Watkinson Library

Trinity Traditions

  1. Matriculation

  2. The Burning of Conic Sections

  3. The College Colors

  4. Trinity College Seal

  5. Class Day

  6. The Lemon Squeezer

  7. Songs of Trinity

  8. The Luther-Roosevelt Long Walk Inscription

  9. The Bantam

Over the course of the years that have ensued since Trinity's founding in 1823, a number of distinctive traditions have been introduced into the life of the College. Providing a sense of continuity with previous generations, traditions afford a glimpse into the past and illuminate the period in which they originated. Many of the College's traditions still flourish, and range from formal and ceremonial to curious and whimsical. Several of the traditions originated during the period prior to 1878 when Trinity was located in downtown Hartford at its first campus on the site of the State Capitol.

 

1. Matriculation


 

Matriculation is the oldest continuously observed tradition at Trinity. The Laws of Washington College, first printed in 1826, stipulated that all freshman were required to sign a declaration promising compliance with the College's laws and regulations governing personal conduct and the academic program.

In late medieval Europe the matricula referred to a list or register of persons who belonged to an order or society, and by extension, a university. Matriculation was the act of registering or enrolling, and constituted admission to a university. In the early 19th century, it marked an individual's formal membership in an educational body and a willingness to observe that institution's rules and regulations. Accordingly, from the earliest period, Trinity freshmen signed a declaration of compliance.

The earliest surviving record of the matriculation tradition at Trinity, a register for the period from 1853 to 1927, contains the signature of a Civil War hero, Griffin A. Stedman, Jr., of the Class of 1859. A Hartford native, Stedman served with the Fifth Connecticut Regiment and then with the Eleventh, which he commanded at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Stedman rose to the rank of Brigadier General, and was mortally wounded at the battle and siege of Confederate forces at Petersburg, Virginia in 1864. His statue at Barry Square in Hartford was dedicated in October 1900, and also commemorates the location of a military encampment where several Connecticut volunteer regiments assembled and trained before being sent to the battlefront.

Only minor alterations have been made over the years to Trinity's matriculation declaration, and its present text, appearing under Title VII in the 1990 edition of The Charter and Standing Rules, reads: "I promise to observe the Statutes of Trinity College; to obey all its Rules and Regulations; to discharge faithfully all scholastic duties imposed upon me; and to maintain and defend all the rights, privileges, and immunities of the College according to my station and degree in the same."

The ceremonial aspects of matriculation date from the early 20th century, and appear to have taken on much of their modern form under President Remsen B. Ogilby in the 1920s and 1930s. During the period before World War II, he arranged for a visiting speaker or member of the faculty to deliver an address, a practice that continued sporadically until the early 1960s. Matriculation continued to be observed during the War, and in postwar years the date on which the ceremony was held in the fall semester varied widely, early to mid-September becoming customary during the 1970s. Coincidentally, when Trinity became coeducational in 1969, the first freshman of the Class of 1973 to sign the matriculation register was a woman.

 

2. The Burning of Conic Sections

 

The study of mathematics was a central component of Trinity's 19th-century curriculum, and an unusual tradition reflects this. By the 1840s, freshmen were required to complete courses in algebra and plane geometry, and sophomores faced the challenges of solid and spherical geometry, trigonometry, surveying, and analytic geometry, including the rigorous study of conic sections. So formidable was this requirement that the sophomores were overjoyed to receive passing grades. At some point in the 1840s, students began staging a mock burning and funeral of "Conic" at the conclusion of their sophomore year. Similar traditions regarding mathematics requirements were prevalent at other colleges and universities, and Trinity's ceremonies undoubtedly drew their inspiration from the initiation rites conducted by "secret" undergraduate societies then popular.

What may have begun as the burning of a copy of a textbook soon became an elaborate nocturnal ritual replete with costumes and special music, including a funeral dirge with lyrics composed for the occasion. In time the entire student body participated, with freshmen obliged to attend in their nightgowns. Friends and family also were invited, and the ceremony became a public event. The proceedings were held in back of the Old Campus near the "Little" River (also known as the Hog or Park River) just before Commencement, which in those days occurred in July, the academic year ending somewhat later than it does today.

