Thanksgiving at the University

As Thanksgiving approaches, the Archives brings a historical perspective to this holiday that is often forgotten during the hustle and bustle of modern life. Unlike previous generations, current students can appreciate their full week of break at home while past students could not even leave campus for the holiday.

Found in record series 39/2/28

Thanksgiving postcard, undated

Over the years, faculty and staff made an effort to provide students with an enjoyable holiday. In 1880, the Illini¬†reported, “Several of the professors on Thanksgiving Day opened their houses to parties of students and bestowed hospitality in bountiful store upon them.”[1] Over 100 years later in 1982, Mr. Kennedy Kincaid and his family offered to host several international students for Thanksgiving vacation through the YMCA. The University YMCA Cosmopolitan Club also annually hosts a Thanksgiving Dinner. In 1987, the dinner benefited Refugees Assistance in Champaign-Urbana and in 2003 the proceeds assisted the Even Star Program administered by Urbana Adult Education.

Other past events to mark the holiday include a Thanksgiving masquerade carnival in 1883. The Illini wrote,¬†“There will be a masquerade carnival on roller skates at Champaign Roller Skating Rink on Thanksgiving evening.”[2] On November 28, 1912, the Saintz Thanksgiving party took place in the Varsity Hall, chaperoned by Major and Mrs. Morse. The party included eight different dances in its program.[3]

Evidently, the lack of vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday did not go over well with students. In 1917, the Daily Illini wrote,¬†“‘No more excuses will be issued to students desiring to go home for the Thanksgiving holiday,’ said Dean Clark yesterday. This is the disheartening statement that greets the homesick, hungry clan of students, who have put up with the meatless, wheatless, and almost eatless days for the past weeks, with the redeeming thought that they could go home and get a ‘regular’ meal Thanksgiving.”[4]

In 2000, the University of Illinois finally gave students the entire week of Thanksgiving off and has done so ever since.


[1] The Illini, December 1, 1880, p. 3.

[2] “City Sensations,” The Illini, November 26, 1883, p.11.

[3] Nathaniel McK. Kneisly Scrapbook, 1910-14, Box 1, Record Series 41/20/62, University of Illinois Archives.

[4] “No More Thanksgiving Excuses-Dean Clark,” The Daily Illini, November 27, 1917, p. 1.

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