By Frank Chamberlain
Founder’s Day was the first organized tradition to be held at Tarleton. This observance took place on Thanksgiving Day of 1902. Officials decided on this date because it was believed that John Tarleton was born on this approximate date. (The actual day and year of his birth are uncertain.)
The ceremony consisted of a program in the second floor auditorium of the Campus Hall and a processional to Tarleton’s grave that was located in the yard of the building. The grave was covered in flowers and the participants sang the “Founder’s Song” which was specially written for the occasion. This melody was written by faculty member Lillie Pearl Chamberlin and was sung to the tune of “America the Beautiful.” The lyrics of the song gave thanks to John Tarleton and paid tribute to the name and everlasting legacy of the benefactor and his school.
Another notable Founder’s Day was held on April 30th and May 1st of 1949 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Tarleton’s establishment. Many alumni and surviving acquaintances of John Tarleton converged on the campus for this semi-centennial reunion. The founder’s day program consisted of tribute speeches and introductions of the distinguished guests. The attendees then paraded to the founder’s gravesite where they laid a wreath and held a moment of silent prayer. The pageant was an especially elaborate program that reenacted the history of the school up until that point with actors portraying John Tarleton, J.C. George, Mary Corn Wilkerson, and many other luminous figures from the past.
Earlier in the year, the name “John Tarleton Agricultural College” was changed to “Tarleton State College.” On the second day of events, Governor Beuford Jester traveled to the campus in order to give a speech and sign the bill that made the name change official.
Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.
Tarleton State University Archives, official programs and itineraries of the event, 1949