Sesquicentennial celebration

History of Iowa State: Facts and Trivia

Sponsored by the University Archives, Iowa State University Library

Copyright 2006



Pushball contest, 1915


Past Traditions


There are many proud traditions of Iowa State University, and while many of them are still with us (Traditions of Iowa State), some have faded and passed away...
Before there was a VEISHEA...

The first VEISHEA celebration was held in 1922 with the theme of "Iowa State on Display." This all-college event combined in one long weekend the various divisional festivals which had been celebrated separately up to that time.

Agriculture Carnival

The Agriculture Carnival was first held in 1912. It was patterned after a popular event at the University of Missouri which resembled an old fashioned county fair. The first celebration incorporated a parade, greased pig contest, baseball games, sorority relay races, and a carnival on the pasture grounds east of campus. The day closed with an evening movie showing. The city of Ames entered into the spirit of the day, and businesses were closed in the afternoon so all could attend.

The Agriculture Carnival was held annually in May until 1915. No Carnival was held from 1916 through 1918. The event was re-established in 1919, as the beginning of a weekend that included vaudeville shows, a debate with Kansas State, a track meet, and a dance in State Gym. The Carnival was held in 1920 and 1921 and then was absorbed into the VEISHEA celebration in 1922.

Engineer's Campfire

Beginning in 1908, the Engineer's Campfire was the Engineering Division's major event during the fall. It was held on a Friday evening in mid-October, and all Engineering classes were dismissed for the afternoon. The location was the "North Woods," which was the wooded area north of the railroad tracks. The first year included a faculty-student football game (the students won), a three-legged race, music, and bonfires. Throughout the years, supper was hot dogs, coffee and apples. Doughnuts were sold by the students of the Home Economics Division and midway-style booths provided entertainment during the afternoon. Voting also took place for the "Engineer's Lady," who would later have the honor of knighting inductees into the Engineering honorary society, "The Knights of St. Patrick." In the evening there were skits, dancing, movies and the "campfire." The November 1921 Iowa Engineer describes this part of the festivities:

"While supper was being eaten the first campfire was lighted…The campfire was constructed of railroad ties piled nearly 30 feet high with the outside covered with movie films and the interior of the crib filled with paper, straw, and boxes. After supper the participants wended their way back to the main grounds, finished the rounds of the stands, and listened to a concert given by the college band. When the first fire had burned down the second campfire was lighted and the fireworks were started. The glare of the fireworks and the blaze of the fire could be seen from all parts of the campus and the town. The fireworks banked and whizzed for nearly an hour portraying the Niagara Falls in gorgeous colors, and many other beautiful features in the midst of the flare of rockets and candles."

The Engineer's Campfire was held annually through 1929. Declining revenues—and the impossibility of predicting October's weather—prompted a change to an "Engineer's Carnival," held in the Memorial Union.

Excursion Day

Excursion Day and the Harvest Home Festival began in 1898 to introduce the work being done at the college to the people of the state of Iowa. Excursion Day was held the last weekend in September or the first weekend in October. The railroads had special excursion trains for the trip to Ames, and the first celebration drew 6,000 people. All departments were open to visitors. The military battalion drilled on central campus, accompanied by the college band. A livestock parade was followed by a program featuring music and speeches by the Governor and other distinguished guests in a large tent on Central Campus. Some years featured a football game and the 1906 program included women' s basketball and field hockey.

Excursion Day was held from 1898 until 1906. It was dropped for 1907 and 1908, then held again in 1909. After that time, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad would no longer furnish trains at special rates to come to Ames, and the fall festival was not held again.

May Day

May Day was held each spring in honor of the women of the senior class. Weather permitting, it was held on Central Campus, with State Gym as an alternate site in case of rain. The May event was initiated by Winifred Tilden, an Ames native and 1903 Mount Holyoke graduate who came to Iowa State in 1904 as an Instructor in Physical Culture. Miss Tilden would have observed and participated in similar "May Fetes" at Mount Holyoke, where a May Festival was held each year from 1901 to 1949.

Iowa State's first May Day was held May 18, 1907. It was sponsored by the Women's Athletic Association, an organization created for the promotion and control of women's athletics. Profits from May Day paid for equipment for women's basketball, golf, field hockey, and tennis as well as medals and letters for letter sweaters.

In the early years, May Day had an Elizabethan theme and featured dance groups like "Ye Merrie Milk Maydes" and "Ye Floral Maydens." Later productions included the "Spirits" of Scholarship, Judgment, and Leadership and "Blue Book Imps" and "Geometric Figures." Each year a senior student was chosen "May Queen." May Day was incorporated into the first VEISHEA celebration in 1922 and continued as a part of that festival through 1933.

St. Patrick's Day

The first St. Patrick's Day celebration was held March 17, 1910. Beginning at 8:30 in the morning, members of the Civil Engineering Society paraded around the campus, wearing tall top hats and pushing their flag bearer in a wheelbarrow. The group paused for a program of songs and speeches on the steps of Beardshear Hall. They then proceeded to downtown Ames, where they were addressed by Mayor Parley Sheldon. In the afternoon, the Civil Engineering juniors played baseball against the seniors—the seniors won, 13-10. Roller skating and a banquet brought the day to a close.

Though St. Patrick's Day began as a day of entertainment, by 1913, it was also serving the function of an open house for the Engineering Division. Each department had a display. Outstanding senior engineers were inducted into the Knights of the Order of the Guard of St. Patrick, an engineering honorary. The inductees were "knighted" with a slide rule, by the "Engineer's Lady" who had been selected by a student vote at the Engineer's Campfire during fall semester. St. Patrick's Day was celebrated from 1910 until 1921. The Knighting of the Guard of St. Patrick was incorporated into the VEISHEA ceremonies from 1922 to 1926 and then the ceremony was added to the Engineer's Campfire festivities.


In the early years of the college, there were not only yells used at athletic events, but also class yells. The first graduating class, 1872, used a yell written by the wife of one of their members, Ida Smith Noyes (Class of 1874):

Hip Rah! Rip Rah!
Who are we?
First and best of I.S.C.
Who? Who?

The I.A.C. Student (forerunner of the Daily) noted on May 20, 1895 that the following had been adopted as Iowa State's official yell:

Rah! Rah! Rah!
Whoopla! Re!
Hip! Hah! Rip! Rah!

A 1914 publication, I.S.C. Pep contains a number of yells used for athletic events:


Now let's have a good old A-M-E-S!
A-M-E-S! Rah, Rah!
A-M-E-S! Rah, Rah!
Hoorah, hooray
State College, Ioway!
Is it One?

Is it one? No!
Is it two? No!
Is it three? No!
Is it four? No!
Is it five? No!
Then what is it? Six!

Nine Rahs

Nine Rahs for the Cyclones!
Rah, rah, rah!
Rah, rah, rah!
Rah, rah, rah!
Cyclones! Cyclones! Cyclones!

Rif Raf Ruf

Rif, raf, ruf,
Rif, raf, ruf!
Cyclones! Cyclones!
Pretty hot stuff.


From 1874 to 1934, each class had a name and a motto. The class of 1886, christened the "Diggers" had a motto of "A posse ad esse" ("From Possibility to Reality"). The 1894 class, the "Gourds," were "Always Climbing." The 1896 class, the "Ishkoodahs" was headed "To Stars Through Clouds."


When Iowa State women got pinned or engaged, they would sometimes keep it a secret until they could have a "Candle-Passing." Anonymous invitations were sent out to sorority sisters or house members announcing the event. When the time came, everyone would sit in a circle and pass a lit candle from person to person. If the hostess blew out the candle on the second pass around the circle, it meant she was pinned. If she blew it out on the third pass, it meant she was engaged. A five pound box of chocolates was shared for pinnings, a ten pound box for engagements. On occasion, the candle-passing was followed by a serenade at the residence of the pinmate or fiancée.

Candy was also distributed to commemorate other events. Jelly bean parties were thrown when a woman became an "official" coed after being kissed under the Campanile at midnight. Lemon drop parties were given by seniors who had passed through their college career at Iowa State without achieving "official" status, or who had not become pinned or engaged before graduation.


From 1916 until 1934 red "prep caps" or "freshmen beanies" were required attire for freshman class members. In the spring, the caps were burned in a bonfire during a "moving up" ceremony, when the freshmen officially became members of the sophomore class. By 1934, the wearing of hats on campus had passed out of fashion, and the "prep cap" tradition was dropped.


The Green Gander began publication on April Fool's Day, 1915 with the slogan "Every man's got at least one good laugh coming. Maybe you'll find yours here." The campus humor magazine was published by the men's journalism honorary, Sigma Delta Chi. The magazine was an immediate success, with a mix of jokes and anecdotes poking fun at prominent university and community figures. However, women were not permitted on the Green Gander staff. In response, a group of female journalism students established a women's honorary, and began publishing their own magazine, the Emerald Goose. The Emerald Goose was so successful that the men capitulated, and the two magazines announced their "marriage" in the February 1922 Valentine issue.

The combined publication continued to publish on a quarterly basis. Though the price never exceeded twenty-five cents, the magazine was financially successful, and allowed Sigma Delta Chi to fund scholarships with the profits. But as time went on, the magazine's humor became more and more suggestive, and by the 1950s, "pin-up" style poses of female students were a regular feature. Though it was tremendously popular with the student body, the Green Gander was an embarrassment to administrators, who received frequent off-campus complaints about its contents. It also created an awkward situation for the Journalism Department—the professional standards they hoped to instill in their graduates were not evident in the magazine. In 1959 the editorial board decided that a change had to be made. The November 1959 issue featured a request for reader comment on the new style, and such articles as "Disturbed? Student Counseling Service May Help YOU" and "Marriage and College—How is it Done?" Reader response was swift—the new editor was hung in effigy on central campus. One letter published in the April 1960 issue suggested, "The last copy of the Ladies Home Journal contains more humor than the last Gander." Though the April 1960 issue billed itself as the "Humor Edition," the damage had been done. On October 4, 1960 a joint meeting of Sigma Delta Chi and Theta Sigma Phi voted to cease publication. The October 6, 1960 Iowa State Daily reported, "The members agreed that the financial risk of another ‘clean' issue was too great to justify the perpetuation of the Gander ."


Literary societies were the earliest organized student activity at Iowa State. The Philomathean Literary Society was formed during the first term of college instruction in the fall of 1868. The Crescent Literary Society and Bachelor Debating Society were established in 1870, followed by the Cliolian Literary Society in 1871. Later groups included the Welch Eclectic (1888), Phileleutheroi (1890), Pythian (1894), Forum (1907), Quill (1908), Beardshear (1907), Delphian (1909) and Pierian (1914) Literary Societies. The societies met on Friday nights to hear speeches and debates presented by the membership. All had passed out of existence by the early 1930s.

The first four literary societies (Philomathean, Crescent, Bachelor, and Cliolian) were responsible for the publication of the first student publication, The Aurora. Though primarily a literary magazine, it also carried local news and advertising. The first editor was Milliken Stalker, who later served as the first Head of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State. The Aurora was published from 1873 to 1893.


The 1862 Morrill Act establishing the Land Grant colleges, included mention of military instruction: "the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics to teach such branches of learning as the legislatures of the states may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life."