Printed programs for the "Concrematio Conicorum" soon became customary, and the terminology that was used playfully drew on Latin then studied by all undergraduates. By the early 1860s, the occasion was known as the "Burning of Analytics,"reflecting a change in the curriculum that called for a more generalized but no less demanding study of analytical geometry. Almost 30 years later, a description in the undergraduate newspaper, The Trinity Tablet, of the trial of Anna conducted by the Class of 1890 on May 31, 1888 reveals how elaborate the ceremony had become. "A verdict of guilty was reached with little difficulty," the Tablet reported, "and the judge sentenced Anna Lytics to be burned at the stake." A procession then formed with a grand panjandrum, priests, high priests, "flamens," acolytes and pall bearers, followed by Mephistopheles and the rest of the class. The pyre consisted of an "immense heap of seventy-five barrels saturated with oil and filled with tar.…" While it blazed, all sang dirges and then gleeful songs, listened to an oration, and proceeded to the gymnasium "where refreshments were served and songs and yells continued until midnight." Reportedly, late the following morning smoke was still issuing from the pyre.

The tradition of the "Burning of Analytics" gradually died out in the 1890s. Course requirements for the baccalaureate degree had changed by that time as had the emphasis on analytical geometry in the curriculum.

 

3. The College Colors

 

In the wake of the Civil War, the increasing popularity of intercollegiate athletic competition, especially in baseball, led Trinity's student body to select college colors which would appear on uniforms. In 1868, the students adopted the combination of dark green and white, colors that had been used as early as the late 1830s on the uniforms of a popular undergraduate marching organization, the "Archers." The latter wore green turbans with black plumes, green frocks and white trousers. In addition, the officers, elected by the members, wore swords at their belts, while the rank and file carried longbows and black quivers filled with arrows. This distinctively attired group appeared at public festivities and in local parades, reportedly much to the delight of the young ladies among the spectators.

In 1877, the suggestion arose to change the colors, perhaps in anticipation of the move to the Summit Campus. Blue and gray were proposed as the new combination, but the student body postponed action. By the early 1880s, students again had become dissatisfied with the colors, complaining that they faded easily and became stained. Furthermore, the old slogan "Long Live the Green and White" had seemingly lost its punch, and there were no longer any undergraduates who had lived or studied on the Old Campus. Sentiment was strong for different colors suitable for the "new Trinity." In October 1883, The Trinity Tablet announced that the colors of dark blue and gold that the undergraduate body had just adopted were worn for the first time by Trinity athletes at an intercollegiate tennis tournament, tennis having recently become a popular sport. "The effect was very good," the Tablet noted. "The colors go well together, and the caps and jerseys of alternate stripes of blue and gold were very becoming." Blue and gold have ever since remained Trinity's colors.

 

4. Trinity College Seal

 

The College seal has been in use since the late 19th century, and reflects the change in the name of the institution from Washington College to Trinity College that occurred in 1845.  The seal is black or blue in color, the lettering and various devices appearing in white or in a formal gold.  In the center of the shield is the facade of a Greek-Revival building that represents Seabury Hall.  The latter was constructed in 1825 on Trinity’s first campus in downtown Hartford, and was used as a lecture hall, library, and chapel. It was named after the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury, the first bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.  Surrounding the building are 13 stars symbolizing the 13 colonies.  At its inception in 1823, Trinity was named in recognition of George Washington, and the stars call attention to his role as a founding father of the country.  Crossed behind the shield are an ornamental key and a staff.  The key connotes the physical property of the College, and to this day at presidential inauguration ceremonies an ornate key is presented to the new president symbolically entrusting to that person the care of the College’s physical resources.  The staff or crosier in the form of a shepherd’s crook symbolizes a bishop’s pastoral responsibilities.  Surmounting the shield is a bishop’s miter.  The staff and miter signify Bishop Seabury as well as the principal founder of the College, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Church Brownell, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and Trinity’s first president from 1824 to 1831.  The abbreviated Latin inscription surrounding the upper two-thirds of the shield reads “The Seal of the College of the Most Holy Trinity.”  The Latin motto at the bottom is “For Church and Country.”  

