UM History: 5 Things You Never Knew

Some surprising stories are buried throughout the University of Montana’s 123-year history. We dug up a few that we thought deserve resurfacing.

You won’t believe No. 3…


 1. From 1915 to 1929 UM was the only college in the country that had a mountain lookout on its campus..

The forestry department built the lookout with the U.S. Forest Service in 1915, and it became a popular spot to scout out fires during the summer. It was a favored place to which students hiked to etch their names in the lookout’s wooden tower walls. However, as I’m sure we can all guess, the lookout’s tenure atop Mount Sentinel came to end when it burned down in 1929.

2. UM hosted 1,000 military members during World War II.

Members from the U.S. Army and Air Force trained on campus during the war. Many of the servicemen trained on campus and lived in the residence halls. With few residence halls available, many UM students temporarily relocated to fraternity houses. UM changed some of its courses, offering more political-history and international-relations classes during wartime.

3. Our mascot used to be quite the bear … literally.

In the early 1900s before UM officially became the Grizzlies, our mascot used to be a live bear cub. Yep, you read that right: a live bear. Before Monte’s time, a black bear cub named Teddy was UM’s first mascot. The cub wore a jersey during much of this time with a large M across it and made appearances during the Homecoming and cross-state parades. In 1998 Monte (short for Montana) became UM’s official mascot.


4. There was a day dedicated to cleaning up campus called Aber Day where classes were canceled.

William Aber was a professor who taught Latin and Greek languages who also volunteered as a custodian. He was known for planting trees on campus and for 40 years there was a day dedicated to “beautifying” campus again. Students would clean the campus in the morning, hold campus elections and have a picnic on the Oval in the afternoon. Some students took their “day off” as a chance to engage in other activities, which led to the more well-known Aber Day festivities.


5. There used to be a prom the night before graduation.

The prom and other festivities that took place the evening before Commencement came to be known as May Fete. Starting in 1925, seniors would gather around the Oval together and sing “College Chums” on the steps of Main Hall for May Fete. The M on Mount Sentinel was lit up for the evening and students performed a play. There was a May Queen elected who would sit on the steps of Main Hall overlooking the Oval during the dance.  As time went on and UM gained more students, May Fete ended. However, the ongoing “Singing on the Steps” tradition during Homecoming originated from May Fete.

There’s a little UM-101 for you! For more interesting UM Artifacts check out UM’s Alumni Magazine, The Montanan.