Traditions are an important part of the Wells Community, and one tradition that evolved many times before falling out of practice was Ivy Day, also known as Class Day. The first version of Class Day was in 1871. On the Monday after commencement, the graduating class planted elm trees on campus. The practice became known as Class Day, a day for speeches and banquets taking place within a couple of days after commencement. Eventually the tradition changed to planting ivy and in 1901 the name was changed to Ivy Day.
The seniors would wear their caps and gowns, and the rest of the students would wear white dresses. After the fire that destroyed the original Main Building, the seniors planted their ivy around the new Main Building. The year of Frances Folsmon Cleveland’s graduation the ivy was provided by President Grover Cleveland. After the planting was completed, a member of the graduating class would present a trowel to the president of the junior class, to pass along the responsibility of the senior class. The ceremony would include speeches, and concluded with the singing of the Alma Mater. In 1903, the seniors sang an original Ivy Day song, that was performed until 1932. In 1932 “Ivy Walled College” became the new Ivy Day song.
Another aspect of the ceremony was a procession by the students, some years carrying a maple chain, other years carrying daisies (the school flower). The classes would form a W, through which the seniors would walk. The ceremony became less solemn as time went by, and the serious speeches were replaced with humor.
Main Building eventually became too engulfed in ivy, and in 1915 the senior classes began planting ivy at other buildings around campus. In 1918 the seniors planted their ivy around Zabriskie. Eventually there was so much ivy around Main Building that it had to be removed for the safety of the building. When it was removed, you could see the class names where they had planted their ivy. The tradition of Ivy Day itself began to disappear in the 1950’s.
Information taken from the print and photo collection of the Wells College Archive, Louis Jefferson Long Library, Aurora, New York.
Tiffany Raymond ’10 Reference and Instruction Librarian Wells College Long Library