We hope everyone is enjoying this lovely week of warm weather! Our Illinois State University alumni certainly know all too well the wonderful feeling of a springtime weeklong break. Did you know we’ve had a spring break since the start of the University? 

The tradition of spring break has always been a part of campus life. Though we don’t have the documentation, we’re fairly certain the first classes held in 1858 did have a weeklong break between class terms. The first time we see spring break documented is in the 1860–1861 course catalog.  If you’ll remember from a previous blog post, the University was not always on the semester system we know now. In these early years, the University operated loosely on a quarter system of three terms: first term from mid-September to late December, second term from late December to late March, and third term from early April to early July. Between the terms there was a “vacation of one week” with a 10-week vacation after commencement. This continued until 1900 when the University added a summer term. Though the dates for the duration of each term had changed, the timing for a week of spring vacation stayed the same. This trend continued when we changed to a semester system in the late 1930s and later adopted the academic calendar we know today.

We didn’t always call this annual week of relaxation “spring break.” In fact, if you look at the current catalog, it’s referred to as “spring vacation.” Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, the University simply called it a “vacation of one week” when listing it in the University catalog. Most extended breaks were called vacations and were meant as periods for students to rest and prepare for final examinations. In 1924 the University named it “Easter vacation” and continued with this label until 1939 when it changed to “spring vacation,” the phrase we continue to use.

And what did our predecessors do during their spring breaks? While there were certainly the students who traveled to warmer climates for a few refreshing beverages, many used the opportunity to visit family, catch up on school work, or participate in student club and sporting activities. Some campus sports groups were in competition while several student clubs used the opportunity to do group travel.

So, whatever you are doing this spring break, relax and enjoy the week!