Exhibit shows freshman traditions at Penn State

"Back in the Day: Student Traditions at Penn State" is on display through Sept. 20, in The Eberly Family Special Collections Library, 104 Paterno Library. Exhibit hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday (closed July 5).

"Back in the Day," the tradition of the Lion Coat started with the senior class of 1926, when they decided that they wanted to have a symbol of their advanced standing. The outfit started out as a lightweight material suit, but co-eds adapted the entire outfit by changing from a suit to a jacket in 1927. Yearly contests awarded prizes to the senior with the best-decorated jacket, including autographs, lions, school symbols, and pin-up girls. The custom declined during the Second World War and died out by 1953.

The tradition of the freshmen dink began in the fall of 1906, when the upper classes voted to have freshmen wear something that would distinguish them from the rest of the students. Freshmen were required to wear their dinks in class and at sporting events, and to tip their caps to passing upperclassmen. If freshmen were without a dink, they would face a student tribunal and be quizzed on Penn State trivia. One punishment was to have the freshmen parade around campus and sing aloud in public. Dinks were blue and white, except from 1932 to 1937 when they were green. Women wore green ribbons in their hair until 1953, when they were required to wear dinks just like the men. The practice of wearing dinks was the last of the freshmen customs to be discarded, when it ended in 1970.

These and other time honored student traditions are the focus of this unique University Archives exhibition. Featuring photographs, scrapbooks, brochures, memorabilia and posters, "Back in the Day: Student Traditions at Penn State" allows the visitor to reminisce about an earlier time and age at Penn State when dance cards were social media and May Day heralded the arrival of spring.

The exhibition includes homage to one of the most popular early student traditions at Penn State -- the class scrap, which existed in many different incarnations, from the Cider Scrap and Pushball Content to the Flag Scrap and Tug-of-War, with many others in between. Scraps, usually planned by the students, were contests held between graduating classes at various universities. Over the years, after many injuries and one incident resulting in a student’s death at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State placed strict restrictions upon the scraps and finally banned students from participating in them in 1916. Modified milder versions, between classes, were carried on after 1916 and were eventually replaced by the intramural sports program.

Other tributes to Homecoming, Tailgating and Class Gifts are included in the exhibit. Starting back as early as 1861, Penn State seniors created the Class Gift by dedicating their housing deposits and additional cash gifts to memorials representing their class traditions and have included scholarships, library book purchases and most frequently “bricks-and-mortar” memorials that are on display. 

One of the newer traditions, THON, also is memorialized. The largest student-run philanthropy in the U.S., started in 1973 by a small band of dedicated Penn State students, THON has grown exponentially over its 35 years of existence. Benefitting the Four Diamonds Fund for fighting pediatric cancer at Penn State’s Children’s Hospital, this year's THON consisted of 700 dancers, 15,000 volunteers and raised more than $7.8 million.

A gallery talk is scheduled will take place at 3 p.m. on Aug. 5. The guest speaker will be 97 year old alumna Grace Holderman. Holderman will share stories about Penn State back in her day and through her many years affiliated with student life at Penn State.

Additional information about the exhibition can be obtained by contacting University Archivist, Jackie R. Esposito at jxe2@psu.edu or 814-863-3791.

Last Updated November 18, 2010