By: Ellen Glover, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2018, Journalism, Bloomington
This blog is comprised of excerpts from the Class Scrap podcast. All information was obtained from the Indiana University Library Archives.
Perhaps the most interesting part of researching Indiana University’s history is being able to see just how different life was like for students a hundred years ago. Everything seems to have changed, the way we dress, study, and spend our free time. It turns out for much of the 19th century IU had no organized sports for students to join. Due to the lack of school-sanctioned, organized physical activity, students partook in a somewhat chaotic yearly event known as the “class scrap.”
The “class scrap” basically just involved two opposing teams, usually freshmen versus sophomores, beating each other up and throwing each other around on a designated spot on campus. These fights lasted all through the 19th century and were finally outlawed by the university in 1924 (after years of failed attempts).
The “class scrap” tradition has a strange beginning. The first recorded scrap was on February 22, 1820 – George Washington’s Birthday.
In those days, the sophomore class was required to study Horace, the Roman poet. When the Horace lessons were finally over, the students were so fed up with him that they decided to set their books on fire in the middle of campus. The freshmen strongly opposed the destruction of the books and tried to stop the sophomores. The altercation became a full on brawl and the “class scrap” was born. This particular form of “class scrap” became known as the “Burning of Horace” and was on that same day each year.
This was just the first of many forms of the “class scrap.” After the “Burning of Horace” became an annual event, the freshman class wanted their own tradition, so they created a freshman flag that they would hang up around campus. However, like the freshmen did not want the sophomores to burn Horace, the sophomores did not want the freshman flag waving, so, at every chance they got, they would rip it down. Through their efforts to either keep the flag up or tear it down, the two classes would get into a scrap. This soon became a freshman custom and was known as the “Flag Rush.”
For a number of years these scraps had little to no rules. Seniors and juniors would oversee as referees but only to make sure no one killed each other. Other than that, there were very few regulations, and this led to some interesting tactics.
The class scraps didn’t just entail the actual fight. For many years, the weeks leading up to the looming brawl proved to be just as, if not more, treacherous than the scraps themselves. According to Board of Trustees minutes and student testimonials, sophomores and upperclassmen often tortured freshmen. Sophomores would attack young freshmen and cut their hair to the scalp. According to IU legend, any upperclassmen who managed to rub the baldhead of a freshman would have good luck for the rest of the year. It was a common sight to see members of the junior and senior classes rubbing the newly shaved heads of mortified freshmen in doorways and hallways.
But the pre-scrap traditions usually grew even more ugly that that. Students from both the freshman and sophomore class would get kidnapped by the opposing class so they couldn’t participate in the scrap.
Perhaps the most infamous of all the pre-scrap shenanigans was when a group from the sophomore class of 1907 interrupted a freshman class meeting and tossed a quart of formaldehyde through an open door. That, and the couple of times when students leveled shotguns at each other, proved to be the last straw for IU’s president at the time, William Lowe Bryan, and influenced him to make some changes to this tradition.
The first change was that both classes had to promise to abstain from the pre-scrap pranks like hair cutting and kidnapping. This promise had been made before by classes-past but it seems this time it stuck more or less. Also, new, safer and more regulated games were scheduled to take the place of the violent scraps.
First, Bryan established an annual football game. This provided an organized and regulated way for the classes to let off some steam. He and the Board of Trustees also established some acceptable, more organized scraps that would be held. One of these was the “Cane Rush.” The game required eight representatives (4 freshmen and 4 sophomores) to stand in the middle of the football field, all holding onto one large cane. These men were surrounded by the rest of the students in the sophomore and freshman classes, standing no less than 10 yards away. And at the firing of a pistol, the members from the classes who surrounded the eight men could charge and tussle so that by the next shot of the pistol, their class had the most hands on the stick.
Another competition was “Pushball,” a game that was loosely related to soccer. A large leather ball was placed at the center of the football field at the 50-yard line and 50 members from both the sophomore and freshman classes would stagger evenly around the field. The object of the game was to get the ball in the opponent’s territory and score as many goals as possible.
And finally there was the “Bag Contest.” For this competition, six gigantic bags, each about six feet high and stuffed with straw, were placed on either side of the football field, three on each goal line. Participants from each class had to try to move the heavy bags as far as they could across the field. Whichever class was able to push the bags the furthest was declared the winner.
These more orderly scraps continued to be sanctioned by the school until class scraps and hazing were abolished entirely at Indiana University in 1924. This ban was put into place due to uneven participation among the classes, the overall difficulty in regulating the scraps, unfavorable publicity to IU, and the danger the scraps imposed on students.
In the context of today’s sports and competitions held at IU these class scraps may seem a bit old-fashioned if not just downright dangerous. But at the time, they provided one of the only outlets for IU students to blow off steam and show their class spirit. They brought the entire school together and taught the students how to work together to defeat a common enemy.
These class scraps also made the students proud of be Hoosiers and proud of being a freshman or sophomore, during scrapping season these men were family, defending their class reputation and each other. So in hindsight we can look at these scraps fondly, both because of what they gave to the IU students at the time, and also what they teach us about that time today.
Listen to more podcasts here:
Music from this podcast courtesy of freemusicarchive.org:
“Dance with Me” by Sergey Cheremisinov: Sergey Cheremisinov, Attribution-Noncommerical License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Sergey_Cheremisinov/Hidden_Crystal/Sergey_Cheremisinov_-_Hidden_Crystal_-_01_Dance_With_Me
“Pine Apple Rag” by Scott Joplin: Scott Joplin, Public Domain Mark 1.0 License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Scott_Joplin/Frog_Legs_Ragtime_Era_Favorites/08_-_scott_joplin_-_pine_apple_rag
“Brass Buttons” by Blue Dot Sessions: Blue Dot Sessions, Attribution Non-Commercial License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Blue_Dot_Sessions/Nursury/Brass_Buttons
“Heartbeat Feeling” by Illusory Scapes: Illusory Scapes, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDirivatives License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Illusory_Scapes/Figments_Of_My_Wishes/Illusory_Scapes_-_Figments_Of_My_Wishes_-_05_Heartbeat_Feeling
“One Way Life” by The Shining Men: The Shining Men, Attribution-Noncommercial License, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/The_Shining_Men/17_Sons_Records_-Vol_1/09_-_One_way_life