 

5. Class Day

 

The celebration of Class Day in association with Commencement occurred for the first time in 1855. Established to call attention to the accomplishments of the graduating class and to emphasize the lasting bonds of friendship, Class Day gradually came to include a variety of activities ranging from the semi-serious and nostalgic to the fanciful and humorous. Music, orations, and poems composed for the occasion as well as class chronicles (histories) and prophecies proved extremely popular as did the presentation in the early years of a gift to James Williams, known affectionately as Professor Jim, the College"s first general factotum, who served from 1830 to 1874. Born a slave, he had become a free man, and after extensive travel came to Hartford in the employ of the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Brownell, Trinity's principal founder and first president. Professor Jim bade the seniors farewell in brief remarks at Class Day and served them punch. From the implement he used to prepare the punch emerged the tradition of the "Lemon Squeezer," which is discussed separately.

Class Day also was the occasion for the planting of the class ivy, which first occurred in 1851. That year, a freshman, Edward B. Hughes of New Haven, Class of 1855, brought ivy plantings to the Old Campus, obtained from sprigs at Trinity Church, New Haven. By 1872, the class ivies covered the walls of Jarvis and Brownell Halls, the dormitories. On the Summit Campus, ivy planting gave way for a brief period to the planting of class elm trees.

In addition, it became customary on Class Day to present athletic awards and to hold a dance, for which elaborate programs were printed. Formal invitations were sent to family and friends, and dance cards with pencils attached were prepared for recording the names of dance partners. By the post-World War II period, the proceedings had expanded to include a guest speaker, often a parent. For example, in 1962, Professor Frederick L. Will spoke to the seniors. Chairman of the Philosophy Department at the University of Illinois, Will was the father of George F. Will, the future Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and political commentator.

A time-honored custom associated with Class Day was the ceremonial smoking of the "pipe of peace," instituted in 1856 as a symbol of friendship. The earliest known photographs of Class Day are from the World War I period and show the seniors seated while smoking their pipes. The chairs were set up on the Quad in front of Northam Towers, the prevailing location for Class Day on the Summit Campus, weather permitting. Parents and guests sat behind the graduating class during the ceremonies, and watched as each senior puffed his long-stemmed clay church-warden pipe that he had filled from a large tobacco box available for the occasion. In later years, seniors smoked their pipes during the procession of the graduating class down the Long Walk to Northam.

A long-lived tradition, Class Day served to foster spirit and group identity among the members of each graduating class, and was looked upon as an occasion for reflection about four years " 'Neath the Elms." Celebrated until 1968, Class Day was discontinued with the advent of coeducation, but was revived in 1999.

 

6. The Lemon Squeezer

 

Introduced in 1857, the Lemon Squeezer remains one of the College's most unusual traditions. Under the leadership principally of William W. Niles, who subsequently taught Latin at Trinity and later became the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, the Class of 1857 instituted the tradition of handing down, from class to class, a large wooden lemon squeezer during Class Day ceremonies. Niles and his classmates found their inspiration in the squeezer used by Professor Jim to prepare the Class Day punch. According to a contemporary description, the class entrusted with the squeezer's care was to present it to a rising class "whose aggregate excellence in scholarship, moral character and the qualities requisite to popularity was the highest." The novel idea appealed to the undergraduates and soon led to spirited rivalry. The first recipients, the Class of 1859, passed the squeezer to the Class of 1861, which in turn passed it to the Class of 1863. Members of the honored class secreted the squeezer so that it would be safely preserved while it was in their care. In time, the passing of the squeezer became eagerly anticipated as Class Day neared, and led to the introduction of a "Lemon Squeezer Oration."

