UMR’s mascot, Joe Miner, recently swapped his traditional stubble for a more modern five o’clock shadow. The new Joe would have fit in with the freshman class of MSM’s early years, when upperclassmen forbid freshmen to wear beards.
The no-beard rule was one of many restrictions upperclassmen imposed on all male freshmen, according to Stephen Foster, a senior history major who is investigating the rituals surrounding MSM’s infamous “freshman fights,” an annual event during the first half of the 20th century.
According to Foster, the sort of ritualistic hazing that came to be associated with the annual fights was first described in a 1907 Rollamo by an anonymous senior recalling his freshman year of 1903. At that time, it was called “Green Cap Day,” named after the green caps freshmen were forced to buy and wear after the fight. Held annually from 1903 to 1946, Foster speculates that the annual rite of passage came to a halt after World War II veterans, returning home from overseas as older and more experienced freshmen, outnumbered – and no doubt intimidated – the upperclassmen of the war years.
The annual tradition began each fall with upperclassmen chasing the freshmen to the old fairgrounds, where Buehler Park in southwest Rolla is now located. “If any were found in town,” says Foster, “they were tossed into a lake or humiliated in a variety of ways.”
By morning, the regrouped freshmen would march to Jackling Field, where the sophomores awaited. The freshmen would rush the waiting upperclassmen and fight for 15 to 30 minutes. “Before 1927 they would wrestle and use molasses, rotten eggs and paint in the fights,” says Foster. The fights became community events, with professors sometimes getting in on the action and townspeople looking on.
Over time, the fights became more violent. By 1927 – “a pivotal year” by Foster’s reckoning – the fights had become “a staged event” and the upperclassmen went to great lengths to humiliate the first-year students. Brass knuckles and rubber hoses were among the weapons used in the more violent fights, Foster notes.
“One intimidating fight for the freshmen occurred when, being relieved of most of their clothing, they were lined up to meet each sophomore one by one, and each sophomore had a horse whip, axe handle or pitchfork,” says Foster. The sophomores would then “administer a friendly tap to one of the freshmen.” After the fights, the freshmen were marched downtown and forced to buy their green caps and suspenders. They wore the beanie caps until after Thanksgiving, then burned them on Pine Street. The suspenders were worn the rest of the year and burned in the spring.
Foster is not sure exactly how or when the rituals got started, but he suspects they are connected to two events: an incident involving an MSM student visiting the Columbia campus shortly before 1903 and the arrival of the first fraternities on campus in the early 1900s.
Foster, who graduates in May, would like to use his history degree in politics or government work. Along with his OURE advisor, Patrick Huber, assistant professor of history, Foster hopes to publish his research in historical journals.