Which U.S. college or university had the first homecoming celebration? This is a hotly debated topic, with Baylor (1909), Indiana University (1910), and the University of Illinois (1910) all making claims to early celebrations of fall homecomings. The first event at Millikin to be called a “homecoming” was held not in the fall, but in the spring May 12-13, 1911, in conjunction with Founder’s Day. Although there was no big football game, Millikin did play Lincoln College in a tennis match, faced Rose Polytechnic Institute in a track meet and battled Bradley Polytechnic Institute in a baseball game. The glee club and band entertained Millikinites on Saturday evening, and a circus set up its canopy on Millikin’s field. Ticket proceeds from the track meet, baseball game and circus helped raise funds for a new gymnasium and pool.
Plans to change to a fall homecoming came soon after. In 1911, alumnus Ben Wand wrote the Decaturian to suggest that current plans to move homecoming to the Thanksgiving football game were not ideal for alumni or current students, who preferred to spend the holiday at home with their families. “What we need at Millikin to foster college spirit and to promote intimate relationship between those who have gone and the active student body,” he wrote, “is a fixed date for a home coming to be decided by the ruling student organization ... after the same plan as is used at the University of Illinois ... [which is] earlier in the fall when chances for good weather are better.”
Later letters to the newspaper from students and alumni agreed that early fall would be a preferred time, and Millikin held its first fall homecoming Nov. 12-13, 1915. The inaugural homecoming football game featured Millikin vs. Illinois Wesleyan, a well-established rivalry that was sure to attract alumni to the festivities for, as the October 1915 Decaturian said, what alumnus wouldn’t “travel for miles” to see Millikin “beat Wesleyan, get Wesleyan’s goat, hang it on Wesleyan and otherwise clean up on our revered friends from Bloomington?” While Millikin was ot able to make good on their boasts, all enjoyed the parade through town, class luncheons, senior play, decorations, chapel exercises and a bonfire.
The freshman-sophomore scrap tradition became part of homecoming in 1917. This series of athletic contests between the freshman and sophomore classes featured various events over the years, including a tug of war, football game, pole race, archery contest, obstacle course, hockey game and basketball game. The scrap tradition took a hiatus for several years during World War II, but returned for the 1948 homecoming festivities and lasted until 1966.
Millikin’s first homecoming dance was held at Decatur’s Hotel Orlando in 1921, where attendees were allowed the privilege of staying until 11:30 p.m. Another tradition commonly associated with homecoming celebrations nationwide, the homecoming queen, began in 1932 with the crowning of Charlene Levinson, then a sophomore member of Zeta Tau Alpha. The queen contest (there was no homecoming king until 1976) was sponsored by Millikin’s Women’s Athletic Association (W.A.A.), and Levinson rode their float in the homecoming parade.
Some of these early homecoming traditions have fallen by the wayside over the years, and others have come and gone, but some have stayed the course. Every homecoming brings together old friends, fond memories and a celebration of school spirit. What Millikin homecoming tradition do you remember fondly? Let us know at millikin- firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Pippitt is Millikin’s access services coordinator, archivist and research instruction librarian. She has worked at the university since 2004. She earned her master’s degree in library and information science from the University of illinois at Urbana-champaign and also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology.