STUDENT TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS
ALTHOUGH student life at Michigan has been rich in traditions, many of them have been comparatively short-lived. Efforts by the various classes to "establish" traditions often resulted in practices which died out without leaving a memory or a record of their demise. Class observances, such as the "Burning of Mechanics," the carrying of canes, the wearing of caps and pins, "exhibitions," dances, banquets, and games, have come and gone with time. Yet some have persisted throughout the years. When the Michigan Union was established in 1904 and the Student Council in 1905, central agencies were set up to preserve some of the old traditions. The great growth of the student body, however, and the formation of clubs and societies did much to dissipate class spirit and to lessen the interest in class activities. Organized athletics also provided a greater outlet for student emotional exuberance, with the result that many of the old customs were lost in the maze and helter-skelter of student life.
The wearing of some type of class cap has been traditional since the early days of the University. In 1868 students of the Literary Department adopted an "Oxford" style of class cap, blue with a square top, a black tassel in the center, and a movable "U. of M." visor. Caps with the class date '70, however, appear to have caused confusion and trouble because their wearers were not always members of that class; as a result this particular type of cap became an oddity. It is interesting to note that in 1870 Acting President Frieze and various professors also wore caps somewhat similar in style. The class of '72 adopted caps of blue broadcloth with small tassels and the class numerals in silver braid. The class of '73, of course, "rushed" them after chapel by throwing flour from the top of the stairs leading to the law lecture room, where the exercises were held. In 1877 a genuine mortar-board style of cap was chosen, but owing to lack of interest the effort to preserve the tradition failed at that time. Most of the senior classes wore distinctive caps in 1880, however, and the prevailing style in that year was the mortar board. In 1881 the seniors wore maroon fez caps with old-gold tassels, the juniors white "plugs," the sophomores white "derbies," and the freshmen black mortar boards with cardinal tassels. Senior "medics" wore black silk hats, the senior "laws" straw "derbies" with bands of blue and maize, and the pharmacy students Mackinac straw hats with bands of old-gold and cardinal. The sophomores of '85 and '87 also adopted class caps. During the early 1900's the tradition was revived for the freshman class, which adopted the once familiar gray "pot," with colored button to designate the school or department.
Cap Night was first celebrated on Saturday, June 11, 1904, at a student mass meeting held about a bonfire near the Medical Building. Songs were sung, speeches made, and the freshmen, as a symbol of their "graduating" from the ranks of "first-year men," burned the gray caps which they had worn all year. The celebration became an annual affair. Cap Night, held in "Sleepy Hollow," was designated in 1906 as the "first Saturday night in June," and the custom was continued for many years. Under the direction of the Student Council, the classes marched to the meeting place, in the 1920's the hollow to the east of the main Hospital Building, the senior class in cap and gown, to watch the burning of the caps. "M's" Page 1767were awarded to deserving athletes, and songs, speeches, and cheers marked the occasion. With the increase in enrollment, however, and the consequent loss of class spirit, the students became more and more reluctant to wear their caps, and in September, 1934, the custom was abolished by the Executive Committee of the Undergraduate Council (Student Council).
In 1910 the class toque came into vogue. This was worn by all the classes — seniors, blue with white band; juniors, white with blue band; sophomores, maroon with band of white; and freshmen, solid gray. Tassels of proper hue, designating school or college, adorned the toques. This custom, too, has gone the way of other student traditions.
Class canes were carried for the first time by the class of 1869. The class of '73 dropped the custom, but the class of '77 revived it. In 1889, when the old picket fence surrounding the campus was torn down, the seniors made themselves canes from the cedar posts. Later, enterprising merchants supplied canes from the same source. In 1923 May 5 was officially designated as Cane Day, and in 1928, April 29 was so observed. It was customary for the seniors to begin carrying their class canes during the month of May preceding graduation. From 1934 the senior classes observed the tradition sporadically, and it more or less died out by the end of the 1930's.
Class badges never became popular nor traditional at Michigan. The class of '74 wore an interlaced triangle and circle as a distinguishing seal of the class; the law class of '86 had a pin, and class pins have been worn by other graduating classes. Fraternity pins and pins representing distinctive student organizations and clubs destroyed interest in the class pin.
The first Class Exhibition was held in the old Presbyterian Church by the sophomore class on the evening of August 10, 1843. Orations, dissertations, essays, and poems were delivered, every member of the class participating. At the last Exhibition of this type, on April 29, 1870, by the class of '72, members of the class of '73 heckled the speakers, threw grass bouquets, and even hurled a rooster from the gallery to the stage of the Methodist Church, creating such a disturbance that the event was discontinued. At this time four members of the class were suspended for a period of six months and others for a longer period.
The first Junior Exhibition was held on August 14, 1844, and from that time the Junior Exhibition became deeply rooted in the traditions of the college. Speakers were elected by the faculty, and the distinction and the honor of being chosen were much coveted. From 1867 to 1877 speakers were selected from members of the class, and every member took part in the program. In the late 1870's, the Junior Exhibition was lampooned and burlesqued in mock programs by members of other classes or by those members of the class who had not been chosen to participate. After 1877, because of the resultant friction and unpleasantness, guest speakers were selected. The "Laws" and the "Medics" did not participate in the Exhibition; it was purely a practice of the Literary College.
The first Freshman Exhibition was given by the class of '72 on the evening of May 28, 1869. In 1869 Professor Frieze established "University Day" for the purpose of drawing more closely together the students of the various departments of the University. Only two are recorded. Perhaps the "University Day" celebration envisioned by Professor Frieze has furnished a precedent for the modern convocation, which was revived in 1913.
Page 1768On the evening before Class Day, May 27, 1873, a reception for the senior class was instituted. Dancing took place in Professor Cocker's lecture room in University Hall. The custom was continued until 1877, when religious bodies in the state made loud their objections to dancing in University buildings. The students then erected a pavilion on the campus for this purpose. In 1882 the Regents removed the restriction on dancing, and a reception and dance were held, thus establishing a tradition which continued for many years as the Senior Reception, given at that time on the Wednesday evening of Commencement week.
