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By Mylinda Woodward '97
"Blatherskites, puerile billikens, thou green-appearing thinglets who blemish the beauties of the campus: Know that we, the Class of 1928, are the exalted and beneficent benefactors of you dumb freshmen."
That was the opening text for the Freshman Rules poster produced by the sophomore class at UNH in the fall of 1925. It was a campus tradition for sophomores to make up rules for freshmen to follow. Theoretically, the rules were intended to familiarize incoming students with the customs of the university and to promote a sense of school spirit.
Many of the rules were consistent from year to year: show respect for the faculty and upperclassmen, bury your prep school insignia, wear your freshman beanie, learn the college cheers and songs. Others were more whimsical. At various times, freshmen were forbidden to carry a cane, wear a "stiff hat," go bareheaded on Main Street or turn up the cuffs on their trousers.
The rules were traditionally posted on the night before the first day of classes. The sophomores would hang the posters on poles and trees along Main Street. Unless the freshmen could get past the vigilant sophomores to remove all the posters by 7 a.m., the rules had to be obeyed.
The earliest of these rivalries was the cane rush, described as a "mingled pile of animated legs, arms, heads, and howls with a three-foot cane as its centre."
The annual "poster fight" was only one of the traditional competitions between freshmen and sophomores. The earliest of these rivalries was the cane rush, described in the 1898 New Hampshire College Monthly as a "mingled pile of animated legs, arms, heads, and howls with a three-foot cane as its centre." The object was to see which class would have the most hands on the cane after 10 minutes of combat.
Women got into the scrimmage in a "picture fight." The fights grew out of the efforts of each class to have everyone on hand for the class banquet or the class photograph. The freshmen and sophomores would try to prevent members of the other class from showing up at those events.
A Boston Globe article about the 1904 picture fight reported: "Car windows were smashed in the frantic efforts of the Sophs to capture the Freshmen and keep them from leaving the train. Out of the train they all got, however, and the liveliest kind of scrimmage was begun in the square in front of the station."
It was rough, and it got rougher as classes got larger. In 1910, the rules for the cane rush had to be changed to limit the contest to 20 men from each class. In 1911, a picture fight on the occasion of the sophomore class banquet brought the college to a standstill for almost a week. The following year, the Student Council abolished both the cane rush and picture fights, and by 1933 all class competitions with the word "fight" in the title had been abolished.
However, Freshman Rules remained, and so did the most enduring tradition of all, the freshman beanie. The first beanie, a "substantial blue cap with a white button," was introduced in 1909, although at that time it was called a "skimmer." Although the handbook said, "Everyone in '13 is expected to buy one and wear it," the women received a green hair ribbon instead. Freshmen were usually required to wear the beanie and follow the Freshman Rules until Thanksgiving or the first football victory.
Freshman initiations and rivalries between the classes were largely forgotten during World War II and for several years after. But by the end of the 1940s, students began to yearn for the kind of college traditions their parents had enjoyed. An editorial in The New Hampshire in 1949 implored: "Bring back the freshman beanie! Bring back those rah-rah customs that make college life something more than a diploma grind."
Freshman rules and beanies did return for another 20 years before the campus environment changed again. The 1969-70 academic year brought the end of curfews for women, the first coed dorms and, in the spring, the student strike protesting U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The student handbook published the following fall was the last to list beanies as a requirement. (See correction footnote*)
But in a way, the beanie is still with us. After all, what's a baseball cap worn backwards, if not a beanie with a bustle? ~
Mylinda Woodward '97 is the university's assistant archivist.
* Correction note: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the last year when beanies were listed as a requirement and the academic year when curfews were lifted, coed dorms were instituted and the student strike took place.
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