A Look at High School Homecoming

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to learn about our ancestors’ celebration of homecoming, then contrasts her own high school homecoming with what her son recently experienced. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

It’s that time of year when high schools and colleges celebrate homecoming. Did your high school celebrate homecoming with a football game, parade, and a dance? Do you have any memories of that annual event? Comparing my own homecoming experiences with what my son in high school just went through highlighted for me just how much homecoming has changed since I was in high school.

Photo: “Queen of the May” at East Texas State Normal College in 1921, a predecessor of the modern homecoming queen
Photo: “Queen of the May” at East Texas State Normal College in 1921, a predecessor of the modern homecoming queen. Credit: East Texas State Normal College; Wikimedia Commons.

History of Homecoming

Homecoming’s history begins in the nineteenth century when colleges hosted events that included football games. If you are curious about your alma mater’s homecoming history you might find details on its website. For example, the University of Minnesota’s website states that its first homecoming football game and dance happened in 1914.*

Searching through GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, we can find an article describing this event. In this article it mentions University of Minnesota graduates traveling long distances to attend the celebration. Traveling back to your alma mater is really what homecoming is all about.

An article about homecoming, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 12 November 1914
Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 12 November 1914, page 3

High School Homecoming

What does homecoming look like as the 20th century marches on? Homecoming mentions in the newspaper report on the football game, the dance, the Homecoming King, Queen and attendants as well as some surprises. Historical newspapers can provide us a look at these traditions across the United States throughout the decades.

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Homecoming isn’t exclusively about the dances and football games, it’s about welcoming back alumni and others connected to the school. This 1964 San Diego example includes a request that specific graduates attend so that they can be honored. Classes of 1934, 1944, and 1954 were invited to attend, most likely because they were 30, 20, and 10 years respectively out of high school. Homecoming is a nice time to have a high school reunion.

An article about homecoming, San Diego Union newspaper article 8 October 1964
San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 8 October 1964, page 54

Homecoming is also the time when there may be nominations for a king and queen and a homecoming court. For family historians these mentions can be an important find, placing that family member in a time and location, as well as just being a fun note to add to their history. In this 1970 newspaper article, the queen and her attendants for the Stamford High (Connecticut) Homecoming are listed.

An article about homecoming, Daily Advocate newspaper article 9 December 1970
Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 9 December 1970, page 41

A lucky few researchers might even find a photo of their homecoming queen, king, or attendant, such as this example from a 1960 newspaper article that not only includes Joyce Martin’s photo, but lists the names of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Martin. I was surprised how many homecoming newspaper articles provided the names of parents. A great genealogical find and a good reminder that we should be searching for our more recent family in the newspaper!

An article about homecoming, Charleston News and Courier newspaper article 30 December 1960
Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 30 December 1960, page 16

A quick note about searching newspapers for family during their high school years. It can be tempting to narrow your search to specific years, but in some cases, like homecoming, the “high school student” may be listed in a newspaper article years after they graduated. Such is the case in this 1940 homecoming photo of the 1937 and 1938 prom king and queen. While it’s important in some cases to focus a search so that we don’t become overwhelmed with results, try to also conduct a search not limiting the years.

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An article about homecoming, Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper article 14 December 1940
Milwaukee Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 14 December 1940, page 9

While football is the game we usually associate with homecoming, it may not be the tradition of the high school to have a homecoming football game. In this 1955 newspaper article, basketball is the game of choice. An added bonus is the name of the King and Queen and their parents, as well as the name of the preceding year’s queen, proving that in some cases homecoming was an important event for everyone involved.

An article about homecoming, Lexington Leader newspaper article 18 December 1955
Lexington Leader (Lexington, Kentucky), 18 December 1955, page 30

Fast Forward to Today

As I mentioned previously, my son just attended his high school homecoming. We had an interesting discussion afterward about how homecoming has changed since I went to high school. Gone are the days when the homecoming dance really was just a dance (ours was in the cafeteria) with a photographer at the ready to snap a photo. Instead, my son’s school not only had a dance in the gym but the theme “Nightmare before Christmas” meant they showed that movie in another room, had two carnival rides in the parking lot, and served quesadillas and other snacks. A photographer was not on-site to take those posed portrait-like photos, but instead they had a photo booth where my son and his friends took photos. Having a photographer at homecoming seemed foreign to my son. He asked me: “Why do you need a photograph package from your high school homecoming?”

Why indeed?

Photo: the author at her high school homecoming, with the face of her date discretely blurred. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.
Photo: the author at her high school homecoming, with the face of her date discretely blurred. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

My homecoming experience? My high school had a homecoming dance and a football game. The dance was a semi-formal affair lacking in good snacks. And we did have a photographer who took a photo of each couple – and of course, you just had to buy one of those portrait packages to commemorate the event.

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What was your high school homecoming like? Did your school have a football game, parade, and a dance? Or was the homecoming celebration less formal? Did you attend your high school homecoming? Have you taken the time to reminisce about it with your kids and grandkids? I’d love to hear about your memories in the comments section below.

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* “History of Homecoming,” University of Minnesota (http://homecoming.umn.edu/about/history/: accessed 27 September 2018)

2 thoughts on “A Look at High School Homecoming

  1. As I was 15 and five feet tall at that time and could not drive, I did not go to my homecoming.

    It was quite satisfying to go to the 50th class reunion and see my classmates’ faces!

    1. It’s always interesting to take that look back in time! Thanks so much for sharing that with us, Larry.

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