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The History of AZO From 1919

On December 19, 1919, AZO was born.

Philadelphia, fair city of brotherly love, saw the birth of the Alpha Zeta Omega Fraternity in the historic lecture halls of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Scienc
e. Known as the "Dead Men's Club", and working under a shroud of mystery, Morris Arkans, Abe M. Bernstein, David Champaine, David L. Dyen, Stanley Rosenfeld, Al Rosenfield, Louis Snyder, David Schwartz, Morris Shuman, Ephraim G. Sless, and Joshua Zimskind started what was to be the means of forming the strongest pharmaceutical fraternity of its kind. The originator of this club, and its leader, was Ephraim G. Sless. To him belongs the honor of being the Founder of Alpha Zeta Omega. Soon after the "Dead Men's Club" had been formed, Harry Althouse was added, then the clan numbered twelve, and was at times referred to as "The Dozen." Later, Dr. Lawrence Rosenfeld, an eminent Philadelphia Bacteriologist, also became a member, but the name of "The Dozen" persisted, despite the fact that the club now totaled thirteen. Because of strenuous opposition offered to the formation of new organizations at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science by the older fraternities and clubs, the "Dead Men's Club" went quietly about its business, keeping its very existence a secret and letting out nothing of importance to other students.

Having been formed for the express purpose of aiding one another in their studies, and being desirous of graduating 100 per cent, this group maintained a series of quizzes at which the members most proficient in the particular subject under discussion took the part of the quiz master. This method of bringing the group together soon showed its results in the social life of the members, and they were always found together.

In the spring of 1921, the graduation exercises of the college took place, and the "Dead Men's Club" boasted its 100 per cent of graduation. The results obtained encouraged the men to spread their policies, so that future classes should profit by their good fortune. They felt that by getting a group of people together such as theirs and explaining their methods, the same results for the new group could be obtained.

At the first official gathering held at the home of Abe M. Bernstein, it was decided to change the name of the "Dead Men's Club" to "Alpha Zeta Omega Fraternity". Alpha was adopted as the first letter because it is first in the Greek alphabet, therefore, representing the beginning of time. Zeta, being a mnemonic of the founders names, was taken to symbolize the connecting link between the creation of time and eternity. Omega being the last letter of the alphabet was taken to represent the end of time. It was also decided to form other groups just as this was formed, at other colleges of pharmacy, and to designate each group by the use of a letter from the Greek alphabet. The constitution of the Fraternity was drawn up at this time by A.M. Bernstein and D.L. Dyen. The official pin was designed by A. M. Bernstein, D.L. Dyen, M Shuman, and E.G. Sless. The ritual was composed by E.G. Sless. Stanley Rosenfeld was elected the first Supreme Directorum of the Fraternity. The year June 1921 to June 1922 saw the spread of the doctrines of Alpha Zeta Omega. Several undergraduate chapters were installed, and a vision began to form. The original group now termed itself the Alpha Chapter.

The AZO Song was composed by a group of Fraters around a piano in Philadelphia. It now made its appearance around this time and has been in use ever since.

"In all the land there's none so grand as dear old A. Z. O. - It's seen quite far - The double star - It's seen where e'er you go! - Our spirit always staunch and strong - Will surely make us grow! - Now that we are here - Let us give a cheer - For dear old A. Z. O."

Again, Alpha Zeta Omega graduated 100 per cent of its members, now called Fraters; some of the men winning prizes offered for high scholarship in various departments. It now became necessary to consider the possibility of holding a yearly gathering. It was decided to call this gathering a convention, and the first affair took place at the Hotel Walton, Philadelphia in June 1922, with E. Fullerton Cook, Chairman of the Pharmacopoeia Revision Committee, as our guest and toastmaster.

The next five fraternal years saw AZO spread in an astonishing manner. Many chapters were installed, due to the tireless efforts of our national officers. The purpose of the fraternity was now designated chiefly as being "to spread the spirit of Fraternalism, Brotherly Love, Friendship, and Good Will towards mankind". 

In December of 1922, The Supreme Chapter decided to issue an official publication called the "Hazy-O" (later changed to the AZOan). Frater Si Sless was the first editor-in-chief of the publication, and he laid the groundwork for the publication as it is known today. This year also saw Alpha Zeta Omega, Supreme Chapter incorportated under the laws of the state of Pennsylvania. The Supreme Chapter consisting of the Supreme Officers and delegates from all of the subordinate chapters now meeting regularly twice a year in December and June. 

