson referred to as his “adoptive son”. William Short was a Founding Father, a brilliant diplomat, a philanthropic millionaire, but what is without doubt his greatest contribution to our country, and to the world, has lain in obscurity since his death in 1849. Jefferson may have drafted the Declaration, Madison may have penned the constitution, but these accomplishments are trivial when compared to the lasting legacy of William Short’s greatest achievement: the development of the modern Fraternity Rush process. At Lost&Founders, the gravity of this event and its significance to the very fabric of Americana, does not escape us. This article seeks to shed light on the man who did more to shape the American experience than the rest of the Generation of 1776 combined (excluding of course Dolley Madison who brought ice cream to America, frickya).
William Short attended the College of William & Mary between 1777 and 1781. There, he was a founder and president of Pi Beta Kappa, America’s first fraternity. Now, fraternities at the time were unrecognizable from the beacons of chivalrous virtue we know and admire today. In his day, frats like ΠΒΚ were more like literary and debate societies where brothers could partake in intelligent dialogue in an environment free of the distractions of the outside world. No beer, no biddies, these brothers literally had a 0:0 chill-to-pull ratio. Short was quick in realizing that the solution to this problem was coming up with a more selective process by which to regulate who would be allowed into the fraternity. Only by fostering a sense of brotherhood, of elitism, and of chronic alcoholism, would America’s young men be prepared to perpetuate the Republican Experiment.
In order to understand the influences that went into making Fraternity Rush the flawless institution it is today, it is necessary to first examine the events in William Short’s life that helped shape the process. In dividing Short’s life into phases reminiscent to those of Rush, historian Anthony Noble has managed to make crystal clear the connections that firmly tie Short’s quest to be American Minister to France with the quest thousands of college freshman undertake every year to score a bid at a top tier fraternity.
Open House & First Round Invites - William Short, like rushees today, showed up on the political scene looking to meet the boyz in blazers. He quickly befriends Jefferson, who shares his alma mater, and attempts to butter up to “brothers’ like Madison and Monroe. Short is given a figurative “first round invite” when he is asked to serve as Jefferson’s personal secretary in Paris. Like overeager freshmen across the nation, he sets his sights on a top-tier position, in this case, the position of American Minister to France.
Second Round Invites- Rush doesn’t always work the way we want it to. William Short, snubbed from his top choice, settles on a respectable-enough position as a minister to the Netherlands. It is from his time there that we get timeless Rush traditions, namely, booze n’ biddiez. A hot affair with a married duchess named Rosalie? This is what college is all about.
Third Round Invites & a Bid- So France didn’t work out, he ends up getting replaced in the Netherlands, and then he’s snubbed from Spain. Short must’ve been thinking that maybe GRΣΣK life isn’t for him after all… that is, until he gets his bid. With the election of Thomas Jefferson to the presidency, William Short is promised a position as the first American Minister to Russia.
Pledging- After being snubbed from his top choice, and from his second, and from his third…. William Short finally feels as if he’s found the “house” for him. It is his next experience that gives birth to the traditions of hazing that every rising member must endure in the name of brotherhood. President Jefferson submitted Short’s nomination, but he sent him over to Paris before the Senate had a chance to confirm the nomination. Short spends months in Paris living out of his own pocket, struggling to placate Russian ministers, all the while unable to conduct official business. Finally, the Senate rejects Short’s nomination. He is left poor, lost abroad, and at the mercy of angry Russians. These feelings are the very same that fraternity brothers attempt to inculcate in their pledges today. Vodka has overtime come to replace the presence of actual Russians.
#Fratlyfe- So William Short, ruined and embarrassed, returns to America and decides to put diplomacy behind him. Once home, he decides to do something no Virginian has ever done, he spends less than his income and invests the rest of this money, eventually making millions (unlike those GDIs Jefferson and Madison who died in overwhelming debt). Short would live in affluence until his death in 1849. He died at 90, but not before returning to William & Mary. There, he partnered with signer of the Declaration, Benjamin Rush. The two drafted a process by which members would be initiated into Pi Beta Kappa that was largely based on the events of Short’s life that most contributed to his later successes. Short would pass away just as his final plan was set in motion, leaving Benjamin Rush with all the credit (including the processes’ namesake). Today, we owe everything to William Short. Although he never got the position of Minister to France, no one could argue that the title of Original FratStar is his and his alone.