TREASURING THE PAST— Summer 2003
   

 

Building a Bear

Washington University's athletic teams have been known as the Bears for more than 75 years. During this time, the mascot has changed appearance a few times. The latest athletic logo (right) was developed in the mid-'90s after four years of seeking input from alumni, students, faculty, and staff. Designed by Warren Pottinger, B.F.A. '93, the logo was refined by Stacey Harris, B.F.A. '88, using feedback from the logo committee. This logo reflects a stronger image—one that aptly represents the dominance of the University's teams, which have garnered 80 University Athletic Association (UAA) titles since the league's inception in 1987-1988—and replaces the "scowling bear with the 'WU' sailor hat," otherwise known as the "Battling Bear," which had been in use for 40 years (see below).

The Battling Bear logo had an uncanny resemblance to the then-logotype of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. One question surrounding its look was why a land-locked institution such as Washington University would have its mascot wear a sailor hat (unless it symbolized freshman beanies, which were a tradition on many college campuses, including Washington University). Unfortunately, the origins of the Bear's hat, like the origins of the logo itself, which dates to the late 1930s, remain a mystery.

Also, somewhat mysterious is how the University came to adopt the Bear mascot in the 1920s: The football team had been called the Pikers since the 1904 World's Fair, but in 1925, students voted for a new mascot. Among the new choices for a mascot were the Eagle, the Bearcat, and the Bear; retaining

"Pikers" was also discussed. (The Pike, the amusement section during the World's Fair, ran along Lindell Boulevard, and its proximity to the new campus had led to the nickname "Pikers.")

On December 18, 1925, Chancellor Herbert S. Hadley held an open meeting of the student body to discuss the athletic mascot issue, and, in the end, the students voted 320-106 to change the name to Bears. An editorial in the December 23, 1925, Student Life reported:

"Many believe [the name change] was a cleverly prearranged affair of chicanery, especially when the city newspapers within eight hours of the vote refer to our team as the Bears. They are convinced when, within twenty-four hours, follows the announcement that a cub has been donated to the University to be used as a mascot ... ."

The first bear mascot was a black bear cub, born in the Canadian Rockies and presented to the University in December 1925 by Mrs. Ruth Waldron Hill.

(While no longer used in connection with our athletic teams, the name Pikers lives on as the name of an undergraduate men's a cappella ensemble.)

What's in a Name?

In 1976, the University's Board of Trustees voted to make the school's official name "Washington University in St. Louis." The decision was intended to differentiate this university from the 18 other higher education institutions in the United States with "Washington" as part of their name—a decision that largely has been successful.

But over time, the University has been known by other names:
Eliot Seminary—In 1853, when state Senator Wayman Crow filed a charter to incorporate a new educational institution, he called it "Eliot Seminary" to honor his friend and pastor, the Rev. William Greenleaf Eliot, Jr.

Washington Institute—At a Board of Directors meeting on February 22, 1854, Eliot and fellow director Samuel Treat proposed changing the name to "Washington Institute of St. Louis" since the Charter was signed into law on George Washington's birthday: February 22. The Board unanimously approved the new name.

O'Fallon Institute—For a brief period in 1855-1856, the name was changed to "O'Fallon Institute" when two Missouri legislators received approval for a rival institution to be named "Washington College." Later, they gave up their charter.

Washington University—On February 22, 1856, Samuel Treat suggested to the directors that "Washington University" should be the name, and the motion passed. The Charter was amended, and Gov. Trusten Polk signed the new name into law on February 12, 1857. (Corporate name: The Washington University)

Nicknames

Washington—Near the beginning of the 20th century, the University's nickname was "Washington" as evidenced by the 1907 Alma Mater, written by two Glee Club members from the Class of 1908, Milton Rosenheim and George Logan (both were also law graduates of 1910):

Dear Alma Mater, thy name is sweet to me
Our hearts are all for thee, fair Washington.

Wash. U.—Today the name of endearment among current students and young alumni is "Wash. U."—a name that can puzzle those who do not know the University well. Many older alumni and prospective students do not prefer the name.

wustl—With the advent of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, some people are calling the University "wustl" after its Web address of wustl.edu.