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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - Exhibits
Phi Beta Sigma fraternity shield Phi Beta Sigma fraternity shield

Delta Chapter, 1917-1933

Louis Edwin Fry

Louis Fry, 1923 Louis Fry, 1925 Louis Fry, 1927

Louis Edwin Fry was born on 10 Jan 1903 in Texas, the son of Henry and Pleasant Fry. His father taught at a college and his mother was a public school teacher. He and his brother, Francis Glenn, were raised in Bastrop, TX. He graduated from Emile High School in 1918 and then studied at Prairie View College.

On 12 Sep 1922, he entered K-State, initially studying electrical engineering, before changing to architecture in 1924, and finally settling on architectural engineering in 1925. After his first year, finances were tight and he returned to work at Prairie View. He returned to K-State the next year when Wirt Walton, graduating senior, let him know that his job would be vacant and suggested he apply. He attended classes during the summers of 1925 and 1926.

During the Aggie Orpheum in 1925, the Phi Beta Sigma act entitled "Sketches in Art and Music" won second place. Louis Fry, tenor banjo, and Theodore Miller, piano, played several jazz numbers. Then Fry "made a series of lightning charcoal sketches which started out as one subject then completely changed into something else."

In 1926, he was invited to join Phi Kappa Phi. His final semester was eventful. He was awarded the American Institute of Architecture Medal, won $15 for first place in the Lorentz-Schmidt Lettering Prize, and earned Senior Honors.

"But the most illustrious of our small black group was Louis Edwin Fry from Texas. He took his degree in architectural engineering and, besides receiving a number of awards in Beaux Arts competition, was the first Afro-American at K-State elected to Phi Kappa Phi, national scholastic honor society. He set such a high standard that many white students were embarrassed at being in his classes. They didn't want to work as hard as they had to with him around. His grades were so consistently topflight he rarely had to take a final exam. When he returned later to study for his master's degree, the head of the engineering school often consulted him on difficult problems."
    Livin' the Blues, pg. 80

He lived in the Phi Beta Sigma Chapter House, 1020 Colorado, initially. But, moved to 207 North 14th Street for his final two years, where he worked in the home of banker, W. D. Womer, earning $10 a month, plus room and board.

"The rest of the year went by pretty rapidly, especially after Wirt Walton, a senior in music at Kansas State, wrote me that since he was graduating, his job would become vacant and if I wished I could apply for it. It was an excellent job, working for the president of the First National Bank of Manhattan. The job paid $10 a month (a lot in those days) and offered board and room! ... This job would solve almost all of my problems about Kansas State for as long as I wanted to stay. I could hardly wait until September to go back. ... My job, she [Mrs. Womer] said, would be to help her run the house. I would cook whenever she wanted me to, keep the whole place clean, always wait table, and help in entertaining company. This was a large order but I promised that I would do everything possible for her, and I meant it, because this was my opportunity to get a good education."
    Louis Edwin Fry, Sr., pg. 39-40

He graduated from K-State on 02 Jun 1927 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Architectural Engineering. He married Obelia Swearingen on 24 Dec 1927 in Kansas City, MO. He taught at Prairie View College, Prairie View, Texas. Louis Edwin Fry, Jr. was born on 11 Sep 1928.

With family in tow, Fry returned to K-State for graduate school in the fall of 1929. He and Obelia lived at 412 South 10th Street, while he went back to work for the Womer's. In Nov 1929, he fell ill and required surgery. It took him quite a while to recover completely, and while it did cause a few financial setbacks, the experience strengthened his resolve.

He earned the award of mention in the Beaux Arts Institute of Design Awards competition in New York, 26 November 1929. The competition problem was sent to colleges thoughout the United States and Canada offering degrees in architecture which meet scholastic requirements. Participants had 12 hours to design a precinct police station with specific requirements. From the competitions, 185 designs were submitted to the Beaux Arts Institute for grading. The award of mention is equivalent to a scholastic grade of A. Of the 185 submitted designs only 13 received an award of mention. In February of 1930, he and two other K-State students received the grade of honorable mention for the design of an office building for a mythical chemical corporation headquarters that included space for several other concerns (hotel, bank, retail stores, and a roof garden).

Louis Fry graduated on 31 Jul 1930 with a Master of Science degree in Architectural Engineering.

Fry's Masters Thesis, 1930, pg 34 Fry's Masters Thesis, 1930, pg 43

Images from Louis E. Fry's Masters Thesis, 1930

1942 Lincoln University

Uncertain about his prospects of finding work as an architect, he was prepared to take a teaching job at the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College in Greensboro, NC. However, Professor Weigel made inquiries and found him a position with architect Albert Irving Cassell at Howard University, Washington, DC. Gladys-Marie Fry was born on 06 Apr 1931 in the Freedmen's Hospital on the Howard University campus. In 1942, Louis Fry was an Assistant Professor of Industrial Arts and Vocational Education at Lincoln University. In 1954, he founded an architectural firm in Washington, DC.

Louis E. Fry died on 10 Jun 2000 in Washington, DC.

Louis Edwin Fry            Pleasant A. Fry

Louis Fry, Washington DCP. A. Fry, Louis' mother

Photos courtesy of Gladys-Marie Fry

Sources of Information:

K-State Transcript
K-State Directory, 1922, 1924-1926
Royal Purple, 1923, 1925, 1927
1910 Census: Texas - Bastrop County - Bastrop - District 1
1930 Census: Kansas - Riley County - Manhattan - District 14
Jackson County, MO, Marriage Records
Social Security Death Index
Lincoln University yearbook, 1942
Kansas State Collegian (Manhattan, Kansas) 13 Feb 1925: "Aggie Orpheum best ever says manager Pfeutze"
Kansas State Collegian (Manhattan, Kansas) 24 Feb 1925: "Walker, Dickens & Co. win $25 Aggie Orpheum prize"
Kansas State Collegian (Manhattan, Kansas) 11 Mar 1930: "Beaux Arts group honors Louis E. Fry"
Kansas State Collegian (Manhattan, Kansas) 14 Mar 1930: "Three architects awarded mention"
Davis, Frank Marshall. Livin' the Blues (1992), pg 80, 97
Louis Edwin Fry, Sr: His Life and His Architecture (1981) self published autobiography