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From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:
Class Day was celebrated at Brown for the first time in 1856, although such a day had long been part of the life of other institutions. The first Class Day was held on June 12, 1856, four weeks before the close of term. Commencement was at that time taking place in September. After an oration and poem in the College Chapel, the class dined together and was entertained in the evening by President Sears. Beginning in 1858 there were printed programs for Class Day. In 1863 a Class Tree exercise was added to the festivities. In 1866 began the custom of a promenade concert on the College Green before the class supper. On Class Day 1867 the class in a difference of opinion was divided into those who attended the class supper and those who went for a boat cruise. In 1868, the first year of President Caswell’s administration, there was a levee at his house after the morning exercises, followed by addresses by Caswell and interim president George Ide Chace. The American Band played in Rhode Island Hall and for the first time dancing was spontaneously added to the celebration. In 1878 a group of seniors held a reception in University Hall and Manning Hall. In 1882, a reception with dancing was held in the new Sayles Hall, and by 1886 the senior reception had become a dance.
Until 1867 Class Day was held on a Thursday in June, far from Commencement which was held in the fall. In 1870 Commencement was moved to the last Wednesday in June. Class Day was held on the preceding Thursday that year, and was changed to Friday the next. Beginning in 1904 Class Day was held on Monday. In 1897 the afternoon exercises on the front campus, consisting of the band concert, the addresses, the planting of the class tree, and the smoking of class pipes, became known as the “Under the Elms” exercises. In 1915 there was concern that Class Day was turning into a fraternity day with seniors missing exercises to prepare for receptions in off-campus fraternity houses. During World War I, undergraduate classes were included in the Class Day festivities, which after the war were again reserved for the seniors and alumni. In 1928 the senior class was forced to give up the traditional midnight march down the hill to the class supper, as no establishment was available to serve them. A 6:30 dinner at the Biltmore Hotel on the following evening was substituted. Class Day reverted to some old-time traditions in 1933. Although there were no booths as in earlier years, there were large umbrellas in fraternity colors set up at selected spots, and for the first time in recent years members of reunion classes were encouraged to attend.
Class Day exercises were more austere than usual during World War II. In connection with the winter Commencement in February 1943, the exercises and the dance took place in Alumnae Hall. On the first Class Day after the war, University Hall was once more illuminated. There was dancing on in Sayles Hall and on an outdoor floor on Lincoln Field, and the seniors met before the statue of Marcus Aurelius to sing at midnight. The last Class Day was held in 1961, when only about 125 seniors out of a class of 447 attended. There had been a growing lack of interest for several years and the Class of 1962 was asked whether to continue Class Day. Although the vote favored retaining the “Under the Elms” exercises 117-97, less than half the class had been interested enough to vote, and it was decided to drop the usual program and transfer the class history and the class poem to the Senior Dinner. The class night dance survived as the Campus Dance. No dance was held in 1970, to the dismay of many alumni. The seniors had decided that it would not be in keeping with the prevailing mood on campus, where student strikes had disrupted the preceding weeks, and held a folk concert instead. When the dance was resumed in 1971, the seniors had lost interest, and the Alumni Office took over the running of the dance, at which seniors constituted only 15 per cent of the 4,200 attendance.
The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright ©1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.