"Alpha Tau Omega holds before the young men of the country an ideal and something greater than a mere intellectual ideal. Alpha Tau Omega stands for heart as well as head. It has given men a true ideal of life."
Alpha Tau Omega began as an idea in the mind of a young Civil War veteran who wanted peace and reconciliation. His name was Otis Allan Glazebrook. His people were defeated, many of their cities burned, much of their countryside ravaged. But Glazebrook, who had helped bury the dead of both sides, believed in a better future. He saw the bitterness and hatred that followed the silencing of the guns and knew that a true peace would come not from force of law, but rather from with the hearts of men who were willing to work to rekindle a spirit of brotherly love.
Most people weren't ready for sermons on brotherly love. John Wise, a classmate of Glazebrook's at Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia, and a member of Beta Theta Pi, put it this way when he wrote of that time: "For four years we had been fighting. In that struggle, all we loved had been lost... in blood and flame and torture the temples of our lives were tumbling about our head... we were poor, starved, conquered, despairing; and to expect men to have no malice and no vindictiveness at such a time is to look for angels in human form."
Glazebrook, deeply religious at age 19, believed that younger men like himself might be more willing to accept, forgive, and reunite with the Northern counterparts if motivated by Christian, brotherly love. But he needed an organization, a means of gathering and organizing like-minded people. That was why a letter caught his attention. As cadet adjunct for the VMI Cadet Corps, Glazebrook routinely handled mail addressed to the Institute's Superintendent, General Francis H. Smith. One such letter came from an official of a leading northern fraternity who wanted help in reviving his southern chapters. (The South lost all 142 of its fraternity chapters during the war, and it was only with great effort that they were revived and expanded.) Fascinated, Glazebrook asked Gen. Smith about fraternities. As Gen. Smith explained what they were, Glazebrook knew he had found his organization.
In Richmond, Glazebrook consulted with University of Virginia alumni who furnished further information concerning fraternities. He discovered that they were not Greek in name only, but Greek throughout. Their mottoes, besides being written in Greek, reflected Greek ideals.
Greek philosophy, sometimes tinged with the medieval mysteries and Masonic lore, waste the cultural ideal of the fraternities. Glazebrook had been a proficient student of Greek at Randolph-Macon College before he entered the Institute. While admiring the language he recoiled from Greek Philosophy, ideology, mythologies, ethics and morals.
Reared in a devout Christian home, confirmed at historic St. Paul's in Richmond, he had served as a lay reader in St. Mark's. Essentially a religious man, typical of his time, he believed implicitly in more government of the universe, convinced that morals are of God, ordained by Him. He thought and taught, in its highest and noblest manifestations is the unique and supreme gift of Jesus Christ.
Glazebrook could contemplate fraternity only in terms of Christian love. Out of his prolonged meditation emerged the concept of a fraternity Greek in name only; the Greek name, the visible symbol of passionate conviction that peace and brotherhood could be achieved under the protection of Jesus Christ.
The name came spontaneously. As a boy and youth in St. Paul's and St. Mark's, Glazebrook had seen the ancient insignia of the Church, first discovered in the ancient catacombs, depicted upon their walls, ceilings, or other ecclesiastical objects, the Tau Cross subjoined by Alpha and Omega. "Alpha" and "Omega" signify to the Christian absolute plenitude or perfection. "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." Joined with the Cross the whole signifies that Christ is all in all, the beginning and end of salvation.
Having projected a Christian fraternity and appropriated a distinctively Christian symbol for its name, the Cross naturally was its logical emblem. For it, Glazebrook selected a form he though was the Maltese Cross, though actually it is the heraldic cross pattee. In the center he inscribed a crescent, three stars, the Tau Cross and clasped hands. Upon the upper and lower vertical arms he placed the Greek letters for Alpha and Omega and upon the horizontal arms, the Omega and Alpha letters respectively.
Reading from top to bottom the fraternity's name appears. Alpha Tau Omega, Reading left to right it becomes Omega Tau Alpha. This reverse arrangement has an esoteric significance to the initiate, but does no violence to the essential meaning of the insignia; it still indicates that Christ the beginning and end are joined.
On September 11, 1865, Glazebrook invited two close friends to his home at 114 East Clay Street in Richmond, Virginia. There, in the rear parlor, he read them the Constitution he had written and invited them to sign. As they did, Alpha Tau Omega was born. It was the first fraternity founded after the Civil War, and the first sign of Greek life in the old Confederacy.
Glazebrook had chosen his co-founders well. Alfred Marshall, a friend of Glazebrook's from boyhood, was first captain of the VMI Cadet Corps and a popular individual. He was the spirited man of the trio, the man of action, the one most likely to attract new members. Erskine Mayo Ross, who ultimately became a federal judge, gave a sense of order to the meeting. He could curb the sometimes reckless energies of Marshall without dampening the charge of Glazebrook's ideas. The three formed a well-balanced group.