In 1885 Commencement for all schools and colleges of the University was held for the first time on the same day. Until then, the various schools and colleges had held independent exercises. In 1870 Professor Frieze began the custom of holding a Commencement Banquet to which alumni and guests of the University were invited. This occasion, later established officially by the Board of Regents, inaugurated the "Alumni Banquet" of Commencement week, held annually on Alumni Day. As Commencement time approached, it also became customary for the senior class to hold "sings" on the campus — in later years on or before the Library steps. Earlier, in both the spring and the fall, the seniors customarily gathered once a week about the "senior bench" to sing informally.
Swing-out, an old and venerable, as well as a beautiful tradition of the senior class, was held in May and celebrated the first wearing of the cap and gown. Because of lack of interest and respect for this honored old tradition, especially noticeable in the 1920's during the "prohibition era," Swing-out was discontinued in 1934 by action of the Student Council.
One of the most interesting and venerated of student traditions was the "burning of Mechanics" or, as it was sometimes called, the "hanging" of Mechanics, Physics, or Mathematics. Originally, it took place in honor of the completion of the course in physics under Professor ("Punky") Williams. It was celebrated as early as February 6, 1860, by the class of '61, and lasted, with interruptions and variations, until the early 1900's. The ceremonies were unique. Usually a procession of "solemn officials" in costume escorted the "corpus," borne on an elaborate bier, to a place of judgment, where the victim — the course in mechanics (physics, mathematics) — was most impressively "tried," "condemned," and "executed."
Programs printed for the occasion are among the most interesting memorabilia of student life. They were interesting, amusing, and sometimes "objectionable." The class of '64 severed the "Mechanical Jugular"; that of '65 "'suspended' the Physical Corpus"; the class of '66 used the method of "spontaneous combustion"; and that of '67 conducted an "Ignominious Execution of Physica Mechanica." At that time eight juniors armed with bayonets guarded the "corpus" from the infuriated sophomores, whose class cap had been placed upon the head of the "corpus," a skull furnished by the "medics!"
During the later years of Professor Williams' incumbency, from 1868 on, the custom was not regularly observed. The class of '74 celebrated it in 1873, and we read that the procession on that occasion was headed by the Grand Marshal on horseback, personifying King William of Germany. Then followed the dray bearing the culprit, who was presided over by a young "devil," one-half black and the other red, provided with horns, tail, and tripod. Then came the junior class, arrayed in fantastic costumes and armed with torches. The Page 1769principal characters were the judges and lawyers, with their white wigs and ermine cloaks, a bishop with his tall hat and string of "beads" (potatoes), and the members of the female delegation, who were truly ridiculous. In the course of march, they halted in front of the residence of the professor of physics and greeted him with hearty cheers. On the campus an immense crowd awaited, and the students immediately proceeded to the stage and commenced the trial. The prosecuting attorney alluded to the fact that physics had robbed them of much midnight oil and disturbed their dreams. This crime was great, and justice demanded his life. The counsel for the defense pleaded mercy for his client … But all his eloquence had no weight with the relentless judge, who sentenced the culprit to immediate death by hanging. On the class program of 1879, we read of the "Crematio Physicae Mechanicae," with the heading "Physics is dead, that mean old cuss, he'll never bore us more," illustrated by the picture of an imp being roasted over a fire.
Class dances have always been traditional social customs. In 1868 the graduating class gave the first Senior Hop on the eve before Thanksgiving day. This became the most definitely organized and important student social function of that time. In 1870 the Senior Social was instituted. The class of '71 gave the last Senior Hop. The juniors adopted the idea, however, and in 1872 occurred the first Junior Hop, now known as the "J-Hop." From 1880 to 1887 a Society Hop was held by the fraternities and independents. The Junior Hop was established under fraternity control by 1886, the fraternities by this time having assumed leadership in social affairs. There was considerable difficulty and rivalry between the fraternities and the independents — between the Palladium (fraternity) and non-Palladium (nonfraternity) groups. In 1896, the junior class desiring more definite control of this social activity, a constitution was drawn up to guide the Hop Committee. The dance was held, in early days, at the Gregory House, the old hotel on the northwest corner of Main and Huron streets. It was held in the Armory in 1876, and in the 1880's, it was often held in Hangsterfer's Hall, at the southwest corner of Main and Washington streets. Later, it was given in Waterman Gymnasium and later still in the Sports Building. Disorderly conduct of the students and public criticism have on several occasions compelled the University to ban the Hop for a given year. Long ago, however, it established itself as a major social tradition.
The class of 1894 of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts was the first to wear academic gowns at a Michigan Commencement. The students of the Law School and the Medical School opposed the idea. When told that it was an old English custom to use academic dress on important occasions they replied: "I suppose then that if someone told you it was raining in England, you'd turn up your trousers." The debate raged for weeks. Finally, some of the "Lits" bought gowns, and the "Laws" and the "Medics" served notice that anyone appearing on campus in such garb would be forcibly disrobed. That was the last year in which morning chapel was held in University Hall in what later became the offices of the recorder and of the dean of students.
