Picnic Day: By the Decade
Celebrating Picnic Day
The Picnic Day tradition started in 1909 with a “Dedication Basket Picnic,” said to have been suggested by Mrs. Carolee Shields, to honor the opening of North Hall, the first dormitory on the campus of the University Farm (now the University of California, Davis). Visitors came to inspect the University Farm and join faculty and students in a picnic lunch sponsored by the faculty. By 1911 Picnic Day was a firmly established annual event, a combination educational exhibit and annual spring festival. In 1914 it became a student-organized activity run by a special committee appointed by the Executive Committee of the Associated Students. After the opening of the Yolo Causeway in 1915, allowing thousands of automobiles to descend on Davis each Picnic Day, Yolo County for several years declared the date a public holiday.
Picnic Day has been cancelled six times in its history: in 1924 because of a statewide hoof-and-mouth disease epidemic that threatened livestock herds, in 1938 after the old classroom building was torn down, from 1943-1945 during World War II and finally this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Archives and Special Collections is charged with collecting, preserving, administering, and providing access to the University Archives. This exhibit draws materials from several University Archives Collections.
The collections include:
- University Archives Photographs – A visual record of the history of the University of California, Davis. The collection contains photographic prints and negatives, and depicts buildings and grounds, faculty and staff, annual events such as Picnic Day, campus events, classes and classrooms, student clubs and activities, departments, and sporting events.
- Academic Technology Services Photographs and Video Recordings– The collection includes negatives, contact sheets, color slides, and prints created in the course of UC Davis activities by Illustration Services, which is now incorporated into Academic Technology Services.
- Michel (Neil) Axiom Photograph Collection– Neil Michel, co-owner of Axiom, was the principal freelance photographer for UC Davis from 1991-2008. The collection includes photographs taken for the California Aggie, Dateline, and UC Davis Magazine, as well as photography for alumni events, development events, and several colleges and programs.
- The California Aggie, formerly known as The Weekly Agricola- This resource is now available online through the California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC) and contains 5,410 issues of The Aggie beginning with the first issue of The Weekly Agricola on Sept. 29, 1915. The collection is broken down by year and month, has a keyword-search function and is available for download.
To access materials in these or other collections in Archives and Special Collections, or if you have materials related to the history of UC Davis that you would like to donate to the UC Davis Library, contact
Historic Picnic Day Films
In celebration of the 100th Picnic Day, Archives and Special Collections in the University Library, digitized three historic 16mm films of Picnic Day. Funding of the digitization of these three films was provided by the Richard H. and Marilyn (Slater) McCapes Family Trust Gift Fund.
Picnic Day, April 22, 1939
(15:41 min, 168 Mb)
This film features Picnic Day in 1939 and was recorded by Remi C. O’Connor of the Class of 1941. It contains the oldest known footage of campus. Picnic Day was celebrated that year on Saturday, April 22 after rain damage and the demolition of the Classroom Building caused the event to be cancelled in 1938.
The film, which runs for 15 minutes, begins on Friday, April 21 with scenes of students preparing campus for Picnic Day. The recording ends with students cleaning up campus on Sunday.
Picnic Day, April 19, 1947
(10:49 min, 116 Mb)
Picnic Day 1947 marked the return of the event after a four year absence due to World War II. The first post war Picnic Day occurred on April 19, 1947. This film, which runs for ten minutes, contains clips of the following events: presentation of judging awards at the reviewing stand, a greased pig on the Quad, alumni registration at the south end of the Quad, a band demonstration on the Quad followed by a bag punching demonstration by Myron Schall at the reviewing stand, the track meet, and finally the fashion show at the Sunken Garden (the current site of the Shields Library courtyard).
Picnic Day, April 18, 1953
(4:08 min, 43 Mb)
The majority of this film focuses on the parade as seen from the corner of Shields Avenue and East Quad.