Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

Although a French man, Fr. Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame, was quick to embrace American patriotism.  It is no coincidence that Washington Hall was named after the first President of the United States.

Notre Dame began organizing George Washington Birthday celebrations shortly after its 1842 founding.  The events often would consist of musical concerts and theatrical productions from Notre Dame student associations and lectures and speeches from faculty and visitors.

Cover of the 1869 Washington Day Exercises program

At the turn of the 20th century, a flag presentation was added to the Exercises.  An American flag was blessed and flown from Commencement throughout the next year.  By the mid-1900s, attendance at the Washington Day Exercises was required by Seniors in order to graduate.

Washington Day Exercises – Students in caps and gowns entering Washington Hall through the second floor entrance, c1930s

In 1954, Notre Dame established the Patriot of the Year Award, presented by the Senior Class.  The Seniors would vote from a list of prominent nominees and the award winner generally would speak at the Washington Day Exercises.  The award winners included Senator John F. Kennedy, Astronaut John Glenn, and Comedian Bob Hope.  See the entire list of winners here.

By the early 1970s, the mandatory, theatrical Washington Day celebrations had mostly subsided and there are no longer grand celebrations on campus.  “The Exercises through the years have aided many students in the formation of firm ideas about their obligations to the community.  The Washington Day Exercises constitute a public and formal acknowledgment of ‘God, Country, and Notre Dame.” [programs from the late 1950s to early 1960s in PNDP 70-Wa-01]

PNDP 70-Wa-01
GDIS 50/61

3 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Mr. President!”

  1. We think it’s a great place too, but we are a little biased. 🙂

    While many students were and still are from Irish descent, Notre Dame’s early students also came from Polish, German, Italian, and Latin American descent. Around the turn of the 20th century, sports writers referred to Notre Dame’s sports teams by a variety of names, including Ramblers and Catholics. The “Irish” moniker may have come out of the stereotype of Catholics being Irish (particularly in large cities such as New York and Boston). During this time, Notre Dame was probably more known nationally as a premier Catholic institution than she was for having Irish immigrant students. We can only make guesses to the players’ heritages by their last names, but by looking at the football all-time line-ups, you’ll see many names that are not Irish, such as Schwartz, Carideo, and Savoldi, with a Norwegian Coach Knute Rockne.

    I hope you are able to come up for a game. It’s an amazing experience that should e on everyone’s bucket list.

  2. A good friend of mine is an alumni of N.D. and he said it is one of the best colleges in the U.S. to attend. One day I’ll have an opportunity to see a football game in Irish country….how ironic that the founder was French.

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