The Thulanian Club:
Life before Theta Chi, Alpha Pi

The Minnesota chapter of Theta Chi—the Alpha Pi chapter—has seen considerable success in the
last few years. Transforming from a small group of eleven college men interested in fraternity life who
met in small common rooms in 2012 to a full-blown Theta Chi chapter with membership ranging from
sixty to eighty men at a time, living in their own chapter house while winning Homecoming and Spring
Jam competitions in 2020, the chapter’s growth has been staggering.


But while the chapter may seem like a new addition to the University of Minnesota in the eyes of
some younger members, the truth is that the Alpha Pi chapter of Theta Chi has a long history in
Minnesota. One of the oldest fraternities on the U of M campus, it all started in 1899 with a small,
unique group – the Thulanian Club.

The Thulanian Club:
“Et hjem borte fra hjemmet” or “A home away from home”

The Thulanian Club (occasionally referred to as the “Thulanian Society”) is considered one of the oldest, if not the oldest, organizations on the University of Minnesota campus, and was designed as an honorary society for Scandinavian students. The club was founded in 1889 at the University of Minnesota, only a year after the founding of the university itself, under thefaculty supervision of Olaus J. Breda, then Professor of Scandinavian Languages and Literature. The name “Thulanian” is a reference to those Scandinavian roots, taken from the word “Thule” (pronounced thoo-lee or too- lee), a historic Greek and Latin name for the region that is often identified as the Shetland Islands, Iceland, and Norway.

 

Between 1889 and 1924, the club lived up to its name: E.B. Johnson’s 1908 Dictionary of the University of Minnesota listed the Thulanian Club as “an organization of students and professors of Norwegian descent for mutual pleasure and helpfulness. It is practically a Norwegian fraternity.” Publications by both Dr. J.S. Johnson (MINNESOTA: A Brief History of the Norwegians' Settlement of the State, Their Duties, Associations and Living Conditions, 1914) and George T. Flom (A History of Scandinavian Studies in American University: Together with a Bibliography, 1907) note the importance of the Thulanian Club as “a thriving and enterprising organization of Norse students, which has an active membership of thirty and an alumni membership of nearly one hundred,” as of 1907. Prof. Olaus Breda The 1907 Thulanian Club, as photographed for The Gopher yearbook. While the Thulanian Club dropped its honorary requirements in 1903 to better focus on undergraduate membership, and enjoyed a brief period between 1903 and 1906 as Tau Sigma, the club grew consistently in the 1910s and 1920s in both membership and influence. The organization’s social events were regularly featured in The Minnesota Star Tribune newspaper, an
impressive achievement for a group who, twenty years earlier, was comparatively small. The club also began hosting annual meetings for its growing alumni base, which, upon the club’s reorganization into Theta Chi in 1924, boasted more than 200 alumni.

 

With such impressive growth came the need for a new house. Having rented a house since 1905, the club purchased its first property in 1910— the former house of Senator John Thomas Wyman, located at 1029 4th Street Southeast in Minneapolis. Though the chapter has had several homes since 1910, this was the first house that the Alpha Pi Chapter of Theta Chi would own and live in.

The Thulanian Club:
“Et hjem borte fra hjemmet” or “A home away from home”

From Thulanian to Theta Chi:The Transition to Alpha Pi Chapter of Theta Chi

 

In the early 1920s, the Thulanian Club’s success caught the eye of Horace A. Clifford. Born in 1856, Horace was a Norwich alumni from the Alpha chapter of Theta Chi. He had moved from the Vermont-
Massachusetts area to Saint Paul, Minnesota, to work for the Northern

Pacific Railroad, and his career culminated in 1920 with his
appointment as Treasurer of the Northern Pacific Railroad., At the
same time, he was also striving to establish a chapter of Theta Chi in
Minnesota. With Horace’s support, the Thulanian Club petitioned
Theta Chi for a charter on December 19, 1923.On March 8, 1924, the
charter was granted, transforming the once Norwegian-focused
honorary society into the newest chapter of Theta Chi fraternity.
The success of the chapter continued well after their initiation. History
of Theta Chi: 1856-1927, published by The Grand Chapter of Theta
Chi Fraternity in 1927, noted that in the four years after their initiation, the Alpha Pi chapter became
one of the most influential fraternity chapters on the University of Minnesota campus, a role they
would fill for decades to come.