BY CHLOE JENSEN ’20
“Colorful crowds of people frolicked through the flaming countryside Wednesday as Mount Holyoke scattered over a wide area of the Valley for the annual Mountain Day,” reported a Mount Holyoke News story in 1940. Since 1917, the MHN has been reporting on every student’s favorite opportunity to skip class and enjoy the beautiful fall New England weather — Mountain Day. From climbing, to sleeping in, chanting, singing, apple-picking, drinking and relaxing, the Mount Holyoke News has always been quick to cover the much-favored campus tradition.
Beginning in 1838, Mountain Day is the College’s oldest tradition. On a random day in late September or early October, the president of the College rings the bell 100 times at 7 a.m., signifying the start of Mountain Day. On this day, all classes are canceled and students climb Skinner Mountain. Throughout the years, the Mount Holyoke News has covered it all.
Since the date is a secret, many students enjoy predicting when Mountain Day will fall. In the Sept. 1, 1953 edition of the Mount Holyoke News, writers and editors shared their excitement about the prospect of Mountain Day, despite how early in the year it was. Like they did in 1953, students in 2017 still loved to predict Mountain Day’s arrival. According to an article by Caitlin Lynch ’20, students started creating Mountain Day prediction calculators in anticipation of a holiday that fell somewhat late in the season.
In anticipation of the day, students often decide not to complete their homework in hopes that the following day will be Mountain Day. A 1953 edition of the Mount Holyoke News described the classic Mountain Day scene. “Suddenly, one Monday or Tuesday rumors spread, excitement stirs, and upperclassmen neglect their work. Finally, at 8 a.m. some morning, Mary Lyon peals loudly, officially announcing the beginning of Mountain Day.” In more recent years, the Mount Holyoke News has continued to report on students who forgo their work in the hopes of a Mountain Day reprieve.
Besides climbing Skinner Mountain, other students have taken advantage of their day off to its fullest potential. In 1940, the Mount Holyoke News reported that several students used their Mountain Day to, “muster bicycles sturdy enough for the trip cycled over Amherst and Northampton way for their picnics.” A 1925 edition of the Mount Holyoke News discusses students who, “[ate] at Chicken and Waffles in Old Hadley.”
As a day reserved for no classes, students have always been up to mischief around Mountain Day. This is the very nature of the tradition — it’s a chance for students to let loose and have some fun. However, in the past there were issues with students going astray and missing work. In 1945, in response to these issues and in anticipation of Mountain Day, the MHN editorial staff published a list of guidelines regarding proper Mountain Day behavior. “For the purpose of safety, all students are required to register their definite plans before leaving and to sign in upon their return,” read the report. Additionally, the notice told students “to be especially careful with lighted cigarettes and matches.”
In 2017, a similar realm of naughty behavior landed students a spot on the Campus Police report log. The report indicated that several students were caught attempting arson in order to summon Mountain Day.
However, some students have been known to use this day as an opportunity to relax and unwind. In 1933, the news staff wrote an article about “the Forgotten Gal,” who, “gets left home on Mountain Day,” and, “was studying in the Libe.” The article reports that even the nerdy and bookish girl enjoys Mountain Day. “She was telling the eager world all about what fun Mountain Day is, and how beautiful the bittersweet was along the trail.”
For many students, Mountain Day has been about instilling important memories and honoring love for the College. In an article titled “Sermons in Stones for Mountain Day” published in 1919, Mountain Day was reported to bring “hundreds of Holyokettes, past and present, the visions of rosy-cheeked apple trees, long dusty roads, bits of red foliage and fleecy white clouds.” Because all of the fun pranks and youthful activities — as well as the early New England fall — the love for Mountain Day has prevailed throughout the years.
MHN 101 is a recurring column celebrating the newspaper’s 101 years of student journalism. Archival copies of the Mount Holyoke News can be found at compass.fivecolleges.edu.