Unsolved mysteries: the strange disappearance of River Day

By Patti MacRae '71

If someone says "Doyle Owl" to any Reedie, a barrage of memories, anecdotes, half-truths, rumors, and legends are evoked. Lasting traditions generally have this effect. Short-lived traditions fade quickly from the institutional memory: slime art, for example (circa 1968). But why would a perfectly wonderful tradition like River Day (What's that? I hear you ask) last for nearly 30 years only to vanish in 1940 without a trace?

In the spring of 1912, the students requested a community- wide celebration that would enable faculty, trustees, and students to "forget the grind of everyday routine." The student body decided on a day-long outing up the Columbia River. Accordingly, on May 17, 1912, the whole college (50 students, six faculty members, and five trustees) boarded the Bailey Gatzert and headed upriver to Stevenson, Washington. They had a lovely time. A picnic lunch was served, followed by games, a hike, baseball, and very likely some really great conversation.

River Day 1912. Top Row: Jean Wolverton, Alma Bufton. Bottom Row: Margaret Creech, Elasa Gill, and Grace Hays.
Three years later, the 1915 Griffin stated that "River Day, as it is cald . . . wil become as wel esstablisht an institution as Campus Day or examinations." In fact, it did. River Day was a total success. It was fun, it was inexpensive, it got professors and students together, and it afforded ample opportunity for innovation, volunteerism, and school spirit-in short, it was the perfect tradition.

Almost two decades passed until in 1933, with the country in the midst of the Great Depression, a River Day crisis occurred. The community council, faced with the unalterable fact that there was not enough money to finance River Day, canceled the event. Imagine the uproar! A petition was immediately circulated and signed "by a fairly large number of students" asking for a reversal of the vote and suggesting that a modified, cheaper form of River Day be developed. In typical Reed fashion, the council immediately gave in.

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