Military Science instruction was made available at Iowa State in 1870, when General James L. Geddes, already in charge of dormitories and food service, was also named Professor of Military Tactics and Engineering. Geddes was a veteran of the British, Canadian and United States Armies, and had served with distinction in the Civil War. All able-bodied male students drilled both with their class and with the complete college battalion once a week. Over time, the military requirement was reduced to the freshman and sophomore years, but was compulsory for all male students until Fall of 1962, when a voluntary program was adopted.


The annual freshman-sophomore pushball contest was held at Iowa State from 1909 to 1927. There is no documentation for the years of 1918, 1919 or 1926, so we are unsure if contests were held in those years. The contest appears to be an institutionalized version of the "class scrap," a frequent occurrence in the early years of the college. By 1906, the "scraps" had become fairly violent, and hazing was becoming a serious problem. In 1907, a college-sponsored freshman-sophomore tug of war was held at a local pond. Another was held the following year, but on-campus, in a trench dug near the athletic field. In 1909, the first pushball contest was held, using a pushball borrowed from the University of Iowa. During this time period, there were also interclass contests for the men in track, football, basketball and baseball. Women competed in basketball and field hockey.

Despite these institutionalized methods to work off inter-class rivalry, hazing continued to be a problem. In 1910, Acting President Edgar Stanton held a convocation for the class of 1913 on the hazing issue. After a stern talk, he asked those who agreed to quit hazing to stand up. Though everyone at the meeting rose in agreement, within weeks the rivalry had erupted again. Ten students were suspended for several weeks, and to redeem these men, every freshman and sophomore had to sign a pledge stating that they would never participate in hazing again. A new tradition, the "glad hand for preps," was initiated, and hazing ceased.


Up until the early 1960s, graduating seniors were fair game for dunking in the Memorial Union fountain or the pool in the courtyard of the Food Sciences Building. Unfortunately, a student was injured on the pipes in the Union fountain, and for some years the fountain was drained after VEISHEA to discourage the dunking practice.


White Breakfasts were observed in the women's residence halls from 1918 through the early 1960s. Originated by a Lyon Hall housemother, they were held the last Sunday before the holiday break in December. The residents dressed in white and carried lighted candles. A caroling procession started on the top floor of each dormitory and proceeded to the dining rooms, where a special breakfast menu was served.


In the early years, Iowa State was frequently referred to as "Ames" and the letter awarded to varsity athletes and participants in the Women's Athletic Association was an "A" rather than an "I" until 1929. Two early pep songs were entitled, "Fight, Ames, Fight."

Fight Ames Fight

We're a bunch of loyal boosters for our Alma Mater Ames,
Best college in the U.S.A., the one that wins its games,
We're here to help the Cyclones, with our yells and spirit too,
Just watch them while they buck the line, and see them go right thru.
Now a Cyclone's mighty dang'rous when it strikes a western field.
It tears up ev'rything in sight, what's in its way must yield!
Now watch OUR Cyclones "clean them up" in football, wrestling, track!
They do not know what ‘tis to fail, for fight they NEVER lack.


Fight Ames, oh fight you warriors tried and true,
Fight Cyclones fight, we're proud of you,
For when you fellows take the field you start in right.
Before you're done the game is won for you can fight!
Fight Cyclones fight and we will win this game.
Fight fellows fight, fight all the time!
You're got the "rep" and "pep" boys, so keep on fighting,
Fight Ames! Fight all the time.

Words and Music by Charles F. Bassett, Class of 1921.
Arrangement by Marion Lucille Bassett.
Copyright 1920 by George S. Bassett.

Fight Ames Fight
Words by S. Minnich
Arranged by Rosalind K. Cook

Fight Ames fight, fight Ames fight,
Fight for Ames with all your might,
For the glory of old I.S.C.
Swing along, sing a song,
With a spirit big and strong,
And our fighters will win victory.
For its fight, fight, fight for the good old I.S.C.,
Winning great glory and fame.
And where'er we go, they will always know,
That our fighters are fighting for Ames.

Compiled by Becky Jordan, Reference Specialist