Today’s Penn freshmen should consider themselves lucky, if for no other reason than this: The Bowl Fight is a thing of the past.
For more than four decades, stretching from the late 19th century through the early 20th century, Penn freshmen were subjected to the perils of this violent Penn tradition—an event that saw sophomores and freshmen brawl on campus to the great amusement of upperclassmen.
The rules of the Bowl Fight changed over the years, but the basic premise remained the same: Sophomores attempted to capture one unlucky frosh (the “Bowl Man”) and place him inside the “Bowl” (hence, the name of the event). Freshmen, meanwhile, worked to defend their classmate and break the bowl. If the Bowl Man was captured, the sophomores won. If the bowl was broken before the Bowl Man was put inside, however, the freshmen won.
The struggle took place at a variety of venues over the years, including the Quad and Franklin Field, but one aspect of the event went unchanged: It was always brutal and often bloody. It was stopped for good in 1916.
For more information and photos on this peculiar Penn tradition, visit
the University Archives site at www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/traditions/bowlfight/entry.html.
Originally published on September 8, 2005