Lending mystique to the lemon squeezer are the many escapades that have occurred in the course of its transmission from class to class during the period from the end of the Civil War through the 1950s. In 1969, the late Robert S. Morris, Class of 1916, lemon squeezer historian, recorded in the Trinity Alumni Magazine the many amusing instances in which a rival class seized the squeezer on Class Day and spirited it away before it could be entrusted to the desired recipients. In some cases, it was several years before the squeezer was returned, and this gave rise to the introduction of substitute squeezers.

Perhaps the most celebrated incident involving the 1857 squeezer occurred in 1895. It was then the practice to announce to the student body on the first Monday evening in May the class that would receive the squeezer on Class Day. The designation of '97 as recipient was too much for '96, and on Class Day a free-for-all ensued when a carefully laid plan by several '96 men resulted in the snatching of the squeezer from the speaker's desk in front of Northam Towers. Fought off by '96, '95 and '97 unsuccessfully attempted to open the barred doors to Northam. Meanwhile, the squeezer was passed through a west bedroom window to a '96 man waiting on horseback. As he galloped away that June afternoon, no one suspected that half a century would pass before the squeezer's reappearance.

For several years thereafter, the passing of the squeezer was accomplished by public announcement only, but in 1914 a substitute squeezer was introduced. It was soon carried off as well. Eventually another squeezer entered the picture, but it was separated at the hinge in 1928 during a scuffle between the Classes of 1929 and 1930. The 1914 squeezer reappeared in 1935, and was passed several times with occasional difficulties. During World War II the tradition lapsed, and when Trinity's president, G. Keith Funston, Class of 1932, reintroduced the squeezer in the late 1940s, the Class of 1947 designated the Class of 1948 as recipient. At Class Day in 1948, 1950 received the honor. Shortly thereafter, during dedication ceremonies in the Chapel for the Class of 1896 pew end depicting the famed squeezer coup, a procession of alumni from Delta Phi entered, bearing what they believed was the 1857 squeezer. This, however, was not the case.

Learning of the event through a newspaper report, a member of the Class of 1904 to whom the relic had been entrusted contacted President Funston, who arranged for its return.

The 1857 squeezer was locked away for safekeeping and was passed in absentia by the Class of 1950 to the Class of 1952, the ceremony occurring for the first time on Honors Day rather than on Class Day. In 1952, the presentation to the Class of 1954 was carried out. Two years later, several members of the Class of 1955, fearful that '54 would pass the squeezer to '56, learned that it was under lock and key in the Chapel and managed to liberate it. The squeezer was returned to the College eventually at reunion in May 1969 during an Alumni Association luncheon. Prepared in advance, President Theodore D. Lockwood, Class of 1948, received the squeezer from two '55 men, and promptly handed it to Karl Kurth, Director of Physical Education, who removed it from the scene while members of the coaching staff provided cover.

In the absence of the 1857 squeezer, meanwhile, the 1914 squeezer was brought out of retirement for the 1956 Honors Day ceremony. Members of the Class of 1957, suspecting that the honor of possession would go to another class, seized the squeezer just as it was being conveyed to the Class of 1959, and it was carried off by automobile. The 1914 squeezer was returned to the College in 1966 at the request of President Albert C. Jacobs, who forbade its further appearance in public. The following year, members of the Class of 1957 at their tenth reunion presented a squeezer to President Jacobs, professing it to be the original. During the luncheon, however, a youngster snatched the squeezer from the table on which it had been placed, and outrunning a College dean, made off with substitute number four. It has not been seen since that time.

The 1857 squeezer that had been returned to President Lockwood remained under lock and key at the College during the 1970s. At a fall 1981 convocation, however, the venerable relic again made a public appearance. President James F. English, Jr. revived what he called an "agreeably zany" tradition as a way of reinvigorating class spirit. The 1857 squeezer was passed during the 1980s and 1990s, with occasional attempts at denying its transfer. Entrusted most recently by the Class of 1993 to the Class of 1995, the squeezer vanished from campus in 1995 and remains at large.

