A Look Back: Notable Homecomings of the Past

By Bridget Hynes

In the spring of 1910, seniors Clarence Foss Williams and Walter Elmer Ekblaw came up with the idea of a University “Homecoming” while sitting on the steps of the University YMCA, now known as Illini Hall. After months of planning, the first Homecoming weekend was held from October 14 to 16 in 1910. Friday afternoon and Saturday classes were cancelled by the president of the University so all students could take part in Homecoming. The festivities attracted about 1,500 alumni, and the football team beat the University of Chicago Maroons, an opponent they had not overcome in seven years.

The University often claims to have the longest running college homecoming tradition; however, it was not the first college homecoming to ever be created. That was Baylor University in 1909. However, Baylor did not hold its next homecoming until 1915. Thus, U of I has the longest tradition of homecoming.

Here are some other notable homecomings from years past:

1. 1918

Homecoming was cancelled due to the global flu epidemic of 1918 to 1919, also known as the “Spanish Flu.”. Twenty-five percent of the U.S . and 20 percent of the world were infected with the epidemic and it killed more people than World War I . By the end of October 1918, Chicago had more than 10,000 new cases of the “Spanish Flu” each week.

2. 1919

The University held what they call a “Victory Homecoming” after the allies won in World War I. Twelve-thousand alumni returned to campus, and the Armory was used as a garage for extra parking space.

3. 1920

Homecoming festivities included a carnival in the Armory, and the Altgeld Hall chimes were dedicated.

4. 1923

The first football game was played at the newly built Memorial Stadium. Sophomore Red Grange who would later play for the Chicago Bears scored the game’s only touchdown to beat the opponent — the University of Chicago.

5. 1934

The “Hobo Band” tradition, during which students marched around campus dressed as “hobos,” or historical and political figures and campus administrators, was cancelled. It had been a Homecoming tradition for students since the first Homecoming.

6. 1936

The tradition of the Homecoming queen began and the students elected their first homecoming queen — Dolores Thomas, 1939 University alumna.

7. 1943

Homecoming activities were predominantly organized and run by women as a result of World War II. For the first time, Chief Illiniwek duties were taken over by a Princess Illiniwek — portrayed by Idelle Stith Brooks, 1944 University alumna.

8. 1945

The University Airport — Willard Airport — was dedicated during Homecoming weekend.

9. 1946

The first Homecoming after World War II was dubbed the “Post-War Homecoming.” In an official Homecoming pamphlet released by the University, tickets to the football game were listed at 25 cents.

10. 1951

Illinois had its first African American Homecoming queen, Clarice Davis, 1952 University alumna. It is speculated that she was the first African American homecoming queen ever to be elected at a major American university.

11. 1960

Illinois celebrated 50 years of Homecoming. Residents built an eight-story bunk bed tower as a homecoming decoration.

12. 1980

The Marching Illini recreated the old “Hobo Band” tradition by marching in Halloween costumes at the homecoming pep rally. There were fireworks at the end of the pep rally to commemorate the 70th year of Illinois Homecoming.

13. 2006

Chief Illiniwek danced for the last time at an Illinois homecoming football game.

Bridget can be reached at [email protected]