Rally Day Traditions
The origins of Rally Day can be traced to a series of annual celebrations of George Washington's birthday, the first of which was held at Smith College in February 1876. Over time, these celebrations evolved from essentially social dinners or receptions into daylong college events. The addition of a "rally" to the day in 1894 was eventually reflected in the name Rally Day, first used in 1906. The celebration is now held annually in February.
Through the years, students have sponsored and participated in a range of activities: rallies, debates, basketball rivalries, dramatic presentations, singing and dancing. The current tradition of sponsoring an event to benefit a charity began in 1918 when the Rally Day Show was held to raise funds for the Smith College Relief Unit serving in World War I France.
The Smith College Medal has been awarded to outstanding alumnae at Rally Day since 1973. The medalists have become an important part of the program, speaking prior to convocation in classes and afterward in conversations with students.
Dress at Rally Day has evolved as well. In 1944, the senior class began wearing its graduation caps and gowns to the convocation. The day still marks the first time the seniors publicly wear their gowns. In recent years, however, the caps have been replaced by inventive hats of the students' choosing (and sometimes of their own making), in keeping with the "rallying" and spirited nature of the day.
In addition to celebrating the Smith College medalists, Rally Day has become the occasion that the president announces the next commencement speaker.
Academic dress is believed to have originated at medieval British universities when those institutions were associated with the church. The hoods are a carryover from the times when monks wore them either as a head cover or as a shoulder cape sometimes used to collect alms.
Gowns are usually designed according to the degree held by the wearer. Bachelor's gowns have long, pointed sleeves; master's gowns have fuller, closed sleeves with a slit at the arm or wrist. Doctor's robes are often worn open and have velvet edging down the front and three velvet bars across each sleeve. The length of the hood and the width of its velvet border indicate the wearer's highest academic degree.
Colors designate the wearer's college or university and field of study. The color of the sleeve bars and of the velvet on the hood indicates the academic field, distinguished as follows: white for arts and letters, light blue for education, brown for fine arts, pink for music, dark blue for philosophy and yellow for science. The degree-granting institution is traditionally represented by the color of the hood's satin lining. Robe color and cap shape may also designate the college or university.
At Smith's first commencement in 1879, caps and gowns were considered ill-suited to the pioneer spirit of the college. Over time, however, traditional academic regalia came into favor. By 1910, at President Burton's inauguration, the standard for faculty dress was black academic gowns. That tradition continues today at official college functions: Opening Convocation, Rally Day, Last Chapel/Ivy Day and Commencement. Some Smith faculty members wear around their necks the Charis medal, which is awarded to those who have served on the faculty for 25 years or more.