Another squeezer entered the picture in the spring of 1999. This squeezer was presented to the College on Honors Day by the daughter of the late Joseph C. Clarke, who was Dean of Students at the time of the 1956 escapade involving the 1914 squeezer. Dean Clarke had intervened to prevent disciplinary action being taken against the members of the Class of 1957 involved in the incident. Entrusted to the Class of 2001 at the 1999 Honors Day ceremony, the Clarke Squeezer commemorates a highly respected Trinity administrator and serves as a symbol of class spirit. At Honors Day 2001 the squeezer was passed to the Class of 2003.

 

7. Songs of Trinity

 

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, music was a major pastime of college students, and singing in vocal groups was particularly enjoyed. Trinity undergraduates and alumni occasionally composed songs or wrote new lyrics for familiar tunes, using the College or members of the faculty as a theme. Students usually sung such songs at informal gatherings or athletic events, undergraduate vocal ensembles performed them on more formal occasions, and alumni took great pleasure in singing them at reunions, class dinners or alumni association meetings. Reflecting the music that was popular at any given period, the songs were usually sentimental or whimsical in nature.

In 1868, Oliver Ditson & Co., a major music publisher in Boston, issued Carmina Collegensia, a collection of American college songs. Trinity was represented by 14 selections, including Long Live Old Trinity, with words by John H. Brocklesby, Class of 1865, and Good Old Trinity by James Buchanan, Class of 1853. The Trinity song best known today is the College's alma mater, 'Neath the Elms*. The words were written in 1882 by Augustus P. Burgwin, a senior that year, to accompany the tune of an old spiritual that his family's butler often sang. The College had just begun to plant elm trees on the Quad, and the nostalgic verses of 'Neath the Elms* immediately became popular among undergraduates and alumni alike. The alma mater was soon sung at Commencement and at alumni gatherings.

On occasion Trinity faculty members found themselves the subject of undergraduate songs. For example, The Faculty Song, dating from the 1890s, features President George W. Smith, former President Thomas R. Pynchon, and a host of beloved faculty from that period, including a future president, Flavel S. Luther, Seabury Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. A favorite among undergraduates because of his intense interest in the welfare of the student body and in intercollegiate sports, Professor Luther often figured in Trinity songs, particularly in the 1890s and early 1900s. The words of one song with the title Mr. Luther were from the pen of the Hon. Joseph Buffington, Class of 1875, a distinguished federal judge and trustee of the College, and were probably written during 1903-1904 when Luther was Trinity's acting president. The Trustees appointed him the 11th president in 1904.

 

8. The Luther-Roosevelt Long Walk Inscription

 

One tradition that has developed in the years ensuing since the end of World War I concerns the inscription in the pavement in front of Northam Towers. Since its placement in 1919, members of the Trinity community as well as visitors have generally avoided stepping on the inscription, perhaps instinctively aware that it is connected with some event in the College's history. The inscription in fact commemorates the visit in June 1918 of former President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, who delivered an address and received an honorary degree at Commencement.

Colonel Roosevelt, as he was then known, was a friend of Trinity's president, Flavel S. Luther, a Republican and ardent Progressive. Active in local and state politics, Luther served two terms in the State Senate and chaired the Education Committee. The Luther-Roosevelt friendship grew out of shared political convictions as reflected in a long and frequent exchange of letters. A mathematician, astronomer and civil engineer, Luther served as the College's president from 1904 to 1919. It had long been his wish to have Trinity confer an honorary degree on the former president, but the latter generally declined such offers from colleges and universities. Luther found his opportunity in Roosevelt's suggestion that the College award an honorary degree to his friend, Russell Jordan Coles, a tobacco grower, naturalist and sportsman from Virginia. The Trustees agreed to confer honorary degrees on Coles as well as Roosevelt at Commencement in June 1918. Roosevelt accepted Luther's invitation to deliver an address at an open-air service on the Trinity campus the day preceding Commencement. Although in failing health by the spring of 1918, he nonetheless honored his commitment, not wishing to disappoint Luther and Coles.

