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Candlelight Sunday Supper in the Archives

First Candlelight Sunday Supper at International House, 1925 / I-House Archives
The Candlelight Sunday Supper at the end of each year is one of the most memorable moments of the I-House experience that ceremonially closes a period of sharing stories and knowledge with friends from many parts of the world.
World Council of Alumni at 50th Anniversary Candlelight Sunday Supper dinner, 1974 / I-House Archives
The idea began with International House founder Florence Edmonds. In the Spring of 1913, Florence was the chairman of the Bronx YWCA membership committee and had completed the most extensive membership campaign in New York City. At the event celebrating their success, she held a lit candle and wore draping, white cloth. One by one, YWCA members dressed in similar attire approached Florence and lit their candles from her flame.
Harry Edmonds (left) at Candlelight Sunday Supper, 1968 / I-House Archives
Feeling excited and inspired, Florence shared this experience with her husband, Harry. The year prior, the pair had founded the Intercollegiate Cosmopolitan Club, the predecessor to International House. The Intercollegiate Cosmopolitan Club was a social organization that provided members with unique events and programming to cultivate and promote international friendships. To encourage international students to meet with each other and Americans alike, the club hosted events such as Sunday Suppers, dances, receptions, etc., at Earl Hall at Columbia University.
Intercollegiate Cosmopolitan Club Candlelight Sunday Supper at Earl Hall, 1922 / I-House Archives
Using the YWCA event as a model to close out Intercollegiate Cosmopolitan Club’s first official year, the Edmonds planned a program that would be equal parts memorable and dramatic. The room was encircled by as many students as there were nationalities, one student for each country dressed in their country’s traditional costume. Each representative held an unlit candle and was arranged alphabetically in a line. Albania was first, then Belgium, etc., to the end, which in the first year happened to be a student from the United States of America, dressed as Uncle Sam. Starting with the Albanian, the light was ‘passed’ on to each country. As detailed in a 1966 “I-House World” newsletter, at this moment, Harry Edmonds knew, “something has to be said, to represent, in words, what has been visible to the eye. Here it is, on the spur of the moment!”

As light begets light,

 So love, friendship, and goodwill

 Are passed from one to another.

 We who have come from many

 Nations to live in one fellowship

 At International House, promise

 One another to pass the light

 Wherever we go. 

These words became what we now know as the International House Pledge. They were recited for 12 years, from 1913-1924, during the rest of the International Collegiate Cosmopolitan Club days, and then again, in the Spring of 1925 for the first ceremony at International House. Since that time, the pledge has been repeated in Davis Hall every year until the Spring of 2020, when the event switched to virtual to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This year, as we mourn loved ones and time lost, we hope you will join us in keeping these words in your thoughts and in your heart as we look forward to better days ahead.
*Banner Image: 25th Anniversary Candlelight Sunday Supper with John Dr. Rockefeller Jr., and General George C. Marshall, 1949 / I-House Archives

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