Rainbow (W.W.W.) History

The writing of the following article was more an accident than a premeditated matter on the part of the author. From a mere wish to know something of the Rainbow Fraternity. it grew into a yearning for knowledge of its ritual, its constitution and its members, and finally a desire to collect every possible item concerning the same. To collect every possible item, however, of chapters which have been extinct for several years, did not prove the easy task it seemed. The claim. notwithstanding, is made that the following is the most complete and most accurate history of W. W. W. that has ever been compiled.

During the year 1848 a number of students of La Grange College. La Grange, Tenn., rebelled against certain disagreeable treatment to which they were being subjected. and after having repeatedly warned the faculty of their intentions, if the abuse was not speedily discontinued. left the college in a. body. Fully appreciating the benefits to be derived from a thorough college education, and having completely severed their connections with La Grange College, these young men sought other institutions of learning, among them the University of Mississippi, where during the sessions of 1847-8 and 1848-9, tradition hands down as entered on the records of this university the following seven names: John Bayliss Earle. John Bannister Herring, James Hamilton Mason, Robert Muldrow, Joshua Long Halbert, Marlborough Pegues, and Drew Williams Bynum. Toward the end of the year 1848, these seven young men formed a secret organization which shortly afterward became known as the Mystic Sons of Iris. Later it was spoken of as the Rainbow Fraternity. This then was the origin of the Rainbow Fraternity, which in a short while was destined to have a. widespread and unsullied reputation, and as the records of the University of Mississippi show, each of these seven graduated as the honor man of his respective class.

In the first place, the founders of this fraternity determined that its membership should be composed entirely of southern men – that is, of young men who had nourished incontrovertible and enthusiastic ideas upon the sanctity of the doctrine of States’ Rights, Secession and Slavery. In other words it was the desire of the founders of the parent chapter that the society should be of a purely southern character and that no one, however promising, who was from a free state, or who had imbibed abolition principles, should be eligible to membership in any chapter. This was the first and original idea concerning the members of this fraternity, and though it might have been correct in its general principle, it was swept away with other customs by the late war. Probably the first and only mistake, if mistake it can be termed, of the founders was concerning the number of members of each chapter. It was their plan that the number of active members of each chapter should not exceed seven at any one time, and also that the number of active chapters should not exceed that figure at any one time. This plan was to commemorate the fact that the original number of the founders was seven. Notwithstanding their motive was excellent, it proved itself to be the gravest error the Rainbow fathers ever committed in the drawing up of their beautiful constitution and ritual, for, from the year 1848 to the year 1861, when, on account of the late war, the fraternity suspended active operations, we have record of the initiation of only twenty/-four members into the Oxford chapter. There might have been others, but it is extremely doubtful, owing to this unfortunate mistake of limiting the active membership to so small a number. Such an error as this might lead the uninformed to believe that with so small a membership the Rainbows could not have captured many prizes and class honors. Such however, is not the case, for the records of the university bear witness that the early Rainbows captured far more than their share of the college honors.

Those who have read its ritual and constitution cannot but have observed how often the various portions or sections are divided and even sub-divided into seven divisions. The one concerning the number of chapters and the number of members in each chapter has already been noticed. Then there were seven colors and seven officers, to each of whom one color belonged. The constitution contained seven articles, to each of which there were originally seven sections. There were seven distinct forms or degrees in the ceremony of initiation, and the badge had seven different portions and was jeweled with seven stones. The frequent repetitions of seven in these and other forms have led many well informed persons to infer that perhaps Rainbow or W. W. W. was originally, in some unknown way, connected with the Mystic Seven Fraternity, which was recently absorbed by Beta Theta Pi. Indeed the similarity between the two is very striking, and it is probable, as an authority* on the subject states, “that the Rainbow Fraternity in its origin had some connection with the other order.” A few of their similarities may stimulate some inquisitive member of one of the two fraternities to make a further examination into this really interesting question, and for that reason they are mentioned here.

In the first place both organizations were of a distinctly southern character and both cherished the same ideas concerning the principles before mentioned. The Rainbow was the emblem of both; the one calling itself the Mystic Sons Iris, while the other styled itself the Mystical Sons of the Bow. The passwords of both were for years, VV. W. VV.

A thorough investigation among members of the two organizations would in all probability be productive of some very interesting, as well as valuable information to both parties.

The colors of the Fraternity were the seven colors of the rainbow. and, as mentioned before, one color was assigned to each one of their officers, and each color represented some special function of the internal working of the organization.

The original badge was modeled after the Roman Fasces. It was a. half cylinder, the obverse being composed of a bundle of seven rods or arrows firmly held in place by three double bands. The bands on one badge were red, on another blue, etc., representing the seven prismatic colors. The whole was surmounted by a miniature Roman hatchet. The reverse side was Hat, and on it was fastened the pin to be attached to the coat. The rank was indicated by the color of the bands on his badge.

“It was,” writes the Rev. 1. K. P. Newton, of Maysfield, Texas, “a beautiful emblem of the strong bonds of friendship existing between the members of the fraternity, and a most impressive representation of the maxim, ‘in union there is strength.’ When I joined the club, as it was than called, there were but seven badges, and these were worn by the seven and were handed down to their successors. The badges were part of the paraphernalia of each chapter. We discussed the matter frequently of having more badges made, but it was not done while I was in the University.” About January, 1874, this badge was changed to one of the following description, which continued to be its badge until the union with Delta Tau Delta. The upper half of the badge was made in the shape of a semi­circle with an arc of seven­ colored enamels surmount­ ing three W’s. The middle W was twice the length and twice the breadth of either of the two other W’s and was set with seven small stones of whatever color its owner preferred. It might be added that the semi-circle was seldom made with the arc of seven colors, but most generally of black enamel with a narrow band of color surrounding it. Beneath the semicircle and just over the middle W the initial letters of the chapter were placed. A small guard-chain and pin completed this badge of the Rainbow Fraternity. The seal of the fraternity was an exact impression of the above described badge surrounded by two circles. Between these circles, at the upper edge, were the words “Enios Iridos” – at the lower edge, between the circles, was the name of the university from which it was issued.

The respective chapters of W. W. W. were named after its by the mother chapter at Oxford, Miss., in the order in which the respective officers were elected. The chapter once named, it became obligatory for its members to have the name of the chapter engraved on their badges, in manner just described. No two chapters in the same state were allowed to have the same name at the same time. 

C. ROBERT Churchhill, BE ’89