Freshman beanies among former campus traditions

Posted February 7, 2022

The University Archives and Area Research Center at UW-River Falls documents the many campus traditions of years past.

Morgan Paavola is the museum archivist and records manager at UW-River Falls. Her job involves organizing campus records and preserving them for generations to come. One role includes organizing the many traditions UWRF has created over its nearly 150 years of existence.

Paavola said the oldest UWRF tradition is writing for student newspaper, which began in 1895. The paper was called the Normal Badger, but later it was replaced by the Student Voice. For reasons unknown the paper stopped publication in 1907 and eventually evolved into the campus yearbook called The Meletean.

Another tradition was wearing of “freshman beanies.” Paavola said the tradition started in the 1950s when freshman could purchase a beanie they could wear around campus the first week of classes. The idea of the tradition was to initiate freshman by having upperclassmen tease and ridicule those wearing the beanies.

“The students could purchase a beanie and if an upperclassman had come across them on campus they could stop them and make them do something goofy,” Paavola said.

The goal of the tradition was to ingrain freshman with the college lifestyle while keeping it harmless. Over time the practice became more aggressive, Paavola said. Combined with a lack of interest from seniors to keep the tradition alive and the hazing that developed, it was discontinued by a Student Senate vote in 1970.

School traditions were not just limited to students. In the early days of campus, the faculty had their share of traditions, too. One tradition included the Faculty Wives Club, which started in 1922.

“Most faculty in the early days were men, so their wives did put a club together and I believe it was a kind of a literary book club,” Paavola said. “They would also hold events and dinners and stuff like that.”

As the name suggested, it became a tradition to join the club if the woman’s husband taught at the university. Paavola said the club eventually became the Faculty Women’s Club, but the tradition died out when the name was changed.

Homecoming traditions run deep in the university with many being documented at the research center. One recent tradition involves the homecoming parade. Paavola said during the homecoming parade students used to partake in the “Snake Dance” tradition.

“Students would kind of link arms or hands in the parade that goes through town and do a snake dance down the main street,” she said.

Paavola said that most of the campus traditions are not well known. Most of the interest in the traditions that she encounters in the research center comes from alumni who wish to revive them, Paavola said.

“There are bits and pieces that get passed down so it’s kind of all over the board for the most part,” Paavola said. “As I dig more into collections I find another piece of the puzzle, more information about it.”