When did we start having class on Labor Day?

Every year, as fall semester classes begin, students and faculty ask this question: Why do we start on Labor Day?  Sometimes the answer that comes back is, we’ve always started on Labor Day!

But that’s not completely true.  In 2015, for example, Labor Day was September 7, and waiting to start classes on Sept. 7 would have meant we’d have been in session until December 18, which somebody must have thought was awfully late, so we started on Monday, August 31 instead.  The following Monday was Labor Day, and we had classes that day.  This year, we “stepped back” the calendar a week, starting on Monday, September 5.

Over the past fifty years, the first day of class in the fall semester has gradually shifted back from Thursday to Monday, and it has ranged between as late as Sept. 12 and as early as August 31.  And that’s not counting orientation, move-in days, pre-session meetings, and the like, all of which precede the first day of classes.

Before World War II, the date of first class meetings in the college catalogue was often vague.  The catalogue notes which days freshmen were supposed to report, and the day that upperclassmen were supposed to report, but doesn’t say when instruction begins.  After World War II, the dates are more precise.

Through the 1966-67 academic year, the first semester began in September, and continued into January, with first semester exams happening after Christmas.  The second semester ran from February to early June.  All that changed in 1967-68 with the implementation of Interim, which brought first semester exams back into December, but also meant that classes needed to start slightly earlier to get a 15-week semester complete before Christmas Break.  And to be honest, that’s probably the main reason we’ve wound up starting on Labor Day for most of the past 20 years – because that’s about when you have to begin to get 15 weeks of class in before Christmas.

Start of Class – selected dates from 1946-66 and each year thereafter.
1946 Thursday, Sept. 19
1950 Saturday, Sept. 16
1951 Saturday, Sept. 15
1955 Friday, Sept. 16
1956 Tuesday, Sept. 18
1961 Saturday, Sept. 16
1966 Saturday, Sept. 17

(Interim begins in 1967-68 academic year)
1967 Thursday, Sept. 7
1968 Thursday, Sept. 5
1969 Thursday, Sept. 4
1970 Thursday, Sept. 3*Before Labor Day
1971 Thursday, Sept. 9
1972 Thursday, Sept. 7
1973 Thursday, Sept. 6
1974 Thursday, Sept. 12 (Exams ended Dec. 20)
1975 Thursday, Sept. 11
1976 Thursday, Sept. 9
1977 Thursday, Sept. 8
1978 Thursday, Sept. 7
1979 Wednesday, Sept. 5
1980 Wednesday, Sept. 10
1981 Wednesday, Sept. 9
1982 Wednesday, Sept. 8
1983 Wednesday, Sept. 7
1984 Wednesday, Sept. 5
1985 Wednesday, Sept. 4
1986 Wednesday, Sept. 3
1987 Wednesday, Sept. 2 *Before Labor Day
1988 Wednesday, Sept. 7
1989 Tuesday, Sept. 5
1990 Tuesday, Sept. 4
1991 Tuesday, Sept. 3
1992 Tuesday, Sept. 1 *Before Labor Day
1993 Tuesday, Aug. 31 *Before Labor Day, first time in August
1994 Tuesday, Sept. 6
1995 Tuesday, Sept. 5
1996 Tuesday, Sept. 3
1997 Tuesday, Sept. 2
1998 Tuesday, Sept. 1 *Before Labor Day
1999 Monday, Sept. 6 Labor Day
2000 Monday, Sept. 4 Labor Day
2001 Monday, Sept. 3 Labor Day
2002 Monday, Sept. 2 Labor Day
2003 Monday, Sept. 1 Labor Day
2004 Monday, Sept. 6 Labor Day
2005 Monday, Sept. 5 Labor Day
2006 Monday, Sept. 4 Labor Day
2007 Monday, Sept. 3 Labor Day
2008 Monday, Sept. 1 Labor Day
2009 Monday, Sept. 7 Labor Day
2010 Monday, Sept. 6 Labor Day
2011 Monday, Sept. 5 Labor Day
2012 Monday, Sept. 3 Labor Day
2013 Monday, Sept. 2 Labor Day
2014 Monday, Sept. 1 Labor Day
2015 Monday, Aug. 31 *Before Labor Day
2016 Monday, Sept. 5 Labor Day

By Phillip Stone

I've been the archivist of Wofford College and the South Carolina United Methodist since 1999. I'll be sharing college, Methodist, and local history, documents, photographs, and other interesting stories on this blog, which I've been keeping since December 2007.