Lawrence History Through the Archives

Julia Stringfellow

Frigid temperatures, excessive snow, and heavy outerwear characterize Winter Term. For many years, Lawrence students took these unfavorable conditions of the Arctic North and celebrated with traditions such as the Winter Carnival, snow sculpting contests, Winter Weekend, and sledding down Union Hill and trying not to land in the Fox River.
Winter Carnival was first held in 1933. Activities of the carnival included horse-drawn carriage rides around campus, sitting by the fire in Riverview Lounge in Memorial Union and drinking hot cocoa, and tricycle races. An ice rink was created in front of Ormsby Hall so students could ice skate. Students also played broomball on the ice, organizing teams and taking brooms and a ball out onto it. Curling was also a winter sport played at Lawrence.
A popular winter tradition at Lawrence that started in the 1940s was creating sculptures using snow and ice. Teams were assigned plots where their sculptures would be, and trashcans were swiped from Main Hall and used to haul snow to the sculpture site. There was a snow sculpture contest where faculty and staff served as judges. Sculptures represented a variety of topics, including a guy watching television, campus buildings, Uncle Sam, a Viking, and the Lawrence version of Mount Rushmore.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Winter Weekend was held in February and was a good way to break up the term. Students went skiing and tobogganing at several places up north, including Potawatomi State Park in Door County. Members of the Lawrence Ski Club were on hand to teach people how to ski.
The most popular tradition that continues to this day is sledding down Union Hill and trying not to end up in the river. Some modifications have been made to the hill in the past, and up until the 1960s the hill went straight down to the river without a gravel road and garden to break it up. This made it even more of a challenge not to sled right onto the Fox. Students had races down the hill, using “flying saucers.”
Being in Wisconsin, it is extremely cold and snowy in winter, and there are days when the Lawrence community hopes that perhaps classes will be cancelled and the university closed so they can enjoy a snow day and stay inside. Unfortunately, the last time this happened was in the 1960s. Before that, during the 1950s, one brave student contacted then Lawrence president Douglas Knight using some false identity and reported there was some condition that would absolutely prohibit school. President Knight was taken in by this, and he announced there would be no classes that day. However the student managed to pull this off, it worked, and a lot of sledding down Union Hill took place that day.
The next “Lawrence History Through The Archives” article will focus on the Annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest coming up at the end of January.