The gown-wearing "Lits" set the day on which they were to appear, and the turbulent senior "Laws" prepared for a fracas. The dean of the Law School, learning of their designs, scheduled an Page 1770examination in order to keep them fully occupied during the danger period. The junior "Laws" then took up the cudgels. The "Lits" met in University Hall, donned their robes, and went to chapel in a body. All was calm until they started to leave after the service. The junior "Laws" were waiting at the door. As the procession approached, with Dean Martin L. D'Ooge and President Angell at the head, the "Laws" flashed into action. Dean D'Ooge demanded, "Young gentlemen, young gentlemen, what does this mean?" His question was ignored, and the invaders reached for the first gown. Just then "Prexy" went into action. Beaming upon the vandals with his most genial smile he inquired, "Can I do anything for you, gentlemen?" The enemy sheepishly disappeared. Later, however, a formal challenge to a "rush" was sent to the gownites and as formally accepted. The same evening the "Medics" and the "Laws," robed in nightshirts, met the "Lits." The battle was long and furious, but the "Lits" won. The next morning the fraternity houses on State Street were all aflutter with white streamers torn from the back of the enemy. This was the origin of the famous nightshirt parade which became an annual feature greatly enjoyed by the youth of the University community until the night when the leaders lost their heads and invaded the Library, creating such a disturbance that the parade was abolished.
In later years Swing-out was staged in connection with the vesper services held at four o'clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays in University Hall. These services, which replaced the old chapel services, were well attended by students and townspeople; in those days the Columbian organ was still new and people flocked to hear it.
Once the custom of wearing gowns was established in the Literary College, it was soon adopted by all the senior classes, resulting in part, no doubt, because of the strong contrast between the simple dignity of the black robes and the fantastic garb worn by some of the other students.
The student habit of flipping the tassel on the mortar board from left to right upon completion of graduation is without legitimate grounds; the American Council on Education has ruled that the custom is a mere "superstition."
Gowns for all bachelor's degree candidates should be black serge or worsted, with pointed sleeves; for the master's degree, black silk, serge, or worsted, with long closed sleeves; for the doctorate, black silk, with open round sleeves, faced down the front with velvet, with three velvet bars across each sleeve. The velvet should be black or a color that corresponds to the college or department which is granting the degree. All hoods should be of the same material as the gown and lined with yellow and blue. The edging of the hood should be of satin, silk, or velvet, the color indicating the department named in the diploma. Bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degree hoods should be distinguished by length and width of edging. Mortar board caps of black serge or worsted covering are worn with all robes, with tassel of black or the color of the department granting the degree. Recipients of doctorates may wear tassels of gold thread on the regular cap. While tassels may hang on any side, the cap is an integral part of academic dress and should not be removed except during prayer. Colors distinctive of the various schools, colleges, and departments to which degrees pertain are: arts and letters, white; philosophy, dark blue; science, golden yellow; engineering, orange; fine arts and architecture, brown; law, purple; medicine, green; pharmacy, olive-green; dentistry, lilac; forestry, russet; education, light blue; Page 1771business administration, drab; library science, lemon; public health, salmon pink; music, pink; public administration, black; nursing, apricot; and social work, citron.
In the early days of the University, students and faculty were up betimes. The first requirement of the day was attendance at chapel — in the fall and the spring at five-thirty in the morning, and during the winter at six-thirty. Because the services were held in North College (Mason Hall), which was used also as a dormitory, the students had not far to go. Members of the faculty who lived in the residences on the campus were also near at hand. A recitation followed immediately, before the students were free to go to breakfast at private homes in town. There was a second chapel session at four-thirty or five in the afternoon.
Religious influence was strong in the University. It could scarcely have been otherwise, for the first two professors were ministers. The Reverend George Palmer Williams, who taught natural philosophy, physics, and mathematics, was an Episcopalian, and the Reverend Joseph Whiting, who taught Latin and Greek, was a Presbyterian. Both were capable teachers, but they were selected, at least in part, to counteract the feeling in some circles that a state university would be a godless institution.
For the same reason, probably, attendance at chapel was made compulsory, and students were required to be at church on Sunday in the denomination of their choice. A proctor at each took roll. So determined were the Regents to avoid hostile criticism from religious organizations that for a number of years each of the leading Protestant sects was given representation on the faculty.
The religious practices at the University of Michigan, like the curriculum, were patterned after those of the colleges and universities in the East. Lyman D. Norris, who entered with the first class in 1841, left after three years and was admitted to Yale. In letters to his parents he explained that the programs, both academic and religious, were the same in New Haven as in Ann Arbor.
In 1856 President Henry Philip Tappan abolished the dormitory system because the buildings were needed for classrooms. Students had to find living quarters in town. Perhaps in recognition of the fact that they lived at some distance from the building, the President set the hour for chapel at seven forty-five.
After the Medical School was established in 1850, the announcement in the Catalogue read: "The undergraduate students are required to attend prayers daily in the College chapel." Because a candidate for admission to the Medical School had only to present "satisfactory evidence of good moral character, … [evidence] of a good English education, the knowledge of Natural Philosophy, the elementary Mathematical Sciences, and such an acquaintance with the Latin and Greek Languages as will enable … [him] to appreciate the technical language of medicine and read and write prescriptions," he could scarcely be called a graduate. The real reason for discrimination was that the room used for chapel was large enough for only the Literary students. In 1862 the Regents discussed the possibility of raising funds by subscription to build a chapel, but nothing was done.
Although the program in chapel was probably changed from time to time, the usual order consisted of a prayer and a brief address by the President, a hymn, and announcements. In 1870 Acting-President Henry Simmons Frieze introduced choral music. On Saturdays students Page 1772gave speeches. Saturday services were discontinued in 1871, and a few years later, attendance was made voluntary.
Professor Charles K. Wead explained in a letter written in 1877 that chapel was held at nine-fifteen "for those who choose to attend: from a third to a half of the academic students are usually present — that is, a majority of those who come out of recitation at 9:15 or are to go in at 9:30." He reported that President Angell always conducted the service. Morning prayers continued on this basis until 1895, when they were replaced by semiweekly vesper services.
During the period when attendance was required, some of the students, as might be expected, deliberately cut chapel. Proctors may have had some difficulty in taking roll, for in 1856, according to Daniel Satterthwaite's diary, the seats were numbered to facilitate checking. Because they had little interest in the proceedings, many of the students engaged in horseplay. Hostilities between sophomores and freshmen were carried into chapel, and ribald chants, shouts, and the throwing of hymnbooks, apple cores, and other missiles continued during the service.
