By JIMMY BRYANT
On Thursday, most people in this country will be celebrating Thanksgiving.
University of Central Arkansas students and faculty will be out of class Wednesday through Friday, and UCA staff and administrators will be off Thursday and Friday.
During the early years, UCA students, faculty and staff received one day off, Thanksgiving Day, and then returned to the classroom on Friday.
A century ago, in 1911, UCA officially observed only four holidays, Thanksgiving — with one day off; Christmas, Dec. 22-January 3; Robert E. Lee’s birthday — Jan. 19; and George Washington’s birthday — Feb. 22. One could argue that New Year’s Day was also observed in 1911 because the Christmas holiday was extended to Jan. 3.
For several years, much of Thanksgiving Day at UCA was taken up by the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game, most often played against the Hendrix Bulldogs. In 1925, UCA and Hendrix renewed their Thanksgiving Day rivalry. The two had last played on Thanksgiving Day in 1919, but due to some unfortunate violence in the same year, the administrators of both institutions thought it wise to discontinue athletic competition until a later date.
In the Nov. 13, 1925, Echo (UCA’s student newspaper), an appeal was made for all students to be on their best behavior when UCA renewed its rivalry with Hendrix:
"A new significance can now be placed on the last Thursday in November. Besides marking the occasion of the Thanksgiving, it now marks the burying of the hatchet of unsportsmanship between the State Teachers College and Hendrix and the official renewal of friendly relations."
The Echo continued, "The Bears and the Bulldogs will clash on the gridiron of the Robert W. Young Memorial Stadium Thanksgiving day, to determine the football championship of Conway. Each team has already conceded a severe drubbing to the opposing team and judging by all reports a battle royal will be in evidence ... .
"Alumni from both schools, citizens of Conway, and disinterested spectators will bid fair to achieve as near as possible the complete packing of the 6,000 capacity concrete bowl.
"Incidentally, it is hoped by the majority of each school that any ‘soreheads’ and ‘Bolsheviks’ of either school will be swallowed up and smothered by the immense crowd and any references which are aimed (at) the old spirit of poor spirit and antagonism will be decidedly out of place."
Hendrix won the Thanksgiving Day game in 1925 by a score of 30-6. Even though the game was a lop-sided affair, the sports writer for the Log Cabin Democrat characterized it in a different way.
According to the Nov. 27, 1925, Log Cabin Democrat, "In a great scrap which overcame weather handicaps to attain classic proportions and ended in a rousing exhibition of football, which for suspense and thrills has hardly been equaled on a Conway gridiron. Hendrix defeated State Teachers college, 30-6, Thanksgiving in the Young Memorial Stadium, the Bulldog victory being won on scores compiled in the first half."
UCA no longer plays a football game on Thanksgiving Day. The tradition ended on Nov. 25, 1954, in a game against Henderson State University. UCA lost that game by a score of 35-7.
Thanksgiving Day during UCA’s early years held quite a bit of significance.
Along with the annual Thanksgiving football game, it also served as an unofficial Homecoming, years before the first official Homecoming that was observed on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, 1927. Additionally, the first edition of The Echo came out close to Thanksgiving in November 1909.
The first Echo was known as the "Thanksgiving Number" and was Volume 1, No. 1, with a turkey proudly pictured on the front of the publication.
The first Echo contained poetry and prose, a short article on school athletics, an article on the Arkansas State Normal School’s Department of Agriculture, a review of the school’s first year of operation, articles on the Y.W.C.A. and the Y.M.C.A., information about the school’s literary societies and 10 pages of advertisements. It did not resemble today’s Echo, but focused on short stories, information about the school and poetry.
Viola Stone, a 1909 UCA student, wrote a poetic essay on nature that appeared in the first Echo titled "An Hour with Nature." A paragraph from her essay reads, "After we enter the woods, sitting quietly down, with dreamy and receptive mind, we listen to the breathing of Nature. The silence is broken only by the mysterious calls of the timid little wood creatures — calls which can be interpreted only by those for whom they were intended. The stately trees seem to breathe out audible whispers of patience and encouragement. Enveloping all, like a tasteful mantle, and blending together in a harmonious whole, are the exquisite beauties and colorings of the forest."
In regard to the article on the Normal School’s Department of Agriculture, The Echo stated, "It is true that there are many farm products raised in Arkansas in a haphazard way. It is also true that there are many people in the State who give medicine, and there are not a few who practice law; but before a man is said to be a doctor he must have gone to a medical college and learned the nature of diseases and the science of medicine; and before a man can justly be called a lawyer, he must have completed a law course in some reputable law school. The same should be said about the farmer. If he is to be a scientific farmer, he must know something of the science of farming."
Thanksgiving Day programs were usually held on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
In 1917, the Thanksgiving program was given by the members of the American literature classes. According to the Nov. 30, 1917 Echo, "A story of the courtship of Miles Standish was read by Miss Myrtle Loummis. This was followed by a pantomime, in which Miss Vida Adams played the part of Priscilla, Mr. Bert Larry the part of John Alden, Mr. Harris the part of Miles Standish and Mr. Carpenter the part of the priest. Miss Beula Wingfield favored the audience with a beautiful piano solo."
During the 1920s, it was customary for an article about Thanksgiving to appear on the front pages of The Echo.
There was always some reference to Thanksgiving and what it meant to society at that time. In 1924, the Thanksgiving program was given by the students of the Training School. The Training School students (first, second and third grades in this case) provided the entertainment during the time usually reserved for Chapel exercises. Some of the songs they sang included "America," "Thanksgiving Day," and "Thanksgiving in the Henhouse."
The Echo of Nov. 27, 1924, issued a Thanksgiving proclamation and stated in part, "We approach that season of the year when it has been the custom for the American people to give thanks for the good fortune which the bounty of Providence, through the generosity of nature, has visited upon them. It is altogether a good custom. It has the sanction of antiquity and the approbation of our religious convictions .... The year has been marked by a continuation of peace whereby our country has entered into relationship of better understanding with all the other nations of the earth. Ways have been revealed to us by which we could perform very great service through the giving of friendly counsel, through the extension of a spirit of neighborly kindness to less favored people.
"We should give thanks for the power which has been given into our keeping, with which we have been able to render these services to the rest of mankind."
Author’s Note: Sources for this article include The Echo, the Log Cabin Democrat, Dr. Wayne Stengel, and ucasports.com — the football record book maintained by Steve East.