Trojan Lore – The Way We Were
|Students have never lacked for imaginative ways of filling their leisure time. Admonitions against shooting jackrabbits from streetcar platforms hint at some of the extracurricular pursuits of the university’s earliest students. Jennie Allen Bovard, USC’s original first lady, also remarked on “a terrible lot of spooning.” University administrators struggled mightily to channel the students’ youthful exuberance into such staid activities as chapel services, glee clubs and receptions conducted under the watchful eyes of faculty chaperones.
With the turn of the century, class rivalries began to dominate campus culture as an elaborate set of conventions emerged governing interclass etiquette. Bearing the brunt of these directives were the freshmen, who were required to memorize verses from the Alma Mater and banned from lingering on the walks of main campus buildings.
Traditions also dictated campus fashion. Male freshmen had to wear special caps, while their female counterparts were required to wear green armbands throughout the first semester. Freshmen also were banned from wearing high school jewelry or clothing. Only men in the junior and senior classes enjoyed the right to wear corduroy trousers, and seniors alone could wear “sombreros” (any felt hat with a straight brim).
Hapless students discovered to be in violation of the rules faced punishment by dunking in the Duck Pond, near Old College. Initially a pool used to supply aquatic specimens for biology courses, it later was replaced with a vat of water. According to the 1914 El Rodeo:
“Probably the Duck Pond is fittingly mentioned first in an account of USC traditions, for beneath its lily pads the luckless perpetrator of deeds of omission or commission against stern custom pays the penalty. Occupying a central spot on the university campus and almost completely surrounded by its buildings, whose windows offer vantage points when the solemn process of punishment is being carried on, the Duck Pond is really a center of university life. No doubt even a senior would not be exempt from this stern punishment if occasion demanded, but the most frequent sufferers are the freshmen and sophomores whose fiery but misguided ardor is cooled in the shady depths of the tadpoles’ home.”
Class rivalries were expressed in athletic and intellectual contests as well. Starting around 1909, freshmen and sophomores vied for supremacy in the Color Rush, a muddy m�l�e that set freshman the task of tearing the sophomore colors from the top of a greased 20-foot flagpole on a wetted-down Bovard Field.
As intercollegiate athletics gained a firmer foothold at USC, new traditions evolved � such as the annual jolly-up, or pep rally, held before the Stanford game. In what became known as “the Pajamarino,” freshmen clad in sleepwear were obliged to gather wood before the rally and light the giant bonfire. First-year men also swept the bleachers before each major game; first-year women walked alongside carrying the men’s coats.
Perhaps at no time was the influence of tradition felt more strongly than during Ivy Week � the week before commencement. A major feature was Senior Sneak Day, when soon-to-be graduates declared their independence by cutting class and heading for the mountains or beaches.
On Ivy Day, the seniors planted a sprig of ivy on campus to “keep green” the memory of their class. They dug with a shovel whose handle marked every class that had celebrated Ivy Day since 1904.
After the ivy-planting, to symbolize the end of rivalry between their classes, the freshmen and sophomores buried the ceremonial hatchet. Likewise, the presidents of the junior and senior classes smoked the pipe of peace. Graduating seniors then entrusted certain tokens of responsibility � including the shovel and the peace pipe � to the incoming senior class.
The class of 1906 introduced the Mystery Bag, a black leather satchel whose contents were augmented yearly. Although tradition dictated that they should remain secret, the bag’s contents were rumored to be everything from “nothing” to “vegetables and small objects.”
Another relic handed down from one senior class to the next was the Dog-on-Button. Originally a prize from a five-cent package of chewing gum, the button became a symbol of “the most superior wit of which a senior is capable.” Beginning in 1893, it was passed from one senior to another whenever a student wag succeeded in making a professor laugh.
As fraternities and sororities grew in popularity and USC’s athletic teams gained acclaim during the 1930s, these early traditions played a diminishing role in campus life. By the 1940s, with the more serious post-war student population and USC’s steady growth in academic stature, most had faded into oblivion.
If this glimpse of Trojan Lore has whetted your appetite, make your way to the Trojan Bookstores � in person or via the Web, www.uscbookstore.com � in May, when a new volume will appear. The first comprehensive history of the university to be published since 1969, The University of Southern California: 1880 to 2005, written by Sarah Lifton and Annette Moore, will fill you in on USC’s first 125 years.