Ole Miss’ first alumni homecoming – circa 1909

Published 6:00 am Sunday, October 9, 2016

A week removed from this year’s homecoming festivities at the university, I thought I might give you a little history of Ole Miss’ first Homecoming.

The first called meeting of all past students of the university for a homecoming was not for a football game.

It was for the opening of a new men’s dormitory, Gordon Hall.

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In 1903, in the student magazine of the time, the editor wrote about the lack of housing and dining facilities. The author of the column stated that the housing and dining facilities were “one of the University’s greatest problems.”

Dr. David Sansing in his history of Ole Miss, made note that there were two men’s dorms at the time with a capacity of 120 and both were full.

The university had provided makeshift living quarters in the Lyceum and the Chapel and they were full.

Also, some of the professors took in boarders, and off-campus housing was expensive and inconvenient.

The university could not grow because the housing was inadequate.

In 1905, Chancellor Robert Fulton and the Board of Trustees presented a comprehensive building plan to the legislature that included an additional men’s dorm and dining hall to accommodate 250 students.

The Trustees also made the first formal request of the university alumni to lobby the legislature for building funds.

The lobbying effort by the alumni, on behalf of the building program, was eventually successful and made possible the construction of Gordon Hall in 1909.

This large building provided housing for two hundred male students and included a large, much needed, dining hall. As the building was being completed, the Trustees authorized the Chancellor to invite alumni back to the campus to celebrate the opening of Gordon Hall.

This was the first official Homecoming on campus.

It was very popular with the alumni and by 1924 Homecoming had become an annual event.

After World War I there was another boom in the student population. The large men’s dorm built in 1909 was over-crowded.

Students were jammed three to a room in Gordon Hall. Some of the women were living in the infirmary. Professors again took in boarders, and Oxford residents rented every available room to students.

Some of the children of affluent families even lodged in the local hotels, as did students in the earliest days of the university.

By the end of 1920, the state legislature appropriated $2 million for capital construction on the Ole Miss campus.

The student newspaper reported that the legislature had now begun to take care of its “neglected child.”

The new money was used for the construction of a chemistry-pharmacy building, four boys dorms and one girls dorm.

The university officials now saw the need for an alumni association and the usefulness of alumni in securing much-needed funds for the future of the University of Mississippi.

In 1924, the first Homecoming was arranged for a football weekend.

It was held on November 22, which was one of the two home games on campus that year. The “Mississippi Flood” faced off against the “Choctaws” of Mississippi College in Clinton.

The EAGLE’s report of the first homecoming weekend said, “All events converged to make Homecoming Day one of the most successful celebrations in Ole Miss history. Not a thing occurred to detract from the pleasure and the enjoyment of the occasion. Everything went to further enhance the already worthy prestige of Mississippi’s greater educational institution.”

The newspaper also reported, “At the football game the alumni were in evidence with their cheering for Ole Miss. No one enjoyed the triumph (10-6) over the Choctaws more than they, the boys of yesterday. Possibly their presence was a contributing factor to the great showing made by the varsity eleven.

“The success of this first attempt at Homecoming will no doubt assure the day as an annual event on the Ole Miss activity calendar. Its continuance should bring larger crowds in the future and contribute much growth to a more virile alumni organization.

“The fire and enthusiasm brought to the students by the spicy speeches of the alumni who spoke in sufficient evidence of the fact that Ole Miss spirit lives always, and that it even grows more spirited as the years between the present and graduation roll up.”

That November day in 1924 was the beginning of what we had last weekend. Tailgating in the Grove, the pep rally on the Square and alumni, friends of the university and current students all here to watch the Rebels play while renewing old bygone friendships.

Jack Mayfield is an Oxford resident and historian. Contact him at jlmayfield@dixie-net.com.