The University of Missouri celebrated the 100th anniversary of its homecoming in October, citing a tradition that dates back to 1911. Many (including the game show “Jeopardy!” and the board game Trivial Pursuit) have credited the Tigers with inventing the celebration; Mizzou’s claim even found its way into a recent episode of “NCIS.”
But in anticipation of Missouri’s centennial event, historians started digging into the history of collegiate homecomings and found something interesting.
“Baylor probably had the first homecoming,” says Ellen Swain, the archivist for student life and culture at the University of Illinois, which also has been credited with holding one of the earliest homecomings. In fact, a 2005 report by Illinois’ University Archives points to Baylor as the site of the first recognizable homecoming celebration, a two-day event in November 1909 that included a bonfire, pep rally, parade and football game.
Other rivals for the honor of having hosted the first collegiate homecoming include Illinois, which hosted a “home-coming” in Oct. 1910 centered around a football game and became an annual event; Indiana, which hosted a similar event three weeks after Illinois (and may have even copied the idea from UI); and Northern Illinois, which began holding an annual alumni banquet in 1906 but did not refer to its event as a homecoming until 1911.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MIZZOU Magazine and even the Associated Press have all looked into the issue this fall, and each concludes the same way: it depends on how you define “homecoming.” The Mizzou report in particular seems to brush off Baylor’s claim, since the BU event didn’t become an annual occasion until years later. But if we’re simply looking for who held the first Homecoming event — a weekend where alumni are invited back to campus, centered around an intercollegiate football game — it seems pretty clear Baylor led the way.
Sic ’em, Baylor homecomers!
(Limited tickets are still available for some Pigskin Revue shows and for the football game against [coincidentally] Missouri; get yours now!)