Scottish traditions at Macalester

Dr Edward Neill, the founder of the college, was of Scottish ancestry and founded Macalester as a Presbyterian college. Charles Macalester, the philanthropist who the college was named after, was a son of a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune in merchant shipping. Despite the Scottish origins of the college, the Scottish traditions at Mac weren’t realized until 1938 during the first Founder’s Day celebration held on March 12th, Dr James Wallace’s 89th birthday. The celebration included singing Scotch songs and wearing clothing made from the Wallace clan tartan. Throughout the years, the Founder’s day celebrations incorporated more Scottish traditions. At a 1938 Football game against Hamline, a Scotch song was introduced. It was sung to the tune of Loch Lomond: “Oh Mac’ll take the high road, and you’ll take the low road, and Mac’ll win this game a-fore ye. But Listen now you Pipers, You’ll have to fight it out, If you’re gonna git the best of the Scotties” 

In 1948, Ivan Burg (‘34), a journalism instructor at Macalester, proposed that the college launch a student bagpipe band. One of Ivan Burg’s journalism classes began a search for information on the MacAlister clan in Scotland. They found Lt. Col. Charles Godfrey Sommerville MacAlister of Loup, who was a distant cousin of Charles Macalester, the namesake of the college. He allowed the college to use the official MacAlister tartan and coat of arms and formally adopted the college into the clan in 1950. In 1950, some Macalester students started learning the art of Scottish Highland dancing. 

Students began organizing the Macalester bagpipe band. 500 Balmoral bonnets of the MacAlister tartan were sold on campus as a fundraiser for the pipe band. 

“Macalester College is going Scotch plaid…or maybe it should be said Scotch mad. The Saint Paul Scotch college bids fair to become in the near future the most colorful campus, literally, in the US. For the tartan cloth of the Macalester clan of Scotland, which is bright red (criss-crossed by light and dark greens, medium blue, and white), soon will cover the campus… The whole campus- students, faculty and trustees-is pitched high with excitement as the time draws near for bolts of plaid material, bagpipe band uniforms, bagpipes, etc., to arrive from Edinburgh, Scotland. The College is awaiting eagerly the time, next September, when the bagpipe band will present its first parade and review”

The Saint Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, June 11th, 1950

The Scottish Country fair was an outdoor large festival that celebrated Scottish heritage every Spring on Macalester’s campus. It was started on a small scale in the late 1960s by Florence Hart, a dance instructor at Macalester. At the time she was teaching a Highland dance class and wanted her dancers to have a place to compete. It began in Spring 1973 and continued every year until the 31st fair in Spring 2003. The Highland games moved to a different location in 2004. Activities at the Scottish Country fair included: Highland dancing competitions, caber toss competitions (a traditional Scottish athletic event involving tossing a large tapered pole), bagpipe competitions, and massed pipe band performances.


Mac Today, spring 1982

Nature and revelation: a history of Macalester college by Jeanne Kilde (pgs. 159-160)

Scottish Country Fair collection in Archives

Pipe Band photo collection in Archives