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The Freshmen-Sophomore Brawl and four other forgotten Cal traditions

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MARCH 15, 2014

The Big Game rally, rolling down 4.0 hill … blacking out the weekend before Dead Week. These are traditions we’re all familiar with, whether or not we choose to participate in them. But Berkeley has a rich history, and over the years, some traditions have thrived —  and others have died. We at the Clog would like to temporarily revive these forgotten traditions. So trade your study session for a stroll down memory lane, and check out the bizarre things we used to do in the name of school pride:

Freshmen-Sophomore Brawl:The Brawl began in 1907 after the banning of the Charter Hill rushes. First and second year men met annually on an athletic field ready for a day of tug-of-war battles, jousting matches and push-ball contests. The events were overseen by the Big “C” society to ensure that the games were clean and fair. The brawl continued over the years, and by the mid-1960s, women began to take part too. We’re not really sure why these games aren’t conducted anymore — we wish we had the chance to bring honor and glory to our graduating class by winning a match of tug-of-war. Although maybe it’s a good thing we can’t take part in the Brawl – 6,000 students per side gathering in one area would probably violate every fire code currently in existence.

Class Clothing: around the turn of the 20th century, the “plug” became all the rage as campus men’s wear. Seniors wore a dignified top hat, while juniors wore grey ones. Strangely enough, the more battered and dirty a “plug” was, the more distinction and respect it earned. As the times changed, a “senior sombrero” was initiated by the class of 1913, and was considered a representative of western spirit. It stuck around until 1920, and only disappeared because it became fashionable for men to go without hats on informal occasions. The seniors may have worn dignified and noble headwear for some time, but the freshmen were stuck with soft, felt “pork pie” turned up hats with a narrow gold band around the crown.

The Burial of Bourdon and Minto: Modeled after a similar event at Yale, this spectacle was enacted between the years of 1878 and 1903. At the end of every year, the freshman class would burn copies of Bourdon’s “Elements of Algebra” and Minto’s “Manual of English Prose Composition” (the main freshman textbooks), and bury the ashes. Over the years, the simple ceremony became more and more elaborate, with students dressing in mourning garb and bringing coffins to the event. But as enrollment at Cal increased, non-students were able to sneak into the event undetected and the ceremony often spilled off campus and into town. When riots broke out, resulting in private property damage and student injuries, the University was compelled to ban the ceremony.

Partheneia: In 1911, Miss Lucy Sprague, then dean of women, started Partheneia, an annual open-air performance pageant presented in spring. After a competition for a student-written script in fall, the first performance took place on April 6, 1912. It came to be performed by about 400-500 female students in the Faculty Glade, with the general theme of transitioning from girlhood to womanhood. The pageant continued every year until 1931 when, apparently, students lost interest. Perhaps they had a problem with the fact that the entire point of the pageant was to provide a platform for performance for female students “informed with beauty and with memorial ritual.”



“Pedro:” “Pedro” was a loud, drawn-out call heard in Berkeley at night. The call became the loudest just before final exams. While the tradition was long-standing, the origin was unknown. One version of the story describes how the daughter of Don Jose Domingo Peralta (a prominent landowner in Berkeley) was separated from her lover, Pedro. She roamed the lands, calling his name, and though he never came back, her ghost returned on moonlit nights and sympathetic students tried to help her find him. Another version tells the story of Pedro, the dog of a former President of the University. When Pedro was lost just before examinations one year, the President promised that examinations would be cancelled if the beloved dog was found. He never returned, but students still called his name in vain, hoping they would be successful in bringing Pedro home.

Image source: featured photo,  image 1, image 2

Contact Shruti Koti at [email protected].

MARCH 15, 2014

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