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Hey, Hey, Ho Ho! Old Main is Where We Go

By Theresa Kuhlmann

Since it opened its doors in 1857, Old Main has been at the epicenter of student protests and celebrations. From political demonstrations to bell tower pranks, sit-ins to concerts on the lawn, students have gathered at Old Main?the heart of the Knox campus?whenever they?ve wanted their voices heard by the campus community or world at large.

One of the earliest examples of student activism occurred in 1867, when students mounted the roof of Old Main following the resignation of three female faculty members. The resignations were in response to a terse exchange between Lydia Howard, principal of the Female Seminary, and Knox President William Curtis, who wanted to maintain separate classes for Knox's men and women. The students petitioned for the president's "immediate resignation" and refused to go to class, holding a sit-in at Old Main. After a weekend of protests, President Curtis resigned.

One-hundred years later on May 18, 1967, students and faculty protested the VietNam War by holding a three-hour sit-in on Old Main?s south steps. The three-hour event featured 23 speakers, who read anti-war poetry and prose.

The next two years would see many more protests on the lawns and in the halls of Old Main. On Election Day 1968, Knox students reenacted Governor George Wallace's last stand for segregation, blocking Old Main's west doors and staging a mock-lynching on the South Lawn. In 1970, Old Main took center stage again when the group, "The Students Are Revolting," served Deans Sanville and Salter an eviction notice and took over the historic building on Friday, May 15. It was a peaceful demonstration against the Vietnam War that lasted until the early hours of the weekend. (Photo of sit-in at top right.)

But not all student demonstrations at Old Main were political in nature. Many were in celebration of College pride. During the Civil War, students petitioned for a holiday on George Washington's birthday. By the 1880s, the holiday had escalated into "class scrimmages." A campus-wide brawl usually ensued as students broke into Old Main to get to the roof, where the triumphant class hung a banner and battled with anyone trying to compromise its claim.

One of the most fondly remembered student gatherings happened in fall 1963, when students staged an Old Main lockout in celebration of Knox's victory over Monmouth in the annual Turkey Bowl. In the wee hours of a Monday morning, students barricaded the east and west doors of the building with girders from the Center for Fine Arts, then under construction. The top of a crane was also used to block the north door. Students, faculty, and staff gathered around the building until free coffee from the Gizmo and Dean Harlan broke up the festivities.

Old Main has witnessed many other student protests and demonstrations throughout its history, from Apartheid protests in the 1980s to a flash mob in 2007. If you have a special memory of student activism in or around Old Main to share, please contact the Editor.