A Homecoming History

Found in Record Series 39/2/20

Stadium Parade at Green and Wright Street, circa Nov. 11, 1921

With Homecoming week in full swing, it is worthwhile to take a trip back in time and see where the idea of “homecoming” at the University of Illinois came from and what it was like in its first years.

Clarence Fiss Williams and W. Elmer Ekblaw (who also wore the hat of botanist on the Crocker Land expedition), two Illinois seniors, came up with the idea of homecoming in the spring of 1910 while sitting on the steps of the old YMCA pondering how they could give back to their alma mater before they graduated.[1]

In the 1910-11 Student Handbook, the University introduces the event to engage student enthusiasm:

On October 14, 15, and 16 of 1910 the first annual University of Illinois Fall Home Coming will be held. This will be the biggest gathering of the sons and daughters of the University and their friends ever drawn together. The University requests, almost demands, that all her alumni and alumnae return for this event.[2]

Found in Record Series 39/2/20

Homecoming Stunt Show, 1944

The weekend in October was chosen because the Illinois football team was set to play Chicago, their biggest rival at the time. This year, the Fighting Illini will face the University of Wisconsin in the Homecoming game on Saturday. The Illinois football team first played Wisconsin on October 26, 1895. The teams tied, 10-10, and did not face each other for another four years. During the 1976 Homecoming game, Illinois beat Wisconsin 31-25.[3] We hope for another homecoming win against the Badgers this Saturday!

In 1924, Homecoming was dedicated to remembering the lives of students who were in the Great War. Memorial Stadium had recently been built and with it, a memorial including the names of those students. This idea was conceived by George Huff as a tribute. In the Souvenir Program, a page describes the purpose and idea in mind behind the stadium:

Found in Folder BUI Stadium Dedication

President David Kinley speaking at Stadium dedication services 1924.

This stadium is erected in grateful memory of those sons of Illinois who in the Great War with brave hearts and eager feet went out in defense of an ideal. The memory of their courage, their willingness to suffer and to sacrifice and if need be to give their lives for the cause they served, will be an inspiration to men long after these bricks shall have crumbled into dust.[4]

A tribute to the fourth annual homecoming can be found in the 1915 Illio, describing the sentimental value of homecoming for alumni and alumnae:

Alumni yearn for a glimpse of the old times and to hear the songs and to see the familiar haunts which fond memory has never allowed them to forget. From the North, the South, the East and the West they came, forgetting the trials and troubles of life, to mingle again with the friends of years ago.[5]

Hopefully, alumni and alumnae will come again from the north, the south, the east, and the west again this year for the 105th annual Homecoming festivities! If you are interested in learning more about homecoming, there is currently an exhibit on display at the Main Library in the first floor hallway.  If you have other questions or are curious about student life at Illinois in general, please do not hesitate to contact us!




[1] C. F. Williams, “How it All Came About,” Twenty-First Annual Homecoming Program (October 18, 1930), 7; Daily Illini, October 29, 1927, p. 25, col. 2.
[2] Student Handbook 1910-11, Vol XXVII p. 76
[3] http://www.jhowell.net/cf/scores/Illinois.htm
[4] Football Programs, 1898, 1905, 1911-, Record Series 25/5/811, University of Illinois Archives
[5] University of Illinois, Illio, 1915, University of Illinois Archives.

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