This unchecked disorder apparently discouraged members of the faculty from being present. Their absence was resented by the students. One of them, Vincent S. Lovell, on February 7, 1870, wrote in his diary the following observation on the subject: "Quite an array of Professors at prayers this morning. It has always seemed to me as if the Faculty could require the attendance of the students with a good deal better grace, if there were more of them at morning prayers themselves."
A short while after Dr. James B. Angell became President, he wrote a letter in which he described his initial experiences in chapel. At the first session which he attended there was boisterous singing and throwing of missiles before the service began, and there was some commotion while it was in progress. According to Dr. Angell, this condition had prevailed for twenty years, and no president could stop it.
Dr. Angell reported that he did not preside at this first session but that he spoke briefly after the prayer, making no reference to the disorder. The boys went out noisily. The next morning, the President was in the room before the students entered. When he saw some sophomores preparing to throw nuts at the freshmen, he asked them to refrain. They obeyed. As the boys went out, there was some shouting. On the third morning the students were quiet. Dr. Angell made some remarks about the previous disturbances. The boys listened quietly, and there had been no further outbreaks up to the time of writing. Some students, however, found other means of amusement. Later, a horse was brought into chapel, and on another occasion freshmen put varnish on the sophomores' benches. President Angell had the respect of the students, and, in spite of such occasional lapses, during his administration the service was conducted in a dignified manner.
Class and Interschool Rivalry
Class rivalry, particularly between the freshman and sophomore classes, has been traditional ever since the early days of the University. This feeling, which has found expression in many forms, has been the result not only of student enthusiasm but particularly of an effort and a desire on the part of those already on the campus to initiate newcomers. From the first, there was rivalry between members of the various schools — for example, between the "Medics" and Page 1773"Laws," or the "Lits" and "Medics" and "Laws."
When the University Senate, in the late 1860's, established University Day in order to bring about a closer relationship between the students in the different departments, disputes arose concerning the selection of the chief officers for that day. The order of march finally decided upon was Medical class, Law class, and Literary class. The first University Day took place on November 17, 1869. The second, on November 21, 1870, resulted in a fight. The order of the classes on that occasion was Law, Literary, and Medical. As the procession returned from the exercises, which were held in one of the city churches, the "Laws," who were carrying the blue silk banner of their department, were attacked by undergraduate "Lits." A wild "rush" followed, with considerable damage to the members of the classes and the tearing of the banner. Such bitter feeling resulted that the celebration of University Day had to be abandoned.
In 1872 members of the Medical class tried to play football on the same field on which the contest between the freshman and sophomore Literary classes was scheduled. A struggle resulted between the "Lits" and "Medics," but the "Lits" succeeded in driving the "Medics" off the campus and outside the fence. Many spectators watched the long struggle in which, it is said, "nearly 700 or more men pushed and shouted and tugged and wrestled." The "Lits" marched in triumphant procession, arranged in the order of their classes, into the town where with cheers and songs they celebrated their victory.
When the students lived in the college dormitories it was customary for individual classes to meet in the same recitation rooms day after day. In addition to a desire to show their class spirit by wearing caps and colors, they also gave vent to their feelings by hazing and "rushing." The classes of '68, '70, and '73 seem to have had a superabundance of such spirit. Strong class friendships and interests helped to increase class rivalry. With the growth of the University, however, the number of student rooming houses decreased, compulsory attendance at chapel was discontinued, and, as a result, class spirit decreased. After the introduction of the elective system of studies, whereby members of the various classes often met in the same room, the consciousness of class distinction died down.
Before the building of University Hall, however, when conditions in the Literary College were so crowded, "rushes" ensued in corridors and on stairways, in which the freshmen tussled with the "sophs." In October, 1867, a fight between the two classes inaugurated the custom of holding good-natured tests of strength, in which the faculty did not intervene. When the class of '72 vented its wrath upon the class of '73 by hurling apples and other missiles in chapel, the faculty took action, and a per capita assessment upon the culprits to pay for damage done to the chapel was made. Soon rivalry took the form of football contests between the classes. Each side mustered an indefinite number of men; the object, in a fairly simple style of football, was to kick two out of three goals. Boxing and wrestling matches often accompanied the game, and the result was a so-called "football rush." The rivalry between the classes of '92 and '93, between 117 sophomores and 163 freshmen, resulting in injury to one freshman, helped to do away with this form of sport.
During hazing activities between the classes of '73 and '74, a band of sophomores "pumped" a group of freshmen by treating their heads to a cold water bath. This form of hazing was a popular college Page 1774sport. By the spring of 1874, hazing had become so common that it was looked upon as a nuisance, and the faculty determined to put an end to it by using the penalty of suspension. In April, 1874, three sophomores and three freshmen were suspended, thus arousing great indignation among the students. Parades and meetings were held, and two faculty members were hissed on the street. Fellow members of the sophomore and freshman classes filed petitions claiming equal guilt with the suspended students. This resulted, finally, in the dismissal of all eighty-one students for the remainder of the college year, with a great deal of attendant publicity.
During the 1880's, it was popular to kidnap the toastmaster of the freshman banquet. The introduction and popularity of organized athletic sports and games and organized physical exercise did much to divert excessive class spirit into other and less disturbing channels. At the same time, with the growth of the University, student clubs and societies were organized, resulting in a more systematic control of student affairs and of all nonathletic relationships. This systematic organization of student life began in the 1870's; by 1905 a student council had been organized to guide and assist in all such matters.