The year 1924 saw the designing and adoption of the official Recognition Pin and Fraternity Shield. To the left, the pin, AZO's Double Star. In the center, the original shield, in use until changed in 1940. The official shield since 1940 is on the right.

During this year, the revision of the initiation ritual, and the adoption and revision of an adequate constitution were undertaken. At the 1925 Convention in Newark, the Philadelphia Alumni Chapter was chartered. This automatically nullified the charter of the Alpha Chapter, and these fraters now became charter members of the Alumni Chapter of Philadelphia. June 1926 to June 1927 saw splendid work done on the AZOAN - the official organ of the Fraternity, and it steadily improved upon all previous publications. This year the subordinate chapters strengthened their position, and it was a period of general solidification and internal growth.

In June, 1926, the Directorum Cup award was established as an institution in AZO to be awarded the chapter having the best standing with Supreme at the termination of the fraternal year.

In the late twenties, the Fraternity's expansion continued at a rapid pace, not only by the external addition of new Chapters and by the fission of several mixed chapters into undergraduate and Alumni entities, but by the internal addition of members, funds, and professional prestige. A central office was established in Cleveland, and the practice of having three meetings a year on the national level gradually gave way to the present National and Regional conventions that we have today in January and July.

What no chronological statement can show, however, was the devotion AZO somehow inspired in the hearts of its membership so that in the early '30's, with bread lines and unemployment prevalent in a depression-ridden country, the Fraternity still managed to remain in operation. In 1937, the Ohio River floods caused considerable damage to stores owned by some of the fraters. All chapters met in emergency session following the flood and raised considerable money for the assistance of any Frater who needed help. This money was forwarded to Supreme for this assistance.
In June of 1938 plans for blanket coverage insurance for the members of the Fraternity were adopted. An insurance board was appointed and the following summer the entire program was put into effect when over $100,000 worth of insurance was written. In July of 1939 the Supreme Cultural Fund was established. This fund was later renamed the Roy Scott Memorial Fund, and then later combined with the E.G. Sless Scholarship Fund. This aspect of the Fraternity has been a source of pride to AZO.

Although the Supreme had given permission for a Ladies Auxiliary to be formed in Kappa in 1931, this permission was rescinded by the Supreme in 1934. It was not until 1939 that Ladies Auxiliaries were established in several chapters and plans made by the Supreme Directorum for the formation of a National Auxiliary at the Detroit Convention in 1940. In 1941 with the presence of war clouds, AZO stepped forward as did other organizations to answer the call with men, money, and blood and curtailed activities in an attempt to get the job done. At the conclusion of the war all chapters again began activities and a new birth seemed imminent.

In June of 1946 the Fraternity presented funds for the Pharmacy of the Hadassah Memorial Hospital in Palestine. This was part of $15,000 pledged by AZO to build a pharmacy building at the hospital. At the convention in Washington in 1948 funds were raised for the Supreme Cultural Fund, and from this an ambulance was purchased and sent to Isreal for the use of the Zionist forces there. It was in the fifties that once more an outward growth manifested itself as the Fraternity added six new chapters from Massachusetts west to Michigan in less than two years time.

In the early fifties, AZO underwent an extensive financial expansion. Fueled by Frater Jerry Boonshoft, PSD, with many others assisting, and almost all Fraters participating, cooperative advertising programs were established with many leading Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, Money Order Companies, and the like, which engendered our participation in scholarships, awards, continuing education, and other professional programs.

The Fraternity had been presenting awards on-and-off ever since inception, but the fifties saw a regular award program standardized. The Directorum's Cup for Chapter efficiency was retained; a Newspaper Contest was established for Chapter publications, winning Chapters getting the Newspaper Award; the Meritorious Award was established for long and distinguished activity on behalf of the Fraternity; a separate Undergrad Award was established on the collegiate level; and the Achievement Medal, as well, for long and meritorious service to the Profession of Pharmacy. At the 1954 Convention, hosted by Philadelphia in Atlantic City, the first Achievement Medal was given to the President of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy & Science, Dr.Ivor M.Griffith. In 1956 Alpha Zeta Omega, in the interest of "Peace, Friendship, and Brotherly Love," accepted for its Cultural Program the challenge of raising $100,000 for the Pharmacy College of the Hebrew University in Israel. This drive was to have been a three year project. It was completed in two years, the newly-chartered California Alumni Chapter pledging the final amount pushing us over the top at the 1958 Cleveland Convention. A total of over $103,000 was pledged. The Omega Chapter in Israel was chartered some two years later. Quickly rising in membership to over 50, the chartering of this Chapter made the Fraternity truly international, as it extended our boundaries some several thousands of miles. Dr. Joshua Kohlberg, past President of the Israeli Pharmaceutical Association, was elected First Chapter Directorum.

