George Hutcheson “Mike” Denny, who was President of the University of Alabama for twenty-five years (1912 to 1936) truly left his mark on campus.
The Bryant-Denny Football Stadium and Denny Chimes are monuments to his legacy.
An article in The Tuscaloosa News by Mark Hughes Cobb dealt with Denny‘s public stance that favored the prohibition of alcohol. In the article Delbert Reed, writer-in-residence at the Paul W. Bryant Museum, pointed out that Denny was the son a Presbyterian minister.
According to The Encyclopedia of Alabama, Denny was responsible for 35 fraternity and sorority houses being built on the campus. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Denny was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. Sigma Chi was installed at the University of Alabama in 1876. On the website for the Iota Iota Chapter of Sigma Chi there is a tale about an illegal duel in 1877 between members of Sigma Chi (ΣΧ) and Delta Kappa Epsilon (ΔKE) fraternities where the ΔKE member lost his life. The student from ΣΧ was ultimately acquitted in a jury trial.
As a consequence of the duel, University officials mandated the disbanding and removal of all fraternities on campus. However members of the Iota Iota Chapter formed an underground society that came to be known as the Phi Epsilon Literary Society.
In 1914, Sigma Chi alumnus George Denny pulled some strings for his fraternity and it was allowed back on the University campus. Coincidentally, in the same year, the Student Government Association was established.
The University’s Student Government Association has for decades been dominated by another underground “society,” which started out as a chapter of the Theta Nu Epsilon fraternity. The Business Insider reported on The Machine‘s role in campus life. Esquire magazine ran a cover story on the secretive organization in 1992.
Article in Esquire by Philip Weiss
As the President who was responsible for the emergence of the University’s Greek community, Denny‘s stance on the prohibition of alcohol may appear incongruous. The social fabric of Greek life seems to be predicated on the use of alcohol. Denny was a Sigma Chi member. Perhaps at his fraternity at the University of Virginia he was actually a teetotaler?
In 2021 the Crimson White‘s Isabel Hope wrote an article posing the question “How does the Machine survive at UA?” In the article Hope told the story of Alex Smith, who had been a member of The Machine. Smith called The Machine “Alabama’s dirty little secret.”
The University of Alabama has had a history of secret organizations. In some way, it might not be unreasonable to think that one of them is somewhat a part of George Denny‘s legacy.