The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
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.