Mountain Day goes from controlled to carefree

Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections During a 1970s Mountain Day, a Mount Holyoke student has a picnic on the grass with Ritz crackers and spirits.

Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections

During a 1970s Mountain Day, a Mount Holyoke student has a picnic on the grass with Ritz crackers and spirits.

BY SHILOH FREDERICK '17

For many work-weary Mount Holyoke students, faculty and staff, Mountain Day is seen as a day of freedom, a break from the daily schedule of classes and obligations. However, the carefree Mountain Day we know and pine for wasn’t always that way. The College’s day off has a history of structure and regulations behind it.

While current students can spend Mountain Day however they want, the very first Mountain Days were interpreted very literally. According to a zine created by Iris Parker Pavitt ’15 for Archives and Special Collections, during the first Mountain Day “students and teachers set out by carriage at dawn, and hiked the arduous pathway to the top. They returned to the seminary at noon ‘fatigued by excessive exercise but amply compensated with a rich fund of knowledge gained by the observation of the morning.’”

By 1929, Mount Holyoke students were not confined to the limits of the mountain. The whole of the Pioneer Valley was open for their exploration. However, there was one catch. A notice sent to the student body by the Dean of the College reminded students, “… Mountain Day is given as a day to be spent out-of-doors, and not for shopping or the movies.”

Students at the college in 1957 still were encouraged to “enjoy the New England countryside,” but they had to notify the College of their Mountain Day plans before venturing off campus. The Office of the Dean of Residence also made sure to request that students “not plan to make excursions to the men’s colleges. The Deans of these colleges have notified us that our students are not welcome in the middle of the week.” Whatever they decided to do for the day, students had to return to campus by 6:20 p.m., a curfew that could only be extended with permission from the Office of the Dean of Residence.

It appears that by 1991, the College regulations had relaxed, allowing Mountain Day to evolve into the free-for-all that we’ve come to look forward to. An article from the College Street Journal noted, “Sleeping in until noon was Rebecca Decoster’s ’95 idea of a great mountain day before driving to the top of Mt. Holyoke with friends.” Other students that year painted landscapes at the marina, played kickball at Quabbin Reservoir, ordered Domino’s pizza and studied for an upcoming psychology test. 

Even with the freedom of choice current students have, Gabrielle Lachtrup ’17 still thinks it is important to make the trip up Mt. Holyoke. “It’s a cool tradition because it’s about doing something outside that’s the opposite of work,” she said. “It’s essentially saying that even free time isn’t something that always has to be scheduled or managed and that people don’t always have to be scheduled or managed. You come together as a community to share this experience that’s spontaneous and unexpected and natural.”

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