In the 1890's the class rivalries found expression in the "banner scrap." In fall, several weeks after the opening of college, on a designated Friday, the freshmen would gather about the flagpole to defend their banner against the sophomore class. The struggle lasted until the sophomores captured the freshman banner or until such time as the freshmen had been able to defend it for at least thirty minutes. After the contest, both classes continued to indulge their competitive zest, largely in an attempt to force members of the other class up trees. The freshman banquet customarily took place in February in Granger's Academy. The sophomores aimed to keep as many freshmen as possible from attending. For a time this was done by capturing freshmen and shaving the hair from their heads. This practice became such a nuisance and aroused so much criticism that it was abolished in 1906. In May four big contests were held. The "Tug of War," in which sixty members of the freshman class opposed sixty members of the sophomore class took place on the Huron River. A flag was fastened to the middle of a 350-foot rope, and the victors had to pull their opponents across the river in such a way that the flag arrived high and dry on the winning side. This contest was supervised by the Student Council. On the eve of the "Tug of War" the "Great Rock Scrap" took place. From 8:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. the following morning the freshmen attempted to place a large rock bearing their class numerals upon the campus, which during that time was defended by the sophomores. On the following morning, at Ferry Field, the contest between the classes was continued by a Relay Race and a Push Ball contest. The classes were so well organized that every member was able to participate in one or more of these contests. At their close, class rivalry for the school year was considered at an end. Cap Night, held in June, celebrated the cessation of hostilities.
Oftentimes, adventurous spirits performed harmless but rather unpleasant "pranks" in the name of their class. Members of the class of '73 unfurled a huge "Junior Brigands" banner on the flagstaff which surmounted the dome of the newly completed University Hall. A "tobacco-sign Indian" also found its way to the pedestal above the dome. To the Indian were tied four roosters, which crowed unceasingly and distressfully from the middle of the night until released Page 1775in the morning by the sore-pressed and disgusted janitor. In very early days a bell, mounted on a post between the North and South buildings (old Mason Hall and South Wing), was rung to awaken the inhabitants of the dormitories and to summon them to classes and chapel. A common student prank was to muffle the bell, to steal it, or in some way to render it useless so that it could not ring. Upon one occasion, following the theft of the bell, President Tappan's wise handling of the situation so shamed the malefactors that they not only returned it but agreed to attend classes regularly without being summoned. In those days strict attendance records were kept. Practical jokers, out of pure mischief, were not adverse to lodging a donkey or a cow (at that time animals were frequently pastured on the campus), a goose or a rooster in the classroom, to the surprise and discomfiture of the professor and the childish glee of a few boisterous spirits. Once a large amount of hay found its way into chapel before the exercises. Certainly such "jokes" were crude, but were they any less annoying than the present-day custom of painting class numerals on sidewalks and University buildings or of invading women's dormitories in raids?
In 1900, when interdepartmental rivalry ran high among the students, the "Lits" raised the class banner, flaunting the numerals of the class, to the top of the University flagpole. The enraged "Laws" enlisted the aid of a sharpshooter from the West, who brought the emblem down at the second shot. During the early 1900's, the practices of haircutting, face-painting, house-raiding, kidnaping — particularly of officers of the rival classes — were common. "Campus tickets" were sold to gullible freshmen every fall. The rivalry between the freshman and sophomore classes on "Black Friday" in the fall was accompanied by much disorder and unruly conduct. "Pumping" and "hair-cutting" activities and "traditions" had become a veritable "nightmare." In October, 1908, the Law faculty took measures which led to the "reform" of the traditional class "rush" and did much to abolish the more dangerous aspects of class rivalry. Pushball and tug-of-war contests were substituted for the annual flag and pole rushes.
On August 6, 1845, the first University of Michigan Commencement was held in the Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor. At that time, the only division of the University was the Literary Department. Each member of the class of 1845, which consisted of eleven men, was required to give an oration. The event was chronicled in the Michigan State Gazette of Jackson on August 11, 1845, as follows:
Correspondence of the State Gazette
Editor of the Gazette,
Dear Sir: — In compliance with your request, I will give you such notes as I made of the commencement exercises of the University held in Ann Arbor Wednesday the 6th instant. This is the first regular "commencement" of our University, and its proceedings were viewed with much interest, by members from various parts of the State who had gathered to witness the proceedings. Michigan may well be proud of possessing such an institution as her University, which, although originated among the numerous extravagant schemes of the Mason Administration, yet remains a permanent blessing to the people, and although its funds have been somewhat crippled during the last few years, on account of the pressure of the times preventing that sale of the lands with which she was endowed, that was anticipated, still much good substantial learning has been diffused by its agency, and many young Page 1776ideas moulded for usefulness and honor. The proceedings of this commencement were unusually interesting, from the fact of its being the first time it has furnished a graduating class, or conferred degrees, and much solicitude was felt to see what would be the first fruits of the State's literary bantling.
The procession was formed at the University grounds at ten o'clock Wednesday morning and marched to the Presbyterian church, where the exercises were appointed to be held and in which a platform had been erected and arrangements made.
I noticed on the platform a number of the Regents, the Governor, Judges Fitch, Whipple, and Goodwin, and other dignitaries of the State, and a number of clergymen among whom was Mr. Fitch of our own town to whom was assigned the introductory prayer.
And here I would like, were it not too invidious, where all performed their part so creditably, to mention particularly the pleasure which I experienced in listening to the addresses of some of the speakers. The salutatory address was by Edmund Fish of Bloomfield, delivered in that peculiarly stately and harmonious idiom, the Latin, and was followed by a beautiful address from Edwin Lawrence of Monroe, on the subject of romance, who reviewed the classic days of Greece and Rome, the subsequent dark ages of Europe, and the adventurous times of the Crusaders, in a manner peculiarly elegant and graceful.
An address by P. W. H. Rawls of Kalamazoo, on "the perfection of philosophy" was particularly eloquent and well composed, and delivered with superior diction and purity of style, and also a poem, "The Nazarene," by the same person, was extremely well composed and eloquently delivered. An address by George E. Parmelee of Ann Arbor, on "the proper direction of intellectual effort," displayed much variety of thought and finish of composition combined with an accomplished and interesting delivery.
