The idea of a "coming home" celebration shares its origins with the early days of football in the U.S.
Although the annual Harvard-Yale game has been inviting alumni to return home for The Game since the 1870s, the origins of the first homecoming celebration
remain largely contested. Baylor, Illinois and Missouri are three of the frontrunners, all having planned and held their first "coming home" celebrations around 1910.
Despite the debate, these early homecoming events
all had similar characteristics: a football game served as a center point; the events included rallies, parades, speeches and dances; the events intented to unite alumni and students to create a stronger sense of school pride; and they were wildly successful.
Using these early events as an example, homecoming celebrations quickly became popular on college and university campuses and by the 1920s homecoming had taken root across the U.S. as an American tradition.
University of Missouri and Coach Brewer
Officially sanctioned by the NCAA, Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit as the originator of homecoming, the University of Missouri is proud of their long-standing homecoming tradition. It was there in 1911 where Mizzou's Athletic Director Chester Brewer asked alumni of the school to help inaugurate the new location of their football field by "coming home" to attend the annual game against the University of Kansas.
Brewer planned a celebration with parades, parties, a pep rally and a football game against Mizzou's long-time rival, the University of Kansas. More than 10,000 alumni and fans attended the event, making Mizzou's homecoming an example for homecomings across the nation.
University of Illinois' Great Rivalry
It began as an experiment.
In 1910 two Illini seniors, Clarence Williams and Elmer Ekblaw, began planning an event centered around the annual Illinois-Chicago rivalry. For the previous seven years, Illinois had lost to the Chicago Maroons and their coach, Amos Stagg. Williams and Ekblaw hoped to reverse this losing streak by planning an event that bolstered school spirit at its core.
Support for the event took hold among the student body, faculty and local businesses. The school's Council of Administration set aside October 14 as an official day of homecoming. This first homecoming would be an experiment, the success of which would determine the future of the school's homecoming. It turned out to be an event bigger than anyone had anticipated.
Illinois' campus was blanketed in a sea of orange and blue. Five thousand extra seats had to be furnished by the athletic association to accommodate the game's large number of attendees. Twelve thousand alumni, students were on hand to witness a 3-0 victory for Illinois.
The University of Illinois' homecoming proved to be a great success, with homecomings held on the Illini campus ever since--with the exception of 1918 due to the influenza epidemic.
Baylor University and Good Will Week
In 1909 the University of Baylor invited alumni to return to their alma mater to "renew former associations and friendships, and catch the Baylor spirit again."
Originally titled "Good Will Week," the event was scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend, and included a program of class reunions, speeches and concerts, as well as a formal dance, parade and football game.
Nearly the entire town of Waco, Texas was in attendance at the parade. Elaborately decorated automobiles and carriages adorned with yellow chrysanthemums made their way through downtown, led by the Baylor Band and followed by students, professors and school dignitaries.
The football game followed that afternoon with over 5,000 alumni and fans in attendance at Carroll Field. Seniors dressed in their caps and gowns, with the majority of the field awash in green and gold. Baylor won their first homecoming game against Texas Christian University, due mainly to the overwhelming support from the school and community.
Baylor's next homecoming didn't take place until 1915, and it wasn't until 1934 that the celebration became an annual event.