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College History: Traditions


Amy Drake, class of 2008, conducted research for this project.

Since the late nineteenth century, traditions at institutions of higher education in the United States have played a critical role in shaping student life and building an organizational culture on campuses across the country. Like students at other colleges, undergraduates at Springfield College have created, maintained, revived, and transformed several emblems, ceremonies, rituals, and other traditions. Many traditions beloved to generations of Springfield College alumni parallel those developed at other colleges. These include various freshmen-related rules, such as beanies and freshmen week, as well as mountain day. Often traditions encourage and later resolve class rivalries.

Traditions evolved over time as the academic culture in general and student life at Springfield College in particular changed. The first record of traditions at Springfield College appeared in the Student Handbook of 1915-1916. In 1930 the Student Association adopted a set of "established traditions" after a thorough review by a committee of students and faculty. The first tradition mandated that "Freshmen shall know the traditions, the Alma Mater, the cheers, 'Raise a Song for Springfield,' and shall carry the handbook during the fall term.

By 1971, the Varsity "S" Club, which had been responsible for fifty years for upholding College traditions through personal example and enforcing their regulation, was concerned that many traditions were anachronistic. They asked the student body whether specific College traditions, such as greeting everyone on campus and not walking on the grass, should be abolished or altered. The more than 600 students who responded to the questionnaire recommended that most traditions should remain largely unchanged. 


Stepping Up Day

Started in spring 1926, Stepping Up Day marks the academic accomplishments of students as members of each class advance a year in their college careers. During the ceremony, held on MacLean terrace at Alumni Hall, the four class presidents pass on their current class symbols to the upcoming classes. In compliance with this newly gained recognition, students assume the responsibility and privileges of their new status. The highlight of this rise in class is that all freshmen, led by their class president, get their first chance to march along Senior Walk. It is also on this day that those elected to offices of student leadership assume the administrative position. Brief remarks are made by members of the College administration, alumni, and student body at the ceremony.




The freshman beanie tradition dates to the early 1920s. Entering students were required to wear their beanie all year and only removed it on Stepping Up Day, originally called Decapitation Day, in the spring unless they defeated the sophomores in the inter-class game of football. The first beanies were green. Research suggests this was because new students were "green," that is, inexperienced. In 1930 the beanies were changed to maroon and white to match the College’s colors. The Springfield Student newspaper of May 9, 1930 explained that "In adopting the change, it was pointed out that the purpose of the Frosh cap is not to make the yearlings look ridiculous, but to identify them." During the 1970s transfer students switched to wearing a cap rather than a beanie to indicate that they were not first-year students. 

Freshman Camp

With the encouragement of boys work pioneer Edgar M. Robinson, class of 1901, the College created a camp program for freshmen in 1924. Springfield College has offered one of the oldest and largest camp leadership training programs. Following a fire at the camp site at Gerrish Grove in 1930, the College built the Pueblo of the Seven Fires and other buildings at the new East Campus along Lake Massasoit (known to locals as Watershops Pond). Courses comprise lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on projects in campcraft and field science including such related subjects as flowering plants and astronomy. In addition to attending formal courses taught by faculty, students have cooked meals, learned College songs, and enjoyed swimming in the Lake for more than eight decades. 

Freshman Week

Since the 1920s, all freshmen have been expected to attend a series of activities, formal and informal, academic and festive, to acquaint them with College traditions and student life on campus. These initiation events have evolved from gentle hazing rituals to more organized activities sponsored, in later years, by the College administration and faculty as well as students. Designed, in part, to develop solidarity and unity of the class, the haze week ordeal included various silly and harrowing activities. The 1926 Massasoit yearbook, for instance, describes the initiation that occurred at West (now Judd) Gym following a supper in Woods Hall and parade in downtown Springfield in which the freshmen were presented to the mayor at the municipal building. "In their stockinged feet they were introduced to the electric mats, egg shampoos were administered and the usual shoe rush was held."  

Interclass Scraps

From the 1920s through the 1960s freshmen united against the sophomore class in a series of friendly rivalries. These events ranged from a surprise flag scrap to a cane rush and various other competitions. One of the roughest games was cage ball, which the two classes played every fall. Played on a football field with a ball roughly nine feet in diameter, the object of cage ball was to push the ball across an established line to the opponent's side for a goal. About the only rule was that play stopped when the ball went out of bounds. Other annual contests included an action-packed rope pull over Lake Massasoit.