"The claims of agriculture and science" was presented by George W. Pray of Washtenaw, in an address replete with forcible argument and sound practical logic, and was highly creditable to him both for its sentiments, and the manner of its delivery. It exhibited the claims of agriculture to the attention of scientific men, and the benefits to the country of science so directed, in a masterly manner, illustrated by much vigor of thought and sound reasoning.
A Greek poem, by Thomas B. Cuming of Grand Rapids, was recited in an elegant and interesting manner, by its youthful author, who though in appearance still a freshman was among those who received the degree of Bachelor of Arts.
The valedictory address was by Fletcher O. Marsh of Kalamazoo, who well acquitted himself in the part assigned him. His reference to the past history of the University to the long association of teachers and students, and the prospect of their immediate parting, and his allusions to the sudden decease of their respected President was peculiarly affecting and appropriate.
Degrees were conferred on eleven graduates.
The music from a choir composed mostly of students, with which the exercises were interspersed was throughout excellent, — The address to the graduating class was by Professor Tenbrook.
In the afternoon a society of alumni was formed and an address delivered before the literary societies by Rev. Mr. Duffield of Detroit, with his usual ability.
Yours, truly, J. M. T.
Ann Arbor, August 7, 1845.
[J. M. T. = Jerome M. Treadwell.]
The custom of having each member of the class give an oration was continued until the classes became so large that it was impossible; thereafter a few graduates were chosen to participate in the program. This was not a very satisfactory arrangement, however, as it was difficult to choose the representatives of the class fairly. The dissatisfaction with the past method of conducting the Commencement exercises, together with the fact that in 1878 for the first time the Commencement exercises of the Literary and Medical departments were held together, led to the issuing of an invitation Page 1777to an outside speaker to give the Commencement address.
Up to 1878 each department of the University held its Commencement separately. In 1878 the term of the Medical Department was extended to June and the exercises of the Literary and Medical departments were combined. From 1884 on, the Commencement exercises of all departments were held in June.
Until 1874 the graduation exercises were held in the different churches in Ann Arbor, and occasionally in the hall of the Union School Building. With the completion of University Hall, the University campus had, for the first time, an auditorium large enough to take care of the crowd of townspeople and parents who attended the Commencement exercises.
University Hall continued to be the center of Commencement activities until Hill Auditorium was opened. A few years after World War I Commencement exercises were transferred to Ferry Field or to Yost Field House, depending on weather conditions. The exercises are now held in the Stadium in good weather.
The present order of exercises consists of the national anthem, the invocation, the address to the graduating classes, the conferring of degrees (including honorary degrees), the response of the graduating classes, the welcome to the Alumni Association, singing "The Yellow and Blue," and benediction.
The Students and the Town
There were many conflicts in the early days between members of the student body and various elements in the young and growing town of Ann Arbor. Some of these events are interesting because they reflect not only a mischievous penchant on the part of the students for playing pranks and practical jokes, but also the misunderstanding which arose between students and townspeople and the resulting effort by citizens and faculty to preserve law and order.
The population of Ann Arbor was greatly increased during the middle of the nineteenth century by the immigration of German settlers. These people were industrious and thrifty and became in time a leading influence in the life of the town. Some of them early established drinking and eating places in Ann Arbor after the German style. Among such taverns were Hangsterfer's and Binder's, both favorite student haunts.
In 1856 occurred what later was to become known as the "Dutch War." Two young men had made themselves conspicuously unpleasant at Hangsterfer's. They were reprimanded by the proprietor, and, a quarrel resulting, the students were ejected. The next evening they returned, greatly reinforced, and threateningly informed the proprietor that he must treat the crowd or "take the consequences." Upon his refusal, the students charged him with the battle cry, "revenge or beer!" A fight resulted in which knives were drawn, clubs were swung, kegs and barrels broken up, beer spilled, and the place badly damaged. The terrified defendants fled, with the students in pursuit. They were halted by the police, and although the officers of the law used diplomacy in attempting to settle the difficult situation, the students nursed a grudge and awaited an opportunity "to get even." After attending an Alpha Nu "spread" at Hangsterfer's, six students, ready for mischief and bent on revenge, decided to attend a dance for the townspeople, advertised to take place at Binder's. By means of a window, they gained access to a room where refreshments were laid out ready to be served. Here, carelessly noisy while eating and drinking, they were discovered, and although five got away, one was Page 1778captured and held. Those who escaped rushed back to the campus for reinforcements, and a crowd of students surrounded Binder's demanding the release of the prisoner. Binder, in turn, retaliated by asking a ransom of ten dollars for the culprit. The students became angrier and more determined. Using three large timbers as battering rams, they advanced upon the building, much to the terror of the guests within. Some of them obtained muskets. Surrounded by such a hostile force, Binder yielded and gave up the prisoner. The next day warrants were issued for the six students, but they were aided not only by their fellows, it is said, but by members of the faculty, and were so well shielded that in time the complainant, when confronted with a charge of selling liquor to minors, withdrew his complaint, and allowed his warrants to be quashed.
Other exciting conflicts between students and townspeople arose out of a mischievous desire on the part of the students to tear up the wooden sidewalks which lined the city streets and to carry away the gates and the posts of the fences which enclosed private yards. In the early days many complaints in the college papers concerned the constant need for repair of these rickety walks. On Monday evening, April 11, 1870, members of the class of 1873 raided and tore up the walks, making a very thorough job of it. The malefactors were threatened with arrest. City officials were violently angry, and only through the agency of Acting President Frieze, who took upon himself the financial obligation of settling the matter, were friendly relations restored. The class of 1873 later reimbursed Dr. Frieze by an assessment on the class.
