Wabash College Freshmen Bringing Back the Potsby Royce Gregerson '09 • September 14, 2006
After more than 30 years, the green and red pot has returned to prominence on the Wabash campus. Originally intended as a means for alumni to purchase a bit of memorabilia from the past, the pot has exploded into a phenomenon of renewed tradition. However, the pot now being worn by much of the freshman class were not originally intended as a method to bring back tradition.
"The renewed interest in pots began with Cal Black [‘66] getting them for his 40th class reunion this year. They were a big hit. Other alums wanted them," Mike Bachner ’70 said. Bachner is the manager of the Wabash Bookstore, which currently sells the pots. "Ross Dillard [’07] came to the store in August asking us to order pots for fall. He had worked with the manufacturer to make replicas of the original style. They had come to a price and minimum order quantity. We knew alums would buy them for reunions and ordered extras."
Before going to the bookstore or seeking a manufacturer, Dillard went to the Ramsey Archival Center to research the pot. Archivist Beth Swift was able to share a few examples of the pot. The current pot is made of a green felt-like material with a red bill and red button on top.
The quick re-institution of the pot to fraternity pledge classes evoked strong responses from many freshmen. "I love the idea of the pots, and the idea of bringing back an old tradition," Kevin Long ’10 said. "I feel it just enriches our history."
John Dewart ’10, a Sigma Chi pledge, echoed Long’s sentiment. "I'm glad the Brothers [of Sigma Chi] brought back the pots because it helps to restore traditions lost to time," he said. Due to their fraternity’s no hazing policy, the Lambda Chi Alpha associates themselves almost unanimously voted to wear the pot.
"We feel that such unique traditions at Wabash deserve to not only be preserved but flourish with each new student," Mark Schultz ’10 said. "[They are] just one more way we like to promote a sense of pride and tradition here."
Not everyone is happy that more people are wearing the freshman pot. Two pledges of Phi Delta Theta, the one fraternity to continue requiring its pledges to wear the pot since the tradition lapsed, spoke out.
"I’m proud to wear my pot because unlike all the other freshmen on campus, I’m upholding a tradition," Joshua Coyle ’10 said. "The pot is something that should be worn with pride and kept like a precious gift. I walk around campus and see people spinning them on their fingers."
Joshua Lopez ’10 also critiqued other freshmen’s misuse of the pot. "They disrespect them by leaving them around and losing them. If you wish to continue the tradition, respect it at least," he said.
In addition to the Phi Delts, the renewed tradition has a unique impact on the independent freshmen, who have no pledgeship program to force the pot on them.
"I won't consider getting a pot," Barry Ooi ’10 said. Ooi cited the class scrap and the intense rivalry between the freshmen and sophomores. "Nothing like that will ever happen anymore, not in this day."
The re-formed Senior Council, itself a renewed tradition, weighed in on the pot issue. The Council decided to declare the pot the "symbol of the freshman class." Members of the Council also discussed making the pot mandatory for participation in Homecoming events, but eventually tabled the issue.
Wabash’s archives have plenty of the history of the pot. It was first mentioned in the minutes of the Student Council (the early predecessor of the Senior Council) in its May 9, 1918 minutes. The Council created a committee to investigate possible designs for a potential uniform cap for freshmen. The Council’s May 21, 1918 minutes note that the committee "recommended [a] green cap with red button and red-bordered bill." Then, the Council adopted the "green cap with scarlet button and scarlet visor" as the permanent freshman cap. In the same meeting, the Council resolved that all students would remove their hats as a salute to the flag when entering campus. The January 6, 1919 minutes show that the Council agreed to place an order with W.C. Murphy and Co. for the hats. The Council fixed the price of the cap at one dollar.
The Student Council established the Vigilance Committee on October 4, 1920, which was responsible for enforcing the various rules placed on freshmen. The Council later expanded the membership of this committee to include all seniors.
The pot seems to have enjoyed a healthy life until the turmoil of the late sixties and early seventies. In the fall of 1968 the Freshman Orientation Program, previously known as Freshman Indoctrination, became officially voluntary by pronouncement of the Student Senate. Admitting failure, the Senior Council had already dissolved itself in March of ’68.
The previous fall (1967), a group of well-organized independent freshmen had succeeded in undermining the Council’s program. Five students refused to participate in Freshman Sing (now Chapel Sing), effectively proving that the program only worked because freshmen voluntarily participated in it. The Bachelor concurred and ran an editorial claiming that the Council’s Freshman Orientation program was, for all intents and purposes, optional.
In January of 1968, the editor of The Bachelor wrote an editorial bemoaning the passage of Wabash traditions. He placed much of the blame on the President of the College, Ron Clark, for failing to back the Council. Punishments (such as green tights) remained part of the code for the Fall of 1968, even though the Orientation became officially optional for the first time and the Student Senate eliminated the W haircut on September 13 of the same year.
The Orientation program for the fall of 1970, when the Student Senate re-wrote the former Senior Council’s orientation plan, finally made all the provisions optional. The statement on the pot read: "Freshmen will be encouraged to secure and wear pots."
Unlike Freshman Sing, the transition to a pot-less freshman class was gradual. Alumni who attended school at the time note they just faded away, a contrast to the pot’s sudden re-appearance on campus.
"We have sold out of our original order of 150 and have reordered," Bachner said about the bookstore’s efforts to keep the pot in stock. "A reunion group has already ordered for this fall. I don't know if this is a passing notion for freshman or if the tradition has been renewed after nearly 40 years."