In 1961, a book "40 Years of AZO" made its appearance. Written by Frater Jerry Boonshoft, PSD and Frater Bob Kirschner, PSD, this 360 page bound printed volume was reviewed by all leading professional publications and placed in all Colleges of Pharmacy in the US, to some overseas and was well received by the membership-at-large. This book, along with the published addendums will give the reader a more detailed accounting of the history of this great professional fraternity.

A year later, expansion brought AZO to Milwaukee and Phoenix. In April of 1963, Gamma Chapter in Philadelphia announced the purchase of a fraternity house, the first time in fraternity history that an undergraduate chapter had, on its own, purchased its own quarters. The 1964-65 Fraternal Year, which began with the First Supreme-run Convention in Atlantic City) also saw the creation of the position of Director of Professional Affairs, designed to strengthen the identification of AZO with the Profession of Pharmacy. During that year, and for the same reason, it was decided to devote an entire issue of the AZOAN to Pharmacy subjects. An AZO Code of Ethics was written for the Supreme by the Theta Chapter of Cleveland and adopted at the 1965 Louisville Spring Regional. Late in the fraternal year of 1965, AZO accepted the Synanon Project as a new national fraternity project. Frater Mitchell Ross, PSD of Southern Connecticut Alumni directed the donations of merchandise for this institute that treats narcotic addicts. This national project became a resounding success due to the cooperation of our fraters.

At this point, the Supreme Awards were increased with the addition of the Order of the Double Star, a special recognition for Fraters who attain positions of respect and importance within the Profession of Pharmacy; the E. G. Sless Award for Fraters who have given years of long and distinguished service to AZO on the Chapter level, named for AZO's first Frater; and the S. I. Sless Award, for undergraduate service, named for AZO's first pledge.

With the glorious golden anniversary only a year away, AZO chartered a new chapter in 1968, the Kansas City Alumni, and reorganized the Omega Chi Chapter.

Undergraduates were added to the Supreme Board on a district basis in July, 1969, and the Fraternity got set to celebrate its golden anniversary, December 19, 1969, with new fervor and drive for future greatness in the years ahead.

In l970, at the Convention Philadelphia hosted in the Poconos, AZO's 50th anniversary was held, the last time there would be so public a gathering of the Founding Fathers.

Just prior to this Convention, a booklet was printed with the Fraternity history updated from 1960 to 1970. Frater Bob Kirschner, PSD was the author. Ten years later, the same author produced another ten year booklet, rounding off AZO through 1980. There the project halted, awaiting the new young author(s) so imbued with Fraternalism that they will bring it forward to the present.

In the early 70's, women were admitted to regular Fraternity membership for the first time, beginning with Laurie Platt, daughter of PSD Burt Platt. In the 1970's the Scholarship and Visiting Lectureship Programs were standardized and expanded through the expansion of the Fraternity's several business promotions. A new burst of expansion, especially in the undergraduate area, brought AZO to Ferris State and Iowa, and in 1974 the Fraternity held its first Convention outside the country, in the Bahamas. That having been a success, the 1975 Convention took place in Toronto.

The death, in late 1976, of AZO's Founder, E.G. Sless, prompted the Fraternity to undertake a new national fundraising campaign in his name. This campaign was to establish more AZO Scholarships at the Schools of Pharmacy in the United States and Israel and in similar institutions of professional learning in this country.

In the quarter-century since 1975, AZO has reflected the enormous changes in the Profession of Pharmacy. Many community Pharmacies were closed or absorbed. Chains grew so large that they began to devour each other. Institutional Pharmacy (hospital, mail-order, and the like) began to grow by leaps and bounds. The Profession's individualism, upon which so much of AZO's success depended, disappeared. Pharmacy became automated. Many new facets of Pharmacy greatly displeased the older Fraters, and many began to dwell in the past. The things that older members had spoken about at a gathering were not the same things that concerned our younger members. America's mobility led to many Fraters moving away from a proximity to the great metropolitan areas, so that Chapters like Detroit, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, among others, covered over 100 miles of territory, rendering a gathering of the full membership at any one time and place all but impossible. In Miami, it was more like 200 miles.

