Milts turn 150
Cornell’s oldest social organization turned 150 this year. Officially known by its Greek letters Mu Lambda Sigma, the Milts are descended from the Miltonian Literary Society, founded in 1871 by Hamline Freer, the college’s first dean and longtime colleague of President William Fletcher King.
Max Ginsberg ’22, Milt alumni secretary and vice president of Greek Council, says the Milts today are as unique, proud, and ambitious as their predecessors. Their seven members, he says, provide leadership on campus in roles as diverse as New Student Orientation, KRNL radio, Hillel, and Student Senate.
Ginsberg almost missed being part of the group.
“I was dead set on becoming an Axe my freshman year, until I met someone who introduced me to the Milts during the last two prepledges of the season,” Ginsberg says. “I didn’t know any of the members very well when I pledged. I joined because I saw this idiosyncratic aspect within the members of the group. This unique quality was just indescribable, one that I still have difficulty explaining today. Yet, I now encapsulate this mysterious quality that makes a Milt a Milt.”
All Cornell alumni are likely to have known a Milt or seen them wearing red and white on campus. Those colors and Greek letters were sure to be visible at Homecoming this fall as Milts planned to pilgrimage to the Hilltop for their sesquicentennial.
Cornell’s Milts tend to attract diversity, at least within the context of a predominantly white campus. Henry Freeman Coleman, Class of 1910, and the second Black student to graduate from Cornell, was a member of the Miltonian Literary Society. Diversity also was the first characteristic cited by two prominent members when asked to describe the group.
“It was extra diverse,” says Fred Holtz ’86, a former Cornell Alumni Board director. “We had Black guys when Black guys didn’t join, international students, lots of athletes even though we were not a jock fraternity, and majors all over the place.”
See rare archival images of the Miltonian Literary Society (many from the newly acquired scrapbook of George Pearson, Class of 1914), some ’80s images, and photos from 2021 reunion below.
Milt 150th anniversary Homecoming event organizer Dennis Schertz ’82 noted that a number of international students were in his cohort, expanding his world view and giving him friends from as far away as Lebanon. And, he notes, the friendships lasted.
“It was always nice, the sense of belonging,” Schertz says. “At supper you could sit at the Milt table if you wanted to. Once you pledged you had a bond with these guys—and a bond 20 years after the fact because you went through the same experience.”
In fact, Schertz is part of a Milt bowling team in the Twin Cities area. And Holtz was part of another group of Milts that met at Milwaukee’s Summerfest for many years.
“That ended once we all had kids, because we behaved like Milts, taking advantage of the beer tents,” he says.
There was a time when the Milts had just one member and almost folded. A group of six men approached the Dean of Students in about 2001 about starting a new group, and she recommended taking over the Milts and their rich history.
“I don’t know if it was once they put that red on, but they were old Milts! It was incredible,” Holtz says.
Milts are connected by name to Allee Chapel as well as Armstrong, Pauley-Rorem, Tarr, and Smith halls. Scott Alumni Center is named for a man who is likely the best-known Milt of all, Paul K. Scott ’29, coach of Cornell’s 1947 national championship wrestling team and later the longtime Cornell alumni director. Each year Milt pledges have their picture taken at founder Freer’s gravesite at the Mount Vernon Cemetery, which, Holtz notes, is right across from the liquor store.
“Being a Milt opened my eyes to a whole different world in Cornell,” says senior Milt active Ginsberg. “I’ve been able to build lifelong friendships with some incredible brothers, and I have been able to connect with Milt alumni from decades ago.
“My leap of faith with joining the Milts was one of the best decisions I have made during my time at Cornell.”
1911-12 Miltonian Debate Team
Undated Miltonian meeting in College Hall
Miltonian-Aonian Christmas Party in 1911 or 1912
Miltonian-Aonian joint, 1911
1911 Miltonian Initiation Banquet
1911 Miltonian Thanksgiving Banquet in Alumni Gym (now McWethy Hall)
Miltonian Literary Society in 1907
Milt member Henry Freeman Coleman, Class of 1910 and the second Black student to graduate from Cornell
2021 Milt reunion gathering at the Mount Vernon home of founder Hamline Freer
Mits in attendance at the 2021 150th anniversary dinner
Past Milt presidents at the 150th anniversary, from Dan Ricklefs ’78 on the far right and ending with Matt Briggs ’23 on the left
Current Milt actives, from left: Jason Dodson ’25, Jake Alm ’23, Max Ginsberg ’22, Matthew Briggs ’22, Blaise Dauzvardis ’23, and Rob Grisamore ’22. Not present: Edan Cohavi ’22.