During the 1880's the celebration of Halloween caused much damage to the town. In 1881 some junior medical students smashed street lamps and were fined $150. In 1883 the walks were torn up again; business signs were removed and lost to the rightful owners; and a statue of Benjamin Franklin which adorned the campus was covered with fresh paint. Considerable antagonism existed between the students and the Ann Arbor police force. At the slightest provocation "wild" students were arrested by the minions of the law.
For years there were no mail deliveries in Ann Arbor. The post office was lodged in a small frame building at the northwest corner of Ann Street and Fourth Avenue. In the late afternoon and evening, it was customary for the students to assemble and stand in line for their mail. On October 12, 1877, the freshmen and sophomores, after threatening to attack each other at the post office, adjourned to the campus for a "rush," but certain citizens had been sufficiently alarmed to summon help. A student who had taken no part in the disturbance was foolishly arrested in the post office, however, and not discharged until the next morning. This resulted in more student ill feeling toward the police.
At the opening of the 1879 term, such resentment had developed between students and the local constabulary that on the evening of October 14, policemen were stationed at the post office door so that only one student at a time could enter. It became apparent that an unnecessary delay would ensue in the delivery of the mail. The angry students broke out in hostile shouts and yells, and of course a disturbance arose. On the following night a large crowd of students and armed citizens gathered. The fire bell was rung to call out the state militia, and the latter charged with fixed bayonets. The mayor offered two dollars for every student arrested, and many were taken into custody. This unfortunate action Page 1779caused considerable trouble and did nothing to allay the ill feeling and animosity which was arising between "town and gown."
Another "rush" occurred in the post office in November, 1890. Several days later, rifle shots were heard in the center of the town. Several hundred students gathered, sensing and perhaps looking for trouble. Although the shots had been fired to celebrate the marriage of a member of the local militia, a noisy and excited crowd gathered in front of the house where the festivities were being held. The militia was called out, a conflict arose, the police attacking and trying to capture the students. One freshman, apparently only an onlooker, was struck by the butt end of a musket. A hand-to-hand fight ensued in which the sergeant of the militia was injured by a missile thrown by someone in the crowd. The student who had been attacked died. Public sentiment was aroused, and action by the governor of the state resulted. The local police force was disbanded, thus helping to allay the bitter feeling of the students toward the townspeople.
Many other student pranks caused difficulties between citizens and students. Upon one occasion, when the electric street railway was new in Ann Arbor, a student was carried beyond the place where he wished to alight. An argument arose between student and motorman. The student, demanding that he be returned to his destination, drew a revolver and wounded the motorman. Although he was arrested and expelled from the University, he escaped conviction.
On Commencement Day, in 1878, when the first Ann Arbor Railroad train arrived from Toledo, one of the flatcars contained a huge cannon, which was captured and pulled up State Street to the campus. During Commencement exercises in University Hall someone touched off the cannon, and the report, it is said, "was thunderous." Only President Angell's poise and sense of humor saved the dignity of the Commencement exercises.
One of the most sensational of student riots, known as the Star Theater riot, occurred on the night of March 16, 1908. The Star Theater was a "nickel" motion picture house situated on the south side of Washington Street, midway between Main Street and Fourth Avenue. One of a group of students persisted in whistling during the performance after he had been warned to be quiet. The proprietor ordered the troublemakers to leave. An altercation arose, during which one student struck the manager. In the scramble which resulted, the wrongdoers were ejected, but the next night several hundred students gathered outside the theater to jeer and sing.
On the following Monday the proprietor announced that his performance was conducted for townspeople and added that he did not care for student patronage. That evening almost a thousand students gathered in the street before the theater, defying the management. Eggs and vegetables were thrown at the theater. Bricks from a nearby building in the process of construction were hurled, and mob spirit ran riot. The theater and its contents were well-nigh demolished, the proprietor escaping by way of the back door. The fire department was called out, but streams of water did little to deter the angry students. The officers of the law were almost helpless. Even President Angell and Dean Hutchins, who were called, could not make themselves heard. On the following day eighteen students whom the police had been able to pick up on the outskirts of the mob found themselves in jail. Fifteen were turned over to the circuit court, but were bailed out and Page 1780criminal charges against them dismissed. The student body, however, dug down into its pockets and raised more than $1,000 to pay for the damages.
Riots prompted by the desire for free shows at the theaters have not been uncommon since that time, especially since the increase in the number of motion picture theaters. It was customary in the 1920's and 1930's for the management to give complimentary performances at the time of class games and on other special occasions.
In the early 1920's, upon one occasion, students rushed the Whitney Theater to see a well-known musical, entering the theater without tickets and occupying the best seats, thereby preventing the rightful occupants from seeing the performance. The united efforts of Dean Bursley and President Burton were necessary at that time to enable the "show" to go on.
In the early days the visit of a circus to Ann Arbor was an event. It was not unusual for groups of students to "rush" circus performances. On May 23, 1871, they bolted classes to see the Van Amburgh Circus, and only two boys appeared in Professor Jones's Greek class. (It is interesting to note that later all of the bolters were suspended until the following September.) Owing to some slight altercation between students and circus personnel, the students returned in the evening bent on mischief. By some trick they managed to loosen the seat supports so that both seats and occupants fell during the performance. A riot ensued. Memory of this escapade is preserved for Michigan students in the well-known song "I'm Going to the Hamburg Show," the word "Hamburg" having been substituted for the long since forgotten Van Amburgh. Another unfortunate "circus prank" occurred in the 1900's during a visit of Ringling Brothers to Ann Arbor. At that time the students threw firecrackers under the elephants during the parade. The terrified elephants, of course, stampeded, and the crowd rushed off in all directions. Ringling Brothers never visited Ann Arbor again, and for years the larger circuses avoided the city.
Distinctive college songs in American colleges doubtless came into being under the influence of student songs, particularly the German student songs, of the European universities. Many are obviously of German parentage, the music having been taken over bodily in some instances and the refrains vocalized in imitation of old German drinking songs. The first collection of college secret-society songs appeared in 1849, and Yale's first book of songs bears the date 1853.
