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On Sunday, December 10, 1911, Columbia University’s hockey team gathered at the St. Nicholas Rink to engage in a practice game with the 7th Regiment. On any other day and between any other teams, this would be an insignificant event. In the middle of the Progressive Era (~1900-1920), this broiled into a largely ignored high society faux pas.
New York’s 7th Regiment and Columbia University represented high society in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. By 1910, 7th Regiment ranks swelled with upper echelon New York City social elites. The regiment privately funded a Gilded Age (~1870~1900) marvel on Park Avenue that they called an armory. The regiment’s ranks also contained many Columbia University graduates and students.
In 1910, Columbia University’s tuition started at $192/year. Considering the average American salary of $574/year, Columbia was a significant investment. This investment resulted in access to social elites, excellent literary education, and a key intercollegiate sports body (basketball and rowing). During the Progressive Era, the University Committee on Athletics ruled Columbia’s sports. And, its most vocal representative was Professor Herbert Gardiner Lord.
An ordained Presbyterian minister, Prof. Lord championed morality issues while at Columbia. In addition to public speaking against gambling, he was involved in Columbia’s football ban. Obviously, he staunchly believed in observing the Sabbath. His crusade was aided by New York Penal Law §2145, which banned public sports on Sunday. Both Lord and law would be challenged on December 10, 1911.
On December 9, the Columbia Daily Spectator announced a noon practice game scheduled for Sunday. This game was going to be “a good test for the team.” The New York Times article from December 10th noted “this is the first time that a Columbia team has ever held a game on Sunday.” As much as playing public sports was banned by law, it was also banned by the Committee on Athletics.
Prof. Lord and the Times recounted similar stories of the event. A board of trustees member called upon Lord to stop a Sunday practice game at St. Nicholas Rink. Lord immediately went to the rink to investigate. With only a few Columbia men on the ice, Lord admitted there was “no proper practice game in progress.” Still, he argued for severe censure due to the flagrant “violation of what is fit and proper.” Lord ended his Daily Spectator communication with “No such practice [on Sundays], whatever the sport, even of the crew, ever has been the custom, nor is even likely to be. It seems that a proper consideration of the standing of the University before the community, should prevent both manager and captain from arranging [Sunday] games.”
Captain Rufus James Trimble led practice with the three varsity players who appeared. Trimble was forced to issue public apologies in the Daily Spectator. On December 12, the New York Times briefly summarized the event expecting a larger debate on Sunday practice and exhibitions. However, any mention of Sunday sports or the event itself was absent from the following committee meeting notes.
New York Penal Law §2145 changed in 1919. The Progressive Era ended in 1920. Prof. Lord retired in 1921. To be honest, the law targeted baseball. Columbia’s change happened because of football. Still, hockey challenged societal norms first.
Columbia Alumni News (Volume 3, No. 25, March 15, 1912, pp. 451-452), Call # CQ3 Al83, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.
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