From the Archives — Class Rush

The cover of The Wittenberger featuring this story.

From the mid-1800s to the 1910s it was a popular tradition in colleges across the nation for the Freshman and Sophomore classes to engage in a class rivalry competition referred to as “class rush” or “color rush.”  These violent games were seen as rites of passage for the freshman class and played into strong senses of class spirit in a time where each class had representative class colors, yells and flags.  There seem to be many variations of this game, for instance the sewing of class colors into the insides of jackets (to be ripped out by the opposing classmates), or the raising of a class flag which the rival class would attempt to bring down by physical force.  At Wittenberg, this ritual involved a dummy made to look like a Sophomore—constructed by the freshmen—which would be strung up on a tree for the Sophomores to attempt a forcible removal.  Below is the account of the 1902 Wittenberg “class rush” featured in the student magazine The Wittenberger.  Unsurprisingly, many colleges and universities eventually forbade the practice, or replaced it with less…uh…ferocious competitions.


The Wittenberger , Vol. XXIX Number 1, September 24th 1902


As usual at the opening of college at Wittenberg, one of the most frequent topics for conversation was the coming contest between the two lower classes.

From the first day until the day on which the rush passed into history, both the Freshmen and Sophs kept counting their braves and comparing their strength with that of their opponents.

The Sophs were confident of winning from the first, and though the Freshies had some hope, they were afraid to let anyone know it.  Many of them were strangers to the situation and not until some of the Sophs had spent the best part of their strength did they realize what was really taking place.  When they did, the Sophs thought for a few moments that another class had been turned loose on them.

The Sophs had been kept guessing two or three days.  They were almost sure Tuesday night that war would begin the next morning.  But when at midnight all the Freshies were snugly tucked in bed and fast asleep the Sophs shook their heads and were put in suspense for twenty-four hours longer.  On Wednesday evening the Sophs were again on the alert and were on the look-out for any sign of the coming fray.  The Freshmen, however, were very cautious and not until the Sophs had captured two Freshmen and found them well supplied with ropes, were they absolutely sure that the scrap was about to take place.  These two men the Sophs confined in the cellar at Wm. Gotwald’s home [probably 505 N. Fountain], where the Sophs had congregated.  Meanwhile the Freshmen had met in a house on West High street and were there discussing their plans.  At four o’clock in the morning they proceeded to campus and just west of Hamma Divinity Hall strung up a dummy gaily decked in the Sophomore class colors.  The dummy was suspended from a wire stretched between two trees and the trees wrapped with barbed wire.

Class rush from a different Year—1907—with the traditional “Soph” dummy in front of Meyers Hall.

When the inhabitants of the Dorm arose on Thursday morning, September 12th, they saw the entire male aggregation of Freshmen assembled in a group under the suspended effigy of the Sophomore class.  The Freshmen girls were also present and gave valuable assistance.  By 8:30 o’clock the entire student body and most of the professors had gathered around the group of Freshmen and were waiting with interest to see what would happen when the Sophs arrived.  Several times the alarm was sounded that they were coming and the Freshies prepared for defense, but nothing came of it.  A few minutes before nine o’clock the Sophs were heard coming up Center hill.  It would be impossible to describe the different expressions on the faces of the Freshmen when they came into view.  But back of it all was the spirit of ‘do or die.’

As the Sophs came nearer the Freshies came closer together and gritted their teeth the harder.  When they were a few feet in front of the Freshmen group they halted.  The signal was given by Capt. Grosscup of the Sophs and ! ! ! ! ! ! !  After the dust had settled somewhat it was difficult to tell which side had the most men down.  At the beginning the Sophs seemed to have much the advantage.  But after a few minutes the Freshies began to realize there was “somethin’ doin’” and began to fight in earnest.  One by one the Sophs found themselves under a Freshmen.  It is impossible to give a personal account of the rush.  Every man did his best and has no reason to be ashamed of his attempt to defend his class honor.  When the fight started Jim Driscol made an attempt to climb one of the trees and take down the dummy, but he had scarcely started when he was pulled down by at least four Freshies.

The tusstle [sic] lasted thirty minutes.  Both Freshmen and Sophomore girls did all they could for their class, but were prevented from taking a too active part by Drs. Ort and Prince.  At the end of half an hour, as the Sophs were vanquished Dr. Ort proclaimed the Freshmen the victors, who after giving their class yell took down the dummy and consigned it to the flames.  Thus another class rush in history.  The Sophs have our sympathy, especially as this is their second defeat.  The Freshmen deserve much credit for the way they fought and for the secrecy with which they formed their plans.  If they had sweethearts out of college they evidently did not tell them when the fight would occur.

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