We are firmly in the middle of homecoming season. Dresses are being bought, dinner plans are being made, and picturesque spots all over town are being flocked to by parents trying to catch their young adults in a perfect timeless moment on their phones.
We all know homecoming (or ho-co as the kids are calling it now) as the annual event at high schools and colleges across the country that is supposedly about welcoming back alumni to campus when actually it's just a prom dress rehearsal for high schoolers and an excuse to get a little extra drunk for college kids. I know that there are always a few alumni that return to campus for homecoming but it's mostly celebrated by current students these days.
But where did this tradition all start? There are a few schools that will claim that they were the first to celebrate homecoming. Harvard and Yale have been playing an annual football game since the 1870s and the University of Michigan used to play an annual alumni football game beginning in 1897, but it appears that the University of Illinois in Champaign holds the claim of having the first official "Homecoming."
The University of Illinois has a fascinating paper that you can read on their online library that outlines the origins of the tradition.
It all starts with two seniors at U of I in 1910. Clarence Foss Williams and W. Elmer Ekblaw wanted to think of a way to contribute to their alma mater.
They agreed that a football game should be the centerpiece of the celebration, serving as a "magnet" to attract the alumni.
They drew up their plan and submitted it to the senior honor society Shield and Trident (definitely not a shady organization like the Skull and Bones), who approved the idea.
On Sunday, March 13, 1910, the two senior honor societies - the Shield and Trident and the Phoenix - met in the basement of the YMCA and resolved to urge the Council of Administration, the University's central body for student affairs and regulation, to sanction an annual homecoming.
They scheduled the University of Chicago to come south and play, what would turn out to be, an annual football game. Soon after the idea of homecoming spread quickly throughout the Midwest and eventually to the rest of the country.
There are many other schools that can claim inventing a homecoming tradition, pep rallies and such, but the original idea came from right here in Illinois.
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