Elmira College is a private, coeducational, Phi Beta Kappa college located in Elmira, New York. 

Founded in 1855, Elmira was the first college for women with a course of study equal in rigor to the best men's colleges. “Female seminaries” as they were called at the time, were essentially glorified high schools. In contrast, from its very inception, Elmira College offered rigorous academic programs. 

EC became coeducational in 1969, and today has an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 800 full-time, mostly residential students. The College also offers advanced certificates, master degree programs, and non-credit courses for professional development.

The College is home to the Center for Mark Twain Studies, which encompasses the Mark Twain Study, Mark Twain Archives, and Quarry Farm. The Center attracts Twain scholars from around the world and is one of four historically significant Twain heritage sites in the U.S.

Twain’s wife and College alumna, Olivia Langdon Clemens, was an Elmira, New York, native and member of the Class of 1864.

The Mark Twain Study, now located on campus, is the study in which the famous author penned The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and other iconic works. USA Today named the Mark Twain Study one of the nation’s top ten literary landmarks.

Quarry Farm, home to Twain’s in-laws and now under the stewardship of the College, is where Twain and his family spent more than 20 summers.  The site was named one of New York State’s literary landmarks by United for Libraries and the Empire State Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book.


Campus Traditions

Purple and gold colors. A competitive athletic spirit. Singing our Alma Mater. Traditions such as these help connect the Elmira community. We’re proud of our legacy, and we look forward to seeing students forge new traditions to share with the next generation of leaders.


Mountain Day

Dean Anstice Harris instituted the Mountain Day tradition at Elmira College in October of 1918. The day is not a designated holiday, but rather a day in which classes are cancelled, allowing students, faculty, and staff to engage with each other in memorable and less formal ways.

A crowd of students chant for Mountain Day

In early years, students, faculty, and staff enjoyed a picnic lunch and hiked to Quarry Farm on East Hill. They also participated in games, planting projects, relaxing, and enjoying the colorful foliage. In recent years, Mountain Day has been more campus-oriented. After a number of morning activities, a picnic lunch is served to the entire campus community, and the remainder of the day is spent enjoying the fall weather, games, and outdoor events.


Holiday Banquet

The Holiday Banquet celebration is the oldest of EC’s time-honored traditions. It is a semi-formal affair and begins a weekend of traditional holiday festivities. 

Attendees are pictured at the Holiday Banquet

Students join their favorite faculty or staff member in the Campus Center Dining Hall for a traditional Thanksgiving holiday dinner. Faculty and staff serve the students dinner, carving turkeys and passing dishes in a family-style meal.

In keeping with tradition, the graduating class presents a holiday ornament that has special significance to the College. The class officers present the College President with the ornament to adorn the tree in the Dining Hall. At the end of the Holiday Banquet, members of the graduating class lead the room in traditional holiday songs.


Octagon Fair

This long-standing EC tradition offers a family-friendly day of fun, food, games, crafts, and entertainment for the entire community.  The day traditionally features a line-up of live entertainment including performances by Elmira College a cappella groups and demonstrations by clubs and organizations like the EC Danceline.

Chemistry Club members wear purple and gold inflatable suits, and stand with a cartoony scientist character during Octagon Fair
Doc Billingsley is pictured after taking a pie in the face

In addition to entertainment, a variety of vendors, regional artisans, and student clubs offer items for sale such as baked goods, jewelry, artwork, pottery, plants, clothing, games, beauty products, locally grown produce, and more. Proceeds from the Fair benefit student clubs.



Candlelight is one of the College’s most cherished traditions. This two-part, poignant ceremony takes place first at Fall Welcome for each new incoming class and then on the eve of Commencement for that class four years later.

Students participate in Candlelight

During Fall Welcome, incoming students process by candlelight along the brick-paved walkways leading to The Puddle, are seated around The Puddle, and then are addressed by established members of the Elmira College community. Upperclass students who have led the new students’ orientation traditionally sit across The Puddle from the new students. The Fall Welcome Candlelight ceremony marks the last time the new class is gathered on campus before all other students return to campus to begin the academic year.

Four years later, Candlelight takes place when the class again gathers together one last time in ceremony before Commencement the following morning. It is traditional that the graduating class is addressed by two members of the class, an “honorary patron saint” from the ranks of the faculty or staff, and one graduating student’s parent.

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