Finding “Brother Nat”
By Sara Puppala,
Nathan Caleb House has returned home for a second time.
All SDT sisters know the story of “Brother Nat”: discovered through Dora Bloom, he penned Sigma Delta Tau’s ritual. After our founders and Brother Nat graduated from Cornell, he was considered lost until nearly 40 years later when a SigDelt visiting New York City happened across his name in a phone book! In cahoots with founder Regene Freund Cohane, Brother Nat surprised the sisterhood when he showed up as a surprise guest speaker at the 1958 Biennial Convention. Until his death, Brother Nat continued to attend nearly every convention and stayed active in the sisterhood. He was named an honorary member and gifted his own SDT Torch pin—the only man to ever receive or wear one.
In time for our 104th Founders Day, Brother Nat’s niece, Ann Rothman, donated her uncle’s pin to Sigma Delta Tau headquarters.
As the Ritualist of Sigma Delta Tau, Brother Nat was a proponent for individuality, believing that every sister had something to offer.
I believe each one of you is unique, different from all others, and that difference is a blessing designed to enrich the world. These precious individualities cannot be measured in percentages; not one is greater or better than any other. In the dimension where the personality moves and finds its being, there is no room for perspectives or comparisons…Therefore, hold yourself of great value, and so I shall always think of you.Nathan Caleb House, “Convention Quotes” (Torch Magazine, Winter 1966-67)
In honor of Brother Nat’s Torch pin being donated to Headquarters, we are resharing the Torch story following his “return home” to SDT at the 1958 Convention and transcribed it below, including the original photos used in the issue. To experience more SDT history, listen to stories in a new episode on our podcast—Sigma Delta TauK—from Harriet Rodenberg (Upsilon—Indiana University, 1959), SDT Past National President and former NPC Chairman, about meeting our Founders and Brother Nat, reflecting on how far Sigma Delta Tau has come in these 104 years, and what her 65-year SDT membership has meant to her. Don’t miss out on celebrating our sisterhood with us on March 25!
“Nathan Caleb House Returns to His SDT Family” (Torch Magazine, Winter 1958)
There is not a member of Sigma Delta Tau, from the class of 1917 to the class of 1957, who does not readily recognize the revered name of “Brother Nat.”
For it was over 40 years ago that our beautiful and significant ritual was written by a young man named Nathan Caleb House. Little did he, or the creators of Sigma Delta Tau, realize then that the ceremony would become immortal, and one that would bind thousands of women throughout the world in the years to come!
Nathan Caleb House was reintroduced to his “family” at the 19th Biennial Convention in Bretton Woods last June and was amazed to discover that his original seven sisters had become nearly 10,000! For an unmarried man, whose main interests are travel and the real estate business, and who has little contact with the collegiate and fraternal worlds, this was quite a reunion, indeed!
Brother Nat’s story reads almost like classic fiction—only true! For many years he had been “lost to SDT—whereabouts unknown.” Each time a member would get a hint as to where he might be located, she traced it to no avail.
Last spring, however, the search ended. When National Council members Fran Adler Schwartz and Jean Schwartz were visiting in New York, they went sleuthing again and this time were pleasantly surprised to find Nathan C. House listed in the phone directory!
Brother Nat was delighted to learn of SDT accomplishments and accepted an invitation to attend convention as a “mystery” speaker.
One one charter member—Regene Freund Cohane—and two other members knew the plan to bring Brother Nat to convention “incognito” and surprise convention delegates and Council members with his presence.
The plan worked. Under an assumed name, Brother Nat registered at the convention hotel…was not revealed as his true self until the Mortar Board Dinner. The first stunned silence that met this introduction was followed by a thunderous ovation of applause as Sig Delts throughout the country welcomed “back” their only brother.
A distinguished-looking man of medium height and athletic build, with greying temples and a boyish smile, Brother Nat appears much younger than his 66 years.
Introduced by Regene Freund Cohane, who was one of the first to know his initiation ceremony, Brother Nat was deeply touched and visibly overcome. “Coming here tonight,” he said, “is like being born again—to find that I have 10,000 sisters!”
Reflecting on the year 1917, indeed an important one for Sigma Delta Tau, he told those present, “In 1917 the situation of the world was somewhat different. Our ritual had deep Jewish significance, though its message was not confined to just the Jewish people.
“In 1917 Israel was not a nation. The necessity for expressing one’s individual dignity, whether or not he belonged to a synagogue, led many a Jew to declare himself as a member of that race.
“Times are different today. It would not be embarrassing to a woman of any faith to participate in our ritual. Today I looked at the ritual again. It was not then and is not today a narrow document—but one for every woman.”
Regene Freund Cohane presented Nathan Caleb House with an award for “the person who has given the most to Sigma Delta Tau over the longest period time”…a small leather-bound book, beautifully inscribed. Identicaly inscriptions appear in a book collection established at Brandeis University in his honor.
The only man who may wear our Torch has found his great new family, and SDT has found its long-lost brother.