Flowers, brunches and water carnivals: 96 years of Moms Weekend

Members+of+the+Moms+Association+pose+in+the+Union+in+their+group+shirts.
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Flowers, brunches and water carnivals: 96 years of Moms Weekend

Members of the Moms Association pose in the Union in their group shirts.

Members of the Moms Association pose in the Union in their group shirts.

Courtesy of the Mom's Association

Members of the Moms Association pose in the Union in their group shirts.

Courtesy of the Mom's Association

Courtesy of the Mom's Association

Members of the Moms Association pose in the Union in their group shirts.

By Zack Fishman, Staff Writer

Countless mothers have been celebrated during Moms Weekend at the University, but a long and changing history has provided them some very different experiences over time.

From its initial celebration in 1922 to the events planned for 2018, the campus holiday has seen many changes pass by and even more traditions latch on over the 96-year history. Some digging through old newsletters and archived news clippings has revealed a slew of past Moms Weekends full of variety.

The history: Moms Association

In the early 1920s, the end of World War I ushered in a desire for tradition and festivities on campus. Following the second-ever Dad’s Day in fall 1921, the University’s Women’s League invited their mothers to campus in spring 1922 to celebrate May Day, a holiday often celebrated by women’s colleges at the time.

The event was repeated the following year with more students inviting their moms, and it was so successful that some of the mothers decided to form a ‘Mothers Association’ under the goal of “informing other mothers about the University and, through sharing experiences with their students, realizing that the University belongs to them, too.” Its mere formation was an accomplishment in a time when female students were held in low regard at the University.

As the first university-level organization of its kind in the nation, the Mothers Association — today known as the Moms Association — has always been at the center of Moms Weekend plans, hosting welcome activities and the Sunday brunch.

Among other charitable acts for the University student body, the Moms Association has given out scholarships to students in need since 1952. For a time in the ’60s, it also gave a free book to the high school of every freshman who earned a perfect GPA their first semester.

The relics: Really, what’s a water carnival?

Moms Weekend plans are devised not only by the Moms Association but also by organizations all across campus, and, as a result, it has accumulated a quirky history of events over the years.

Previously hosted in the first week of May, entire residential halls used to be reserved for mothers, according to a 1964 newsletter, as they stayed at Barton, Lundgren and Clark over the weekend. To add to the unusual living accommodations, it was for a time commonplace for some mothers to stay the nights at their child’s sorority or fraternity house.

A popular event in the ’50s and ’60s was the “May Queen” contest hosted by the University on Moms Weekend. College students would compete for the title, with the winner chosen based on her “beauty, personality, grades and activities.”

Other old traditions included fashion shows and pajama parties, but perhaps the most unusual Moms Weekend event of all was the “water carnival” put on by the Terrapin women’s swim group. One particular performance, charmingly named “Swymphony,” was described as “featuring clown stunts, synchronized swimming, floating, and diving.”

It may seem like unconventional entertainment, but it must have been popular. According to old news articles, it was held many times between the ’20s and ’50s.

The traditions: Persisting through time

Even more striking, however, is the large number of traditions that have lived on from the earliest years of Moms Weekend.

A classic tradition is giving flowers to mothers. Mothers have enjoyed the notable Sunday brunch in the Illini Union since 1952. Musicals have also been held for the University’s special visitors since at least 1931, and shows are still being performed today.

One of the most notable Moms Weekend traditions has been the Atius Sachem Sing. Originally organized by honors fraternities and sororities, Atius Sachem has hosted students from Greek life since 1929 to put on their best group singing performance. While not as prominent as it once was in previous decades, Atius Sachem continues to invite Greek organizations to compete as they vie for first place.

Most of all, Moms Weekend continues to hold the same appreciative spirit that it has promoted from its beginning. As much today as in the past, the holiday is held to celebrate the work that mothers do to support their children, and by extension, the entire University.

Perhaps The Daily Illini Editorial Board expressed this sentiment best in 1964: “The weekend is for mothers. They are honored traditionally by the University because they are honored personally.”

Zack is a sophomore in Engineering.

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