Mountain Day: a retrospective and a look ahead

The Day’s History

According to the College Archives, the origins of Mountain Day trace back to the early 1800s.

“It is likely that our fall Mountain Day evolved from the holidays first mentioned in the 1827 notebook of Edward Door Griffin, third president of Williams College,” read part of a special Mountain Day display in Stetson Hall.

Initially, Mountain Day had two goals. According to the archives, “the day with no classes but evening prayers, would serve a dual purpose of collecting chestnuts and enjoying nature’s grandeur.”In addition to Mountain Day in the fall, the College had another day in the spring that served to enjoy nature and the beauty of the Purple Valley. However, the archives believe that this second day became lost as Mountain Day gained prominence on campus.

Throughout the years, Mountain Day has changed a great deal, according to Linda Hall, college archives assistant. Initially, the College president called the day spontaneously. Later, the power canceling classes and calling Mountain Day was given to the students. However, the students could never come to a consensus as to when Mountain Day should occur. Therefore, the faculty took responsibility for calling Mountain Day.

After 100 years of existence, Mountain Day was abolished in the mid-1930s. After World War II, an attempt was made to revive Mountain Day, but without success. Later, others tried to bring it back a couple of times, and WOC has kept the tradition alive. However, this year was the first year since the 1930s that the College has officially revived the tradition of having a spontaneous Mountain Day.

“I never got to participate in anything like this, although I did a lot of hiking on my own with friends while I was a Williams student,” said Graham Garber ’97, head coach of the alpine skiing team. “There actually were events organized by the Outing Club that weren’t spontaneous and I think having this spontaneous event is really important.”

Changes and Spontaneity

This year, Mountain Day was dramatically changed, from being a small event held on a Sunday to an official campus-wide celebration. Spearheading the efforts to reinstate the tradition of Mountain Day celebration were Heather Williams a professor of biology, and Bert Leatherman ’00, former College Council co-president.

As last year’s chair of the Calendar and Schedule Committee, Williams brought the proposed changes to the rest of the faculty at a faculty meeting.

In the April faculty meeting, the Mountain Day proposal sparked a heated debate among the faculty. The faculty members were divided over supporting the proposal until Leatherman stepped forward and helped get the proposal approved.“I think that it would have failed in the Faculty meeting if [Leatherman] hadn’t gotten up and made a speech about how important Mountain Day is,” said Williams.

One of the major changes made this year was that Mountain Day is no longer scheduled on a set weekend day. Instead, it is a spontaneous celebration announced on a Friday in October.

“Spontaneity is definitely what makes it that much better,” said Keiller Kyle ’03. “I didn’t go on a Mountain Day last year and I think the reason was that it wasn’t spontaneous and it wasn’t something that I was anticipating and looking forward to, and all of this anticipating is coming out in this hike in the form of energy.”

Frank Morgan a professor of mathematics, said, “The advantage is that we are guaranteed good weather and it also means people don’t already have other plans so everyone is free to come. So that’s really nice.”

“It led to a lot of wonderful suspense,” said Scott Lewis, the WOC director.

The all-important decision on declaring when Mountain Day would be take place was made by Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College.

“I followed the weather reports closely and it seemed pretty likely that last Friday would be a great day – and it was,” said Schapiro. “Scott and I talked on Thursday and decided that, unless there was some weather fluke nobody could imagine, the next day would be Mountain Day.”

However, despite the best efforts of WOC, the decision on when Mountain Day would take place was not totally secret.

“Well, I like the spontaneity. But you know what, by yesterday I knew it was going to be Mountain Day,” said Yosuke Nishibayashi’04.

Faculty Involvement

In years past, many faculty members were unable to participate in Mountain Day because it was scheduled on a Sunday, which is a family day. However, with Mountain Day on a Friday this year, many more faculty members participated in the event.

“We certainly had dramatically more faculty,” said Williams.

As one of the co-leaders of the Hopper Trail hiking trip, Morgan was an active participant in Mountain Day.

“I don’t think that we have begun to realize the possibilities of education in the most general sense,” said Morgan. “We think about being in the classroom, but I think a mix of different kinds of activities is what being at Williams should be about.”

“To have this chance to be out here today with other faculty and a lot of my students, I think is not only fun but I think is probably one of our more valuable days, too,” added Morgan.

Furthermore, the presence of faculty helped attract students to participate in Mountain Day events.

“I came because of professor Morgan,” said Nishibayashi. “He’s really been contacting us beyond the classroom, which is great, I think.”

Though the Mountain Day celebration was enjoyed by the vast majority of the College community, some faculty members expressed concern over having this spontaneous day added to the schedule.

“Now, of course, it is really tricky planning the classes because when you are planning a syllabus, you try to plan things in detail so that the course builds to a certain crescendo,” said Morgan. “The timing is all very delicate and so on and to suddenly lose a day in the middle can be a little complicated. But, knowing that it is a Friday made it possible, I think.”

However, the Calendar and Schedule Committee addressed this concern when the idea of reviving Mountain Day was proposed.

“We haven’t lost any days of classes,” said Williams. “We used to end the fall semester on a Thursday. Now we end on Friday, so we have put that Friday’s classes back in [the calendar].”

Future

With the success of this year’s Mountain Day celebration, many members of the College community are already looking to next year’s event.

“This year, Mountain Day. Next year, Mountain Day, River Day, Tree Day. . . we’ll celebrate every biome there ever was,” said Lewis in a speech atop Stony Ledge. “This has just been just wonderful.”

Though there have been rumors saying Mountain Day may not be held next year, this is currently not the case.

“It is permanent unless it is voted out [by the faculty],” said Williams. “We have Mountain Day in the calendar [for next year].”

The 173-year-old Williams tradition of Mountain Day is now once again an annual celebration at the College.