Tuesday, November 26, 2019

1919 State Rivalry Football Game Predated Ducks and Beavers, Silent on War - Updated

Thinking about any big games this weekend as part of your Thanksgiving traditions? In 1919 the "state championship" or "state classic" football game took place a little earlier in the month.

The "State Championship" football game in 1919
November 14th, 1919
Advertising for the football game between University of Oregon and Oregon Agricultural College was also silent on the "civil war."*

From a large spread on the game;
perhaps the first year the phrase was in use.
November 13th, 1929
According to an OSU alumni article, in turn citing the sports PR arm of the university, it took another decade to appear, first in 1929, and then a further decade to catch on:
According to OSU Sports Information, the first reference to the name "Civil War" appears to have been in a few newspaper articles preceding the 1929 game. For several years, the term continued to be used only sparingly in newspaper stories. By 1937, the term had come into fairly common use.
Without spending a lot of time digging, there was a 1926 reference to the Ohio State - Michigan game as an "annual civil war." So the metaphor was in the air.

Special trains, November 14th, 1919
If they did not use the war metaphor in 1919, they did advertise special trains. In thinking about improved train service, I have not much thought about this kind of demand. If modern stadiums hold 50,000 or so, it is interesting to consider how many people you could actually transport by special train from Portland and Salem to Eugene. That's a surge of travel demand that would probably overwhelm any train system outside of a metropolitan subway. Out here, if we are committed to large athletic contests in stadiums, we are also committed to autoism - though there would surely be ways to improve transit service as a proportion of trips.

The beavers and ducks hadn't become the mascots yet, and it was low-scoring like older football often seemed to be.

"Aggies," not "beavers"; "state classic," not "civil war" -
but they got the score wrong in the headline!
November 16th, 1919
(Though the headline says 13-0, the article says 9-0. The Oregonian has a listicle of all 122 game scores! See wikipedia on a history of the beaver and the duck, also.)

Back to the war metaphor, as Confederate statues come down, we grapple more with the consequences of slavery, and we have reconsidered the legacy of our actual Civil War, isn't it time the game and rivalry had a new name - or an old name? It's time to ditch the currently popular name for the rivalry game, and to have a better understanding of why it was introduced in 1929 and became popular in the 1930s.

Seriously, why is a football game named after this?
It doesn't work as a joke or as a metaphor
and seriously trivializes the stakes and costs of our war.
The Dunning school and rise of the second KKK signaled a shift in understanding the war and Reconstruction, and it's hard not to think these were at least part of the context somehow. The general milieu and cultural reasons for the phrase seem a little unsavory rather than purely wholesome. Maybe you will know more about its origin, but it has to be at least a little suspect.

A Digression on the Statue and Memorial

Since there is a plaque below the statue dated to 1933, both Wikipedia and Waymarking infer that the memorial dates to that year. I have supposed this also. It's a reasonable inference, though the style of the statue had seemed more Victorian. At first, this plaque seemed like evidence for the 1930s interest in the Civil War as a metaphor. It is, in a way, but it's also more complicated.

A plaque below the statue dedicated in 1933
Notes on the 1933 Convention of the Daughters of the Union Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic, held June 20th to 22nd, are silent on any statue and memorial in City View.

Instead, they do talk about dedicating a tree. (About the same time as the dedication for Waldo Park, it should be noted. There was a thing for trees, it seems.)

On June 21st, the Daughters of Union Veterans dedicated
a Spruce Tree in Willson Park
(June 25th, 1933)
On the statue, a note in the Library's Historic Photo collection suggests the statue was erected in 1897, but the program for Memorial Day in 1897 is silent, as is a news piece right after it.

But there is a note from 1905 that suggests the statue went up then.

March 10th, 1905
Some of the details don't match closely, and it is likely the statue and base have been modified over the years. Still, a date of 1905 matches the style of the statue better than 1933, and we should take this as the date it was erected and first dedicated.

So I want to make a guess and suggest an hypothesis:

The 1933 plaque actually marked the Spruce and was moved from Willson Park after the Columbus Day Storm toppled the Spruce. Other changes to the statue might have been made then also.

Probably with more research we'll be able to confirm, correct, or deny this. Do you know of a published discussion of the statue and plaque? It seems strange more has not been written about it. As we build these new memorials in Willson Park, first for World War II, and now the prospect for Vietnam War, we should have renewed appreciation for and interest in our Civil War memorial and its place in our civic religion and national self-understanding.

Postscript, Wednesday

Just a couple of additional notes. The paper had a list of all the scores, and it's really something to see them all. Just as an institutional, annual thing, it's a remarkable tradition.

The 1919 game in yellow
The whole list is impressive!
But it's also just so odd how unremarkable, invisible background noise, the words "civil war" have become.

Here's a relevant excerpt from a new book, The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic, cited at TPM:
To most Americans today, the name of the country’s 1860s war over slavery seems obvious: the Civil War.....But in fact, Americans have not always called that conflict the Civil War. They once used lots of other names for it..... Once the most popular name in the North was The War of the Rebellion, but to white Southerners that name made it too clear who was at fault. By the late 19th and early 20th century, as white Southerners and Northerners looked for ways to paper over some of the past, forget the overthrow of Reconstruction, and adjust to a reunited nation based on segregation and disfranchisement of the former slaves, the name the Civil War became popular as a way of covering up all the messiness and confusion of the conflict.
And in a long review article, "An Unfinished Revolution," at the New York Review of Books, James Oakes writes
Central to the ideological justification of the Jim Crow era was a new interpretation of the Civil War that removed all references to slavery. In the North, monuments to the Emancipation Proclamation gave way to celebrations of the Gettysburg Address, which made no explicit mention of slavery.
Even if the alumni of the two colleges might feel like they split the state down the middle and were locked in some great rivalry, and even with the crashing violence of tackling and concussions and the game itself, nothing about the competition between colleges actually rises to the level of a war.

The name might seem innocent, but in the 1930s calling the game "the civil war" looks to be a moment in the greater cultural project of framing the actual war and conflict in a certain way. Though indirect, it is an instance of making a frame and telling a history. There are serious problems with that frame, and we should consider whether the football game needs a different name.

* Major Update, June 26th, 2020

No more "Civil War" - via Twitter
The protesting in June seems to have prompted the change. There will be a process for a new name for the rivalry games, and this is unambiguous good news.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added a couple more notes on the war metaphor/epithet.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Big news: The Universities together are ditching the war terminology. Updated briefly.