First Homecoming? 1910, Illinois!

It’s Homecoming season. Several schools vie for the claim of being the first to have a homecoming celebration. Although I usually do not quote Wikipedia, I found this citation amusing. “The NCAA, Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy!, and references from the American TV Drama NCIS give the title to the University of Missouri’s 1911 football game during which alumni were encouraged to attend. It was the first annual homecoming centered around a parade and a football game.” The operative word may be “parade.”

Who am I to contradict Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy!, and NCIS? However, a close examination of  Greek-letter magazines provides evidence that the University of Illinois was home to the first homecoming celebration involving a football game.* I searched 1910 and 1911 issues using variations of the word “Homecoming.” I did this because it is my feeling that the Greek-letter Organization (GLO) journals of the late 1800s and early 1900s helped spread ideas and collegiate traditions among college students. Most of the magazine also included an “Exchanges” section where an editor (or his/her assistant) would offer ideas garnered from the magazines of the other GLOs.

Exhibit 1 – a 1910 issue of the Delta Kappa Epsilon magazine. The University of Illinois chapter letter makes this reference, “The Fall Home-Coming, which is to be the very big University Alumni Reunion of the year, will occur the weekend of the Chicago-Illinois football game, October 15th, at Champaign. A large number of Delta Pi grads will be with us.”

Program from the first Home-coming game at the University of Illinois (Courtesy of University of Illinois Archives)

Program from the first Home-Coming game at the University of Illinois (Courtesy of University of Illinois Archives)

Exhibit 2 – the November 1910 Sigma Nu Delta. The Gamma Mu chapter letter included this information, “On October 14, 15, and 16, the University of Illinois celebrated its first fall home-coming, and Gamma Mu took advantage of this opportune occasion to hold a reunion and initiation. All the old men from #1 up were informed of the great home coming and Gamma Mu expected a good many.” A follow-up letter in the May 1911 Delta noted, “The Fall Home-coming which was mentioned in the last letter, proved to be a great success.”

Exhibit 3 – the January 1911 issue of Kappa Alpha Theta, the magazine of the women’s fraternity with the same name. This entry is from a section on College Customs, “Home-coming was instituted at Illinois in the fall of 1910. The Students union should be given the credit as the idea originated with it and its members took a most active part in making the idea a reality.  As the name suggests, it is a time set apart for the alumni, and all actively interested in the university, to come and visit.  During the few days that they are here, we do our best to make them welcome and to show them a good time. Last fall Home-coming was October 14-16. October 15 celebrated the baseball game between the All Star team and last year’s Varsity.  After this interesting game the annual pushball contest between the sophomores and freshmen occurred. October 16 was made famous by the football game with Chicago when we beat them for the first time in nine years. The Home-coming is to be an annual event, the time so chosen probably as to include the date of our biggest football game.”  

The Push ball competiton, 1910. (Courtesy of University of Illinois Archives)

The Push Ball competiton, 1910. (Courtesy of University of Illinois Archives)

Exhibit 4 – a 1910 Sigma Alpha Epsilon Record. It was noted, “On October 14th, 15th, and 16th, the University of Illinois held its first annual home-coming, and it was a huge success in every way, even to the long sought for victory over Chicago on our Gridiron. We had a number of old men back with us for the week and everyone seemed to have a good time. The idea has gained such favor that home-coming is an assured event for coming years, and we hope that the SAE house will be filled to the roof with old men every time.”

Exhibit 5 – a 1910 issue of Alpha Tau Omega’s Palm.  The Gamma Zeta chapter letter contains this reference, “Illinois had its first ‘home-coming’ on October 14-15-16, and it was a success beyond expectation. Pushball, a baseball game, and the Chicago-Illinois football game were features. The proud Maroon were humbled, 3-0, to the great satisfaction of every one. Gamma Zeta entertained about 40 brothers and visitors.”  

There was also this mention of the second University of Illinois Homecoming in a 1912 Beta Theta Pi magazine “The second annual home-coming was not well attended as it should have been, due in all probability to the failure of our football team to show great ‘class’ in the early games and the unexpected by Chicago. However all alumni who saw the Minnesota-Illinois game on November 25 felt that they were fully repaid for coming back.” The Kappa chapter of Alpha Xi Delta, in its chapter letter in the March 1912 Quill of Alpha Xi Delta, noted, “The home-coming brought back a number of old girls…during this time we gave a little house dance which was deemed a success.” 

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I found several mentions of homecoming on other campuses in the Greek-letter magazines of 1910 and 1911, but curiously none from the University of Missouri chapters. Although it was a random sampling of the magazines I could find on the internet, most of the organizations whose magazines I searched had chapters at Missouri in 1910 and 1911. “Georgetown’s ‘home coming celebration’ was the header over an article in the March 1911 Delta Chi Quarterly, “One of the most successful events ever undertaken by the Georgetown chapter was the ‘home coming’ celebration, held at the Chapter House in Washington, from November 16 to 20. A number of the ‘old boys’ responded to the invitation to return and visit old haunts and true friends left behind. Brother Watts of San Fran and Brother Throwbridge of Denver coming the greatest distance.” 

On November 6, 1911, Paul E. Fisher, the Corresponding Secretary for the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Indiana University wrote his chapter’s letter for the magazine. It was published a short time later. His letter read, “The University is making elaborate preparations for the annual home coming which is to be held during the date of the Purdue game, November 25, and in this respect Pi Chapter is cooperating in a most hearty effort to make it a big day for Pi alumni. A mammoth parade is being planned and there are many other interesting features to add ingests and zeal to the men who will return.” 

Beta Theta Pi’s Northwestern chapter announced Northwestern’s Home-coming in a 1911 Beta magazine, “On November 11, 1911 will be celebrated our first annual home-coming Day. The Chicago football game on Northwestern field in the afternoon will be followed in the evening by a big reception to the alumni in the gymnasium.”

*Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas had an event with alumni centered around a baseball game in April of 1909.

P.S. A friend sent me this link to information about Miami University 100th Homecoming anniversary this year President Hughes was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon.

© Fran Becque,, 2014. All rights reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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