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The Dartmouth
May 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

History of Homecoming reflects Dartmouth spirit

Homecoming seems like a blur for most people who look back on their Dartmouth experiences after being away from Hanover for a few decades.

Many people who spoke to The Dartmouth recalled the parties and the fire. But, for some, specific events jumped to mind -- events that might not necessarily make it to the history books, but events without which Homecoming would not have been the same.

The memory that sticks out in Fred Wearn's '76 mind is of his friend losing a National League All Star ring.

"My friend's father was the president of the National League, and he had gotten him an All Star Ring, and while we were throwing stuff into the Bonfire, his ring apparently slipped off as well," Wearn said. "We went to look for it the next morning, but it wasn't there."

As the Bonfire illuminates the Green in the background, the class of 2003 will join upperclassmen and alumni tonight to celebrate Dartmouth Night, continuing a tradition that started 104 years ago and creating memories that will last forever.

The beginnings of Homecoming

Homecoming as we know it originated in the late 1980s, before which the weekend was called Dartmouth Night.

"The term 'homecoming' was a term that the athletics department used in an official capacity," Scott Stevens '85 recalled. "Once a friend of mine got a letter from the administration saying that 'here, we have Dartmouth Night. The term homecoming is for cow-colleges.'"

Much has changed since the first Dartmouth Night, yet one of the College's oldest traditions has survived through three major wars, outbreaks of violence and countless other pranks.

The first Dartmouth Night took place in the fall of 1895 when College President Dr. William Tucker, trying to "capitalize the history of the college," formally welcomed the freshman class into the long line of scholars who had passed through the College's doors.

It was on the second Dartmouth Night when "Men of Dartmouth," written by Richard Hovey of the class of 1885, became the College's alma mater.

In its early days, Dartmouth Night was an occasion of reflecting upon the rich past of Dartmouth. Students and alumni gathered in the old Dartmouth Hall to hear speeches from the College President, read telegrams from the alumni and celebrate their community with the lighting of the bonfire.

The first major celebration of Dartmouth Night was in September 1901 when the past and the present members of the College came together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Daniel Webster's graduation. That evening, students and alumni " dressed in eighteenth century costumes " marched through Hanover in a torchlight parade.

In 1907, the festivities moved into the newly-constructed Webster Hall, but the evening's speeches were delivered outdoors in front of Dartmouth Hall.

Traditions form

The Bonfire, which has become the focal point of Homecoming, actually preceded it by 17 years. The first bonfire was not actually planned.

When Dartmouth won a football victory against Manchester College, students collected whatever they could and set the huge pile on fire in the Green. The first organized bonfire took place in 1893 when Dartmouth beat Amherst 34-0.

The tradition of the freshman class running around the Bonfire first originated in 1904, when students ran around the bonfire in their pajamas as Winston Churchill and Lord Dartmouth looked on.

Recent generations of Dartmouth students have had their share of memorable moments during Homecoming.

In the 1940s, Homecoming festivities were scaled back, as the United States was involved in a World War. Restrictions placed during the war meant that alumni telegrams could not be read, thus halting one of the major traditions of Homecoming.

The arrival of women

A hallmark of Dartmouth Night before co-education was the arrival of hundreds of women who came to provide dates for the all-male student body.

"I remember the women coming to town, although most of us had steady girlfriends," Ronald Foley '63 said. "The entire freshman class would wear green hats called beanies and the upperclassmen would make fun of us."

Homecoming activities experienced a lull from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, when students, disenchanted by the violence of the Vietnam War, cancelled the revelry.

Homecoming calamities

However, the Bonfire tradition survived through the years. In 1971, a farmer agreed to donate his barn for the fire. Much to his amazement, he found his barn intact, as the students had burned down the wrong barn.

In 1976, the Bonfire was lit before schedule, and actually burned down two days before Dartmouth Night.

A bomb scare caused the College to dismantle the structure of the Bonfire in 1982. Nothing was found.

In 1984, a town ordinance limiting the height of the bonfire to 60 feet prohibited the class of 1988 from building the Bonfire with 88 tiers.

The Homecoming of 1987 was witness to protests from a group of women, calling themselves "Womyn to overthrow Dartmyth."

The women dressed up as witches and threw eggs at the speaker's podium.

In 1991, students protesting the college policy banning open alcohol sources, handcuffed themselves to the Bonfire and shouted "We want kegs! We want kegs!"

A tradition manifested itself in violence in 1992, when upperclassmen and the freshmen guarding the Bonfire started a riot on the Green.

During the sweep in 1993, many members of the class of 1997 jumped on tops of cars and vandalized town property.

Nowadays, the Green Key Society leads the freshman sweep, which has resulted in more controlled Homecoming weekends during the last six years.