Taking the theme of his address from Old Testament scripture, the former president dwelled on the emptiness of boasting and its prejudicial effect on the conduct of the war in Europe. He cited as his text a passage from First Kings, Chapter 20, Verse 11, in which the King of Israel responds to a boasting warrior: "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." Roosevelt indicated that, in his estimation, thoughtless exaggeration of American might had reinforced the German will to pursue the war. He reminded his audience, estimated to have exceeded 5,000, that much work remained to be done and that the country had to gear itself up for the supreme effort. Less than a month later, Roosevelt's youngest son, Quentin, was shot down in aerial combat in France.

In January 1919, not long after Roosevelt's death, a suggestion was made in the Tripod that a suitable memorial of the event might be a tablet placed over Northam's archway bearing the biblical text that had inspired the 1918 address. Rather than on a tablet, the Old Testament passage in Latin was set into the pavement in front of Northam.

 

9. The Bantam

Trinity's familiar mascot, the bantam, owes its origin to the Hon. Joseph Buffington, Class of 1875, a distinguished federal judge and trustee of the College. President Benjamin Harrison appointed him United States Judge to the Federal Court in Western Pennsylvania in 1892, and President Theodore Roosevelt named him to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 1904. At his retirement in 1938, Judge Buffington's 46 years on the Federal Bench earned him the distinction of having served longer than any judge in the history of United States courts at that time. He was noted as an exceptional after-dinner speaker, and his reply to the toast for Trinity at the spring 1899 annual dinner in Pittsburgh of the Princeton Alumni Association of Western Pennsylvania was an historic moment in the annals of the College's history.

Alumni of other colleges and universities were among the guests at the dinner, and before sharing his observations on the contributions Trinity was making to higher education and on what he considered the qualities of a Trinity student, Judge Buffington referred to his alma mater's competitiveness and spirit both on and off the playing field:

"They tell me that Trinity is in great company to-night [sic]," he noted. "That old John Harvard with the self-satisfied serenity which he generally carries in his clothes, is here; that old Eli Yale with his equal serenity of self-satisfaction has for this evening, at least, stopped telling everyone where he hails from, et omnia coetera, abides with you, and is going to spend a real modest evening; that the big tiger [is] good humored now that he is feasted [:] all unite to form an awe-inspiring collegiate trio. In the presence of these mighty chanticleers of the collegiate barnyard, I presume the Trinity bantam should feel outclassed, possibly if he took your estimate of your-selves and yours of him he would. But I tell you, my fellow chanticleers, that the Trinity bantam has been brought up in the Trinity barnyard on different principles, and the most marked outcome of his collegiate training is the fostering of a habit which leads him to size things from his own standpoint, and not have somebody else size them for him. The Trinity bantam ever feels that whatever company is fit for him to be at, he is entirely fit to be there, or as the Amherst man said in looking around a Trinity table "You Trinity fellows seem to fill your clothes." You will therefore understand, gentlemen, the spirit in which the Trinity bantam, game from comb to spur, crows at your door, hops in, shakes his tail feathers, and with a sociable nod to the venerable John, and a good natured "How d'ydo" to the ponderous old Elihu steps into the collegiate cock pit, makes his best bow to the tiger, says he is glad to be here, is not a whit abashed at your hugeness, [and] is satisfied with himself and his own particular coop."

Word of the bantam spread to the campus and among Trinity alumni, and Judge Buffington arranged to have his address printed for wider circulation. Within a short time, newspapers were referring to Trinity athletic teams as the Bantams, and the idea of the bantam as the College's mascot caught on. Since then the bantam has been used in Trinity publications, has appeared on pennants, buttons and sports paraphernalia, and in recent years has been a familiar figure at College events as well as at sports events and alumni reunions.