Between 1919 and 1926 two student organizations at UW–Madison took the name “Ku Klux Klan” without objection from university administrators or student government. The first was founded in 1919 as an interfraternity honor society composed of student leaders. There is no evidence this group was affiliated with the national organization, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, the members’ choice of that name signals an identification—and at the very least, no meaningful discomfort—with the widely known racially violent actions of the Reconstruction-era Klan, which had recently been celebrated in the blockbuster 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. The student senate, which in that era often asked student organizations to change their names for a variety of reasons, did not object to the Klan name.
In 1924 a Klan-affiliated fraternity, Kappa Beta Lambda (KBL, for “Klansmen Be Loyal”) was established at UW–Madison. A Milwaukee Klan newspaper praised this group’s commitment to the Klan principles of “White Supremacy, Restricted Foreign Immigration, Law and Order.” The emergence of the second group inspired the first group to change its name to the cryptic and ambiguous “Tumas.” That organization persisted for a few more years. Kappa Beta Lambda fell into academic probation due to poor grades and received only four pledges in 1926. It ceased to exist later that year.