Blog Post #32
by Jane Van Ryan
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its first Homecoming in early November. As in years gone by, the students will decorate campus buildings, hold several entertaining and raucous events, and thousands of alumni will return to campus to reminisce and cheer loudly at the football game. During this year’s Homecoming, the Volunteers will host the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles on the gridiron Nov. 5.
U.T.’s first Homecoming was held on Nov. 11, 1916, when Evelyn Hazen was a student at the university. According to a U.T. website, about 300 alumni attended to see the cadet corps lead the first Homecoming parade and watch the Volunteers come from behind to beat Vanderbilt by a score of 10-6. The game was so exciting, University President Ayres declared Monday a holiday so the celebration could continue.
Although the university did not crown a Homecoming Queen that year, it is quite likely that Evelyn was named “Cadet Colonel” that year. As she wrote in her personal papers many years later, she frequently was “picked as the one for Cadet Colonel, Queen of this that, and the other, and such similar college stuff.” However, she also said she “was almost too scared to appear after the elections as was entirely unaware of the ‘great honor.’ Someone else could have had it, and I would have been pleased to death to be out of the limelight.” In the fall of 1916, Evelyn was only 16 years old and terribly timid.
With the advent of World War I, U.T. suspended Homecoming for a few years and restored it in 1925. Some of the events traditionally associated with Homecoming activities were reinstated, such as the pep rally which has its beginnings in 1916. The decorating of Greek houses started in 1930, and parade floats date back to 1955. This year several new events are planned, including the Volunteer Navy Boat Races and a walking tour of campus.
Many of the alumni who attend this year’s Homecoming are likely to wear their fraternity pins signifying their allegiance to the Greek organizations they joined early in their college careers. If Evelyn could attend, perhaps she would wear her Chi Omega pin. When she joined the sorority, it was less than 20 years old and had only a few chapters. Today it claims to be the world’s largest fraternal group for women with 320,000 initiates, 178 chapters, and more than 240 alumnae chapters. Chi Omega’s Pi chapter, which was founded at U.T. in 1900, was the first sorority at the university.
Evelyn apparently fit in well with her sorority sisters and seemed to exemplify the Chi Omega credo. According to the organization’s website, the sorority was not meant to be an exclusive social club strictly for well-heeled students. Rather it adhered to the following words penned by Ethel Switzer Howard, Xi Chapter, in 1904:
“To live constantly above snobbery of word or deed; to place scholarship before social obligations and character before appearances; to be in the best sense, democratic rather ‘exclusive,’ and loveable rather than ‘popular’; to work earnestly, to speak kindly, to act sincerely, to choose thoughtfully that course which occasion and conscience demand; to be womanly always; to be discouraged never; in a word, to be loyal under any and all circumstances to my Fraternity and her highest teachings and to have her welfare ever at heart that she may be a symphony of high purpose and helpfulness in which there is no discordant note.”
As a young college student, it appears that Evelyn did her best to live up to Chi Omega’s expectations. She was a dedicated student, was unpretentious, and preferred to remain out of the limelight. As she grew older, she also detested social climbers. On several occasions after college, she was harshly critical of her fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus’ efforts to curry favor among a group of young social elites.
I should mention that Ralph was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (S.A.E.), which was founded at the University of Alabama in 1856. Others who have been profiled in these blog posts or figured prominently in my book, The Seduction of Miss Evelyn Hazen, also were S.A.E. members, including football star Russ Lindsay and Evelyn’s cousin Fleming Hazen. At the frat house, Ralph had the nickname “Fish,” and Evelyn, who was considered a little sister of the fraternity, was called “Little Tim.”
Today U.T. has about 40 fraternities and sororities, some of which are older than Chi Omega and others which were created more recently. Together they offer a diverse group of organizations for the university’s much larger and multicultural campus population.