Ask Abe: St. Patrick

An alum

What’s the story behind the engineering and law students’ rivalry?

Abe

If the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Capitol Square isn’t exciting enough for you, imagine students throwing rotten eggs at each other over the floats. These antics used to be a staple in UW-Madison’s St. Patrick’s Day traditions because the saint is at the core of the engineering and law students’ rivalry. In 1915, the students discovered that, in addition to being a religious leader, St. Patrick was also a lawyer and an engineer. Both schools called dibs on the saint, and thus the rivalry began. The rivalry first manifested in the form of snow fights on Bascom Hill, though the students turned to pranks over time. In the 1930s, a snowless winter led to students pelting eggs instead of snow. On one occasion, the lawyers stole “Oscar,” the engineers’ iron man. On another, they captured and caged the president of the mechanical engineers and took him for a ride attached to a car. In retaliation one year, the engineers shut off the heat in the Law School building, chain-locked it, and hoisted a “St. Pat was an engineer” flag atop it. Shortly after the commandeering of the Law School, a truce was called, thanks to the deans. They made it clear that barbed wire, tear gas, and rotten eggs were banned from pranks. The rivalry de-escalated into a St. Patrick’s Day basketball game, the last of which was held in 1966.