images and words borrowed from UPENN ARCHIVES
The Bowl Fight was undoubtedly one of the wildest, most fascinating and controversial customs of the University of Pennsylvania. Though never a dignified or a useful pursuit, the annual all-out brawl between the freshmen and sophomores held the fascination of Penn students for half a century, from the Civil War to World War I.
The basics of the Bowl Fight were simple. The freshmen provided a bowl man, and the sophomores provided a bowl, often inscribed with their graduation year. The fight was decided in favor of the freshmen if they were able to break the bowl before the sophomores were able to place the bowl-man into the bowl. However, if the sophomores were able to place the bowl-man into the bowl, the sophomores won.
Even though the bowl first made its appearance in 1865 and the custom of putting the bowl man in the bowl was there in 1866, the fights themselves actually started in 1867. The ferocity of the fights escalated each year until the custom came to an end in 1916 when a freshman, William Lifson '19 was killed.