5 Things You Didn’t Know about Founder’s Day

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 08:45
President Pasquerella and her executive assistant serve ice cream on Founder's Day 2013.

At 9 am on Friday, November 8, seniors gathered at Mary Lyon’s grave to honor the College’s founder in a particularly unusual manner—by eating ice cream. Here’s why.

1. Eating ice cream on Founder’s Day started as a prank.

One fall about a century ago, upperclasswomen told first-year students that trustees churned ice cream at Mary Lyon’s grave every Founder’s Day at 6 am. (They didn't.) It was a joke repeated for several years, but around 1920, seniors took pity on the firsties and showed up with early-morning ice cream. Since then, College trustees, deans, and presidents have all served as scoopers.

2. Ice cream wasn’t always the dessert associated with Founder’s Day.

At least through the 1960s, a steamed brown-bread pudding known as Deacon Porter’s Hat was served in the dining halls on Founder’s Day.

3. Founder’s Day isn’t always celebrated on the same day.

It is traditionally held on the Sunday closest to November 8, the day Mount Holyoke Seminary opened its doors in 1837.

4. Founder’s Day was once much more formal.

Past commemorations included professors in full academic regalia, students laying wreaths on the grave, presentation of honorary degrees, and an annual dinner at which alumnae received awards.

5. Founder’s Day has been held each year except one since 1891.

Started by President Elizabeth Mead, the tradition has continued in some form annually except during the polio epidemic of 1916.