Knox Students Protest on Christmas Holiday

Presents or picket signs: What makes a Merry Christmas?

December 21, 2012

Christmas outside Old Main in the 1950sThe first student protest at Knox College was not about a pressing national issue, nor was it about something as provincial as the cafeteria menu -- though both of those also have occurred in the 175-year history of the College.

"The first student initiative of record was in 1851," reports an article in Knox Magazine.  The protest "was motivated by a now-familiar cause: Knox students asserting their role in everyday campus life. Students wanted to celebrate Christmas; the College did not."

Knox's first two presidents, Hiram Kellogg (1841-45) and Jonathan Blanchard (1845-57), had deliberately scheduled classes on Christmas Day, based on the belief that the celebration of December 25 was pagan rather than biblical in origin.

"On December 24, 1851, [students] unsuccessfully attempted to stop classes from taking place the next morning by hiding the bell, removing keys to the recitation rooms, and locking the doors after having sealed the window latches," wrote Owen Muelder '63, in the anthology Christmas in Illinois.

Outraged faculty convened, but the "10 students called before the investigating committee ... must have agreed not to implicate anyone.... Therefore school officials were left with only denials." Muelder wrote that Knox "finally relented" after Blanchard left, enacting a two-day Christmas break in 1859.

Knox's current academic calendar schedules winter break from Nov. 20 - Jan. 1, with a number of offices closed from Dec. 22 - Jan. 1. Winter term classes begin Jan. 3, 2013.

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