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Picnic Day: By the Decade

*Featured Image from 1909 Picnic Day

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.

Exhibit Sources

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 AggieDateline, 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.

(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.

(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).

(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.












More University Archives Related to Picnic Day

Associated Students, University of California, Davis (ASUCD) Records

Collection Number: AR-111

Extent: 13.4 linear feet

Administrative History: The Associated Students, University of Calfornia, Davis (ASUCD) is the official student government of UC Davis. Description: Legislation, election information, meeting minutes, financial materials, clippings of Aggie articles about ASUCD, and a scrapbook.

Inclusive Dates: 1945-2007.

Finding Aid on the Online Archive of California

Cal Aggie Alumni Association Collection

Collection Number: AR-072

Extent: 2.4 linear feet

Administrative History: The Cal Aggie Alumni Association (CAAA) began in 1912 as an association of graduates of the University Farm School. It formalized its role in 1930, when it was chartered as the Davis chapter of the California Alumni Association at UC Berkeley. In 1963, the CAAA became an independent group.

Description: Minutes, reports, correspondence, publications, membership lists, clipping files, and photographs related to the operation and activities of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association.

Inclusive Dates: 1923-2017

Finding Aid on the Online Archive of California

California Aggie Web Archives

Collection Number: AR-189

Extent: 1 online resource

Administrative History: The California Aggie, an entirely student-run publication, is a unit of the Associated Students of UC Davis and is overseen by the Campus Media Board.

Description: Special Collections began capturing the California Aggie website in October 2010. These historic website captures are generally six months behind the current website.

Inclusive Dates: 2010-2013.

Finding Aid on the Online Archive of California

Davis Campus History Collection

Collection Number: AR-095

Extent: 8.9 linear feet

Description: Publications, ephemera, photographs, reports, ledgers, and timebooks that reflect the history of the Davis campus from its days as the University Farm School to the present.

Inclusive Dates: 1905-2016.

Finding Aid on the Online Archive of California

Picnic Day Board of Directors Records

Collection Number: AR-122

Extent: 13 linear feet

Administrative History: Since 1909, Picnic Day has provided the University of California, Davis with the means of showcasing the campus and the achievements of its students, staff, and faculty. Every year the event is organized by the Picnic Day Board of Directors, which is composed entirely of students.

Description: The collection includes reports, financial records, meeting minutes, and publicity materials that document the Board’s work in organizing UC Davis’ annual open house.

Inclusive Dates: 1952-2007.

Finding Aid on the Online Archive of California

Picnic Day Collection

Collection Number: AR-075

Extent: 4.8 linear feet

Description: Programs, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia from the University of California, Davis Picnic Day celebrations.

Inclusive Dates: 1909-[ongoing]

Strategic Communication Records

Collection Number: AR-031

Extent: 49.6 linear feet

Administrative History: The Strategic Communications Office serves the UC Davis campus community and the media through news, publications, andphotography.

Description: The collection contains clipping files for campus news, event and subject files, publications produced by the department, aswell as materials regarding the 75th anniversary of the campus. Also included are photographs and slides of faculty and staff, sporting events, classroom activities, and special events such as Picnic Day.

Inclusive Dates: circa 1910-2000.

Finding Aid on the Online Archive of California