Freshman Beanies and Cap Night

15 02 2013

Students in costume for the Nightshirt parade in 1905. This is one year before the burning of the beanies was added and Cap Night began.

   How easy is it to spot a freshman? It may be pretty hard to determine someone’s grade level just by looking at them. In the early 1900s however, this was not the case. In the school handbook a rule was instituted that said, “Each and Every Freshman shall wear at all times during the Fall and Spring Terms, except on Sunday, caps.” Thus the freshman beanie was born. The official cap was brown with a small visor and a green button. Students who were not yet freshman, or Sub-freshman as they were called, had to wear a gray cap with a black button.


This poster from 1906 is announcing Cap Night.

This tradition was continued until the spring of 1920 when it was announced in the M.A.C. Record that the new ruling on Caps was that, “first-year men must wear freshman lids the year around. The regular brown cap with the green button may be worn during the spring and the fall, and the brown regular fresh toque may be worn during the cold weather.  The “fresh” may wear either cap, but he must wear one, says the soph.”  According to the handbook, two years later it was decided that being a married man exempted first year students from this rule.

This poster from 1921 depicts rats wearing the freshman beanies.

This poster from 1921 depicts rats wearing the freshman beanies.

After enduring a year of cap wearing, a celebration called “Cap Night,” would be held, adding to the previous event of the Nightshirt Parade.  During the week of commencement a large procession of seniors holding their school books would follow the band to Sleepy Hollow. The freshman would join in the parade wearing their nightshirts and caps. When the group reached Sleepy Hollow, there would be fight songs sung and speeches given. Fireworks would be set off and a large bonfire made. The seniors would then burn their books and the freshman their caps in the large bonfire. The nightshirt parade had been long practiced, but the introduction of the book and cap burning happened in 1906. This tradition would continue until 1933. The M.A.C. Record tells us that people from the Lansing area, who were not affiliated with the college, would even come to see the spectacle. The only change that was made was during the Great War, or World War I. According to the M.A.C. Record, instead of the caps being burned, they were collected into a box and donated to war relief efforts.

Written by Sarah B., intern

Please visit us in Conrad Hall to see the accompanying exhibit created by Sarah B.




2 responses

26 02 2014
Bob Nelson

So glad to find this article! Thank you! I have one of these Freshman Caps in my collection (Item #113)…

27 02 2014

That’s a neat cap! The freshmen beanies are a rare find since most students burned them during Cap Night.

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