First Grand Marshal
The position of Grand Marshal was created in 1865 to honor a student
respected and admired by his classmates.
M. Harper of Pittsburg, Pa., entered the R.P.I. in 1860, when nineteen
years of age, and speedily gained the reputation of being an earnest
and successful scholar. At the end of his Sophomore year, however,
imbued with the prevailing spirit of the times, he thought it his
duty to enter the army and take part in the civil war. Leaving Troy
in the spring of 1862, he returned to Pittsburg, was shortly afterward
appointed by the Governor First Adjutant of the 139th Regiment of
Pennsylvania Volunteers, and entered active service in August. He
was severely wounded at the battle of the Wilderness, and obliged
to retire temporarily from service until his recovery, when, on re-entering
the ranks, he was appointed Assistant Adjutant General of Volunteers
by the President, and with the consent of the Senate, in August, 1864.
Filing this position with zeal which characterized all his actions,
he was again promoted in May, 1865, by the President, for "faithful
and meritorious services," being given the rank of Major, and
here his military career was practically ended. In the meanwhile,
the Class with which he had entered had graduated, and he himself
was considerably advanced in years; but, notwithstanding, he determined
to finish the work so well begun, and was once more entered on the
Institute roll in September, 1865, as a member of the Class of Sixty-six.
After such a brilliant military career, in returning to the comparatively
dull routine of college life, he evinced a wisdom rarely observed,
and in recognition of the great services he had rendered his country
in the moment of peril, of his complement of manly qualities and his
sterling worth, his fellow students created this office, and, in conferring
it upon him, did an act worthy of our highest admiration. [The
Article IV. Section 2.
The Grand Marshal shall be elected from Division B. He shall be regarded
as the leader of the student body. He shall have jurisdiction over all
interclass contests, and shall make it his special task to foster Institute
spirit. He shall assume the duties of the President in his absence,
and shall perform such other duties as have by custom devolved upon
the Grand Marshall of the Institute. He shall be ex-officio a member
of all Union committees. [Student Handbook, 1942-1943]
The Grand Marshal and President of the Union were traditionally elected
during the spring semester on a date determined by the Student Council.
A formal nomination with at least twenty-five signatures had to be submitted
to the manager of the Union at least 10 days prior to the election.
Candidates are nominated by political parties formed through fraternities or groups of independents. The parties
are typically short lived with frequent changes in names and affliations, but the concept
Elections for Grand Marshal were not held from 1890-1893. A student Union was formed in 1890 and a president was elected along with other officers. This position was viewed as the head of the student body. The Grand Marshal, who had largely been a ceremonial student leader, had seemingly become unnecessary. The position was reinstated in 1894 to arouse student spirit and the previous PU, Athol M. Miller, was elected to the office in December. The traditional spring election was resumed in 1896. The elections were moved to November in 1942 and 1943 and then suspended 1944-1945 due to accelerated course work during World War II.
Grand Marshal Night/Week
the evening of the election of the Grand Marshal, it was the duty of
the Freshman class to clean up all of the campaign posters and debris
on campus. When the job was done, students met at the Approach
to hear the election results. A parade through the city of Troy immediately
followed. The freshmen had to parade in nightshirts and "run the
gauntlet" where upperclassmen attempted to remove their nightshirts.
For freshmen, this night marked the beginning of their status as Sophomores.
The parade ended on North field where "refreshments" were
served and prizes were awarded for the best float.
top hat, the symbol of the office, is awarded to the winning candidate
on Grand Marshal night. The top hat tradition dates back as far as 1876
when the winning candidate was presented with a silk hat from Boughton's
Store during the parade
Grand Marshal Night evolved into a week of campaigning, entertainment
and contests known as Grand Marshal Week. As other traditions fell by
the way side, Grand Marshal Week became the highlight of the academic
Past Grand Marshals and Presidents of the Union