This situation mandated that the Supreme continually try to readjust to the change in Pharmacy life, and in AZO's life. A turn here, a twist there, a procedure updated, a tradition rexamined. Still, there were some things that remained: the great Fraternal love was the one thing we have above all others. The undergraduate Chapters are outstanding. The Fraternity stepped right up into the new era and when Continuing Education became a professional requirement, AZO locally and nationally was right there. When females began to comprise the majority of new students, we of AZO have had female Fraters for years, with just three decades after females first addmittance, the fraternity has seen 6 female Directorums. When the era of computers began, there was Frater PSD Morton B. Smith of Philadelphia ready and able to set up a web site, manage it, and direct it, so that perhaps the increasing geographic distance between Fraters can be shortened to - and perhaps beyond - the cohesiveness of days gone by. And that AZO claims to be family was never more highlighted by two Supreme Directorums of the era.

There had been Supreme Directorums who were brothers (the Rosenfelds, the Sless boys,) but never had there been parent-&-child, until 1987. Frater Milton Cohen, Directorum 1957-1958, was followed a generation later, 1987-1988, by his daughter, Frater Diane Cohen Adelman, PSD. She was our first Female Supreme Directorum. Nearly a decade later, the future web site master, Frater Morton B. Smith, PSD, became Supreme Directorum. His late father, Frater Frank T. Smith, PSD had been Directorum in 1959-1960. In fact, in the early 50s when young Morty became an AZO Frater, it was the first father-&-son combination to become Fraters. There have been many more since, and in some areas one hears of a third generation starting to move into place. That is because our message is never-ending.

AZO has always met whatever challenge confronted us, our safety, or our Profession. With the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, and the shock and tragedy affecting all of us, AZO undertook a project of assistance to those stricken by personal loss. The beneficiary of AZO's efforts was the Dean Street Heroes Fund, N.Y. Fire Dept., Engine Co. 219. The families of the seven firefighters lost by this company were assisted by this fund, to which AZO subscribed. This action was directly derived from AZO's countless past efforts, from Midwest flood victims to knitting socks for GIs in WWII, from the College of Pharmacy in Israel to Alzheimer research. There can be no true internal brotherhood unless we maintain our interest in our fellow humans, and AZO has never failed to come through when needed.

2008 saw the beginning of members traveling and attending an increased number of inter-chapter events. As more and more Chapters began to host these annual events, membership continued to flourish. The growth of the Fraternity continued as the Supreme Chapter chartered four new Chapters between 2012 and 2016 with a fifth Chapter added in 2020. For the first time, the Fraternity saw Chapters in Maine and Rhode Island and new Chapters were added to Ohio, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico.

The formation of a new AZO website took place in 2014. With the creation of this website, AZO entered a new digital era which included most documents, reports, and newsletters that were previously mailed out to be posted on the website. 

With the resurgence of membership, new offices were created, including professional advocacy, philanthropy chairs, and a diversity, equality & inclusion committee. Most recently, AZO has begun the process of archiving historical documents and publications and all AZOans are featured in the Lloyd Library. Mentorship has become a focus, as the value of working to aid undergraduate members with their professional endeavors is paramount. The Fraternity has continued to grow in its usage of online platforms and social media.

In 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, AZO saw its first Convention cancelled in the history of the Fraternity. Thanks to technology, the Convention was moved to a virtual format and fraters still had the ability to share peace, friendship and brotherly love. That same year, fundraising efforts were taken on to support those affected by COVID-19 and also in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

For 100 years, through wars, pandemics, floods, shortages, inflation, depressions, recessions, Fair Trade, chains, Medicaid, Ph.D., B.S., Ph.G., Pharm. D., Democrats, Republicans, and a change in communications that saw radio get started only after AZO was born, the Fraternity has grown and thrived. But our future is by no means secure. You, the reader of AZO's story, and the learner of AZO's traditions, you are that future. Do not let this glorious story end here; rather, help it write of new projects, new programs, and new deeds, memories that will outlive time.

This history was written by Frater Robert Kirschner, PSD & Morton B. Smith, PSD, and typed by Fraters Seth Cohen & Morton B. Smith, PSD.              

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