The college songs of the University of Michigan rank high among those of other American colleges. Expressing the conviviality and inspiration of student life, wherever Michigan undergraduates or alumni meet, the singing of these old songs at once revives sentiments and memories which are dear to all and renews bonds of affection and loyalty.
During the 1860's efforts were made by student publications to increase the interest in singing at Michigan. In 1860 the Palladium encouraged the writing of college songs, and in the University Magazine for February, 1862, appeared "Ann Arbor Litoria," which became very popular:
Professor Frieze (see Part I: The Administration of Henry Simmons Frieze), who was an excellent musician and a devoted lover of music, rendered incalculable service to the University and to the student body in his untiring efforts to develop an interest in things musical. He introduced and directed the choir at chapel exercises and constantly endeavored to arouse enthusiasm for student songs and singing. His efforts led to the establishment of definite student musical organizations, instrumental and vocal, of choral groups, class glee clubs and finally of the University Glee Club. New impetus was thereby given to the writing and singing of Michigan songs.
The most noteworthy collection is contained in a pamphlet, issued in 1889, entitled Songs of the Yellow and Blue. The publication of this slight volume marked an important step in the history of student singing at Michigan. The book contains some twenty songs, the words by Charles Mills Gayley ('78) and Fred Newton Scott ('84), and the music for the most part by Albert A. Stanley (A.M. hon. Mich. '90, D. Mus. '30) — all three honored alumni of the University and important figures in its development. In March, 1890, a second edition appeared. Some of these songs have become forever associated with Michigan student life. The first song in the volume is "The Yellow and Blue," the words by Gayley and music arranged from Balfe's "Pirate's Chorus." "Laudes Atque Carmina," the words by Gayley and music by Stanley, and "Goddess of the Inland Seas," the words by Gayley and the music adapted from J. Peters, are among the noblest and most inspired of college songs. Other songs celebrate the fun and good spirit of student life. Worthy of mention in this category are "Birds of a Feather," the "Cigarette Song," "The Co-ed That Vanquishes Me," "Elixir Juventatis," "Romeo and Juliet," and "We, Women of the Nation." "Ann Arbor" was arranged to the tune "The Page 1782Watch on the Rhine," at that time a widely used melody in American schools and colleges. This collection, of which Michigan can certainly be proud, has been described as "easily superior to the song-book of any other college" of its day.
In student publications of the 1880's and 1890's are many excellent verses and songs which were adapted to popular tunes of the times. Some of them today are merely a memory. In the Castalian of 1892 appeared "Universitas Michiganensium" by Frank W. Howe ('93), sung to the tune "Michigan My Michigan."
The "Friar's Song," the words by Harold W. Bowman ('00), was sung for many years at the meetings of the Friars Club and deserves a place in any Michigan songbook. Another old favorite is "'Tis of Michigan We Sing, with a merry, merry ring …" Of the three outstanding contributions in the volume of 1889, the "Laudes Atque Carmina," one of the most memorable of American college songs, has lost in favor because of the almost universal unfamiliarity with the Latin language, and the "Goddess of the Inland Seas" has proven a bit too involved in its classical allusions for modern tastes. "The Yellow and Blue" has taken its place as Michigan's college song.
Student groups have always sung the popular tunes of the times, sometimes adapting them to more purely local conditions. The popularity of athletics, especially of football, since the late 1890's has given rise to many stirring songs and marches. Best known of these has been "The Victors" by Louis Elbel ('96-'99), which has become the Michigan march on all occasions and is known as such throughout the land. Scarcely less popular is the football song, "Varsity," words by J. Fred Lawton ('11), and music by Earl V. Moore ('12). These two stirring march songs have inspired many a Michigan man and woman at athletic contests and pep-meetings. Not so well known nor so popular, but worthy of mention, are the "Men of the Maize and Blue," music by A. J. Gornetzky to words by W. A. P. John; "Fight Men of Michigan," words and music by William C. Archi, Jr., ('14, '17l); "Win for Michigan," by William T. Whedon ('81); and "Men of Yost," by M. B. Cooper, also the composer of the "Michigan Drinking Song."
The Michigan Union operas of the first two decades of the twentieth century provided many of the favorite later day student songs. "Michigenda" (1908) gave the hits "When Night Falls, Dear" and "Oh, Alma Mater," by Roy D. Welch ('09), who also wrote "A Faithful Pipe to Smoke" for the opera "Culture." "Koanzaland" (1909) gave to Michigan two of its well-known favorites, "In College Days" and "Michigan, Good-bye," words by Donald A. Kahn ('07-'10) and music by Earl V. Moore. "The Crimson Chest" (1910) contained the "Bum Army" and "Take Me Back to College," and "Contrairie Mary" (1913) produced the "Friar's Song" and "Men of the Maize and Blue." One of the most widely sung of later day songs has been the "I Want To Go Back to Michigan, to Dear Ann Arbor Town …" The enthusiasm for athletics and the operatic ambitions of the Union have not succeeded, however, in giving us songs which are comparable to the "Laudes Atque Carmina" and the "Yellow and Blue" of the Songbook issued in 1889.
Humphrey, Edwin H. The Michigan Book. Ann Arbor: Inland Press, 1898.
Michigan's Favorite College Songs. Ed. by Roy D. Welch and Earl V. Moore. Ann Arbor: Publ. by Mrs. Minnie Maes Root.
The Michigan University Song Book. Comp. and ed. by Franklin Wagner ('99-'01, '04l). New York City: Hinds, Noble and Eldredge, 1904.
Shaw, Wilfred B. The University of Michigan. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.
Songs of the Yellow and Blue. Words by Charles M. Gayley and Fred N. Scott. Music by Albert A. Stanley. Detroit, Mich.: Charles Babzin and Co., 1889.