Way back at Mac: Founders to Founding Day


Photo by Maddie Sabin ’24.

Lucy Diaz, Associate Features Editor

On Friday March 4, 2022, Macalester hosted events for the annual celebration of Founding Day, formerly Founders Day. This year marked 148 years since the founding of Macalester in 1874.  Activities for the festivities included a pushball bracket tournament between the different class years and a scavenger hunt. 

Missing from this year’s Founding Day itinerary was the Founders Day dance, which traditionally occurred in Cafe Mac and featured live music on the stage from bands and Macalester’s acapella groups. The semi-formal event usually offers the opportunity for students to mingle with faculty and staff in a more relaxed atmosphere. 

However, the formality has been a deterrent for students in the past. In an article published in The Mac Weekly in Dec 8, 2005, the budget for Founders Day was cut down from $36,000 to $12,000, causing some concerns about which traditions would persist in that year’s event. 

“I was intimidated by the hoity toity-ness,” Ben Abrahamson ’08 said of the 2005 Founders Day. “I would go if I perceived it to be less hoity toity.”

The Founders Day gala also traditionally had a bar for students aged 21+, in a roped-off area where they could mingle with faculty and staff. Underclassmen, however, were forced to be content with mocktails and a slice of anniversary cake. 

Photo and caption courtesy of The Mac Weekly Archives, 1940.

This year, the Founding Day festivities were what was dubbed in the Mac Daily as an “early evening kickback”, which occurred from 3 – 6pm outside the Campus Center (CC) on Bateman Plaza. 

Like Winter Ball, Founders Day is a significant event of the semester, though it has been around for a lot longer than the fall semester dance. Most Founders Day celebrations have featured an anniversary cake, brought in by traditional Scottish pipers as a way to remember the school’s origins. 

In a similar change to Winter Ball, Founding Day became alcohol-free this year, which might cause some to wonder if this is a trend we’ll see continue into the future. 

On March 1, 2012, The Mac Weekly staff published an editorial regarding the drinking trends at Founders Day. The editorial reported that the number of faculty and staff willing to volunteer their time for the Founders Day celebration had declined over the past few years, as many felt uncomfortable being around overly drunk students. 

However, the editorial kept the mood lighthearted, stating that “soap dispensers seem to disappear under such conditions” and to “please not destroy any plants”. 

In a surprising take, the editorial recommends that students drink more beer. 

“Replacing shots of hard liquor with beer has numerous advantages when it comes to managing your alcohol intake,” the editorial reads. “Because beer has far less alcohol by volume than shots, it takes longer for intoxication to build.” 

Pushball, which was first played on campus in 1914, has become an iconic part of Founders Day. The team game involves trying to push a huge ball towards your opponent’s goal. With the normally icy and slippery conditions that Minnesota sports in early March, this tradition has been canceled a few times in the past, but has ultimately remained an annual event. 

The champions of the two previous pushball competitions, the Class of 2022 ceded the title to the Class of 2024 after an intense battle on the Great Lawn. Only time will tell if they will be able to maintain their winning status. 

Both Macalester President Suzanne Rivera and Dean of Students Kathryn Coquemont made an appearance at the Founding Day celebration, with Rivera donning Macalester themed garb and helping to hand out cupcakes frosted with the school’s colors. However, Rivera and Coquemont left before the student vs. staff pushball game. Other members of the Macalester staff were also absent, leaving the sophomore pushball bracket winners disappointed.  

Founders Day is a decades-old Macalester tradition, beginning in 1938. It was started by Professor of Drama and Speech Grace Whitridge, as a commemoration of the day the school’s charter was obtained. The celebration also falls on the birthday of former Macalester President James Wallace. 

Founders Day temporarily died out in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but was then resurrected in 2004 as a pre-inauguration celebration for former Macalester President Brian Rosenberg on the 130th anniversary of the school’s chartering. 

Since then, Founders Day has again become a beloved Macalester tradition that students look forward to. An article published in 2011 in The Mac Weekly recants the popularity and events planned for that year’s Founder’s Day. 

“Founders Day has become one of the favorite traditions of the school year,” then Dean of Students Jim Hoppe said. “We’re looking forward to a great event. It’s a fantastic opportunity for students, faculty and staff to come together and celebrate being a part of this community.” 

Founders Day has also had some fun themes over the years, such as the 70’s disco theme in 2010, which stemmed from the band choice for that year, called Boogie Wonderland. Events at that year’s Founders Day included disco lessons and a 70’s karaoke night, as well as a talk from John B. Davis in the John B. Davis lecture hall in the CC. 

The 2010 Founders Day theme was “A Gala Celebration of Macalester’s History”, and lasted from 8:30pm to 12:30am in the CC. The event was planned by Erlene Lagerquist, who was the manager of special events at the time. 

“This year’s Founders Day was a huge success, the best ever,” Lagerquist said of 2010’s Founder’s Day. “The event went really well. The most important thing was for the students to have fun.”

Lagerquist was responsible for planning the five Founders Day celebrations following the return of the event in 2004, when former President Brian Rosenberg was inaugurated. 

Historically, Founders Day has leaned into the meaning and origins of the name, including students and faculty dressing up as historical Macalester figures in 2008 and a makeshift museum display in the basement of the Campus Center in 2009.

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