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KU Student Handbook 2006-07

KU Heritage & Traditions

To really belong to a university you might want to know what kind of traditions it has and how they started. KU legends like "how the King of Belgium listened to the Rock Chalk Chant," "how Harvard and Yale universities affected our school colors," "what a Jayhawk really is" and other interesting facts are listed below. Know your university and join a proud tradition.

History University Seal
Legend of the Jayhawk Birth of the Songs
World's Greatest College Cheer I'm a Jayhawk
Rock Chalk Chant Crimson and the Blue
KU Colors Stand Up and Cheer

On September 12, 1866, the University of Kansas became the first university on the Great Plains. When KU opened its doors that day fifty-five students were enrolled in classes taught by three professors. The university was located in North College Hall, a three-story building on the north end of Mount Oread that had a spectacular view of the Kaw and Wakarusa river valleys that surrounded the growing town of Lawrence. The university's original curriculum was traditional to colleges of its day. Latin, Greek, mathematics and philosophy were taught to the twenty-nine men and twenty-six women in the student body. The legislative act that established the university stated that it was to provide the state's inhabitants the opportunity to acquire a "thorough knowledge of the various branches of literature, science, and the arts." When the first class enrolled in 1866, not one student was ready for college work. Hence, initially the university also functioned as a preparatory school, adapting itself to the times and circumstances. For that reason, the first commencement was not held until 1873.

The Legend of the Kansas Jayhawk
(From "Traditions," published by the KU Office of University Relations) Mascots are believed to bring good luck, especially to athletic teams. KU is home of the Jayhawk, a mythical bird with a fascinating history. Its origin is rooted in the historic struggles of Kansas settlers. The term "Jayhawk" was probably coined about 1848. Accounts of its use appeared from Illinois to Texas. The name combines two birds - the blue jay, a noisy, quarrelsome thing known to rob other nests, and the sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter. The message here: Do not turn your back on this bird. During the 1850s, the Kansas Territory was filled with such Jayhawks. The area was a battleground between those wanting a state where slavery would be legal and those committed to a Free State. The factions looted, sacked, rustled cattle, and otherwise attacked each other's settlements. For a time, ruffians on both sides were called Jayhawkers. But the name stuck to the free staters. Lawrence, where KU would be founded, was a Free State stronghold. During the Civil War, the Jayhawk's ruffian image gave way to patriotic symbol. Kansas Governor Charles Robinson raised a regiment called the Independent Mounted Kansas Jayhawks. By war's end, Jayhawks were synonymous with the impassioned people who made Kansas a Free State. In 1886, the bird appeared in a cheer - the Rock Chalk chant. When KU football players first took the field in 1890, it seemed natural to call them Jayhawkers. How do you draw a Jayhawk? For years, that question stumped fans. Henry Maloy, a cartoonist for the student newspaper, drew a memorable version of the 'hawk in 1912. He gave it shoes. Why? For kicking opponents, of course. In 1920, a more somber bird, perched on a KU monogram, came into use. In 1923, Jimmy O'Bryon and George Hollingbery designed a duck-like 'hawk. About 1929, Forrest O. Calvin drew a grim-faced bird sporting talons that could maim. In 1941, Gene "Yog" Williams opened the Jayhawk's eyes and beak, giving it a contentious look. It is Harold D. Sandy's 1946 design of a smiling Jayhawk that survives. The design was copyrighted in 1947. In the 1960s, the Jayhawk went 3-D when the KU Alumni Association provided a mascot costume.

Welcome, "Jay." In 1971, during Homecoming halftime, a huge egg was hauled out to the 50-yard line, and fans witnessed the hatching of Jay's companion - "Baby Jay." Today you'll find several Jayhawks on the Lawrence campus. A piece of birdlike iconography on Dyche Hall, erected in 1901, looks suspiciously like a Jayhawk. In front of Strong Hall perches a large 'hawk, a statue with sleek, modern lines, gift of the Class of 1956. Another, a striding, feathered bronze, greets visitors to the Adams Alumni Center.

Does the Jayhawk fly? Baby Jay flew the coop once, in September 1978. Birdnapped. The costume was returned just in time for Homecoming. A good thing, too, because myths and mascots are fun to have around.

World's Greatest College Cheer
The University Science Club officially adopted the famous "Rock Chalk" chant in 1886. A chemistry professor, E.H.S. Bailey, and some of his associates were returning from a conference by train to Lawrence. As they traveled, they talked of the need for a good, rousing yell. The click-clack of the train wheels passing over the rail joints suggested a rhythm and a cadence to them. At first, their version was "Rah, Rah, Jayhawk, KU" repeated three times. Later, in place of the rahs, an English professor suggested "Rock Chalk," a transposition of chalk rock, the name for the limestone outcropping found on Mount Oread, site of the Lawrence campus. The cheer became known worldwide. Teddy Roosevelt pronounced it the greatest college chant he'd ever heard. It was used by Kansas troops fighting in the Philippines in 1899, in the Boxer Rebellion in China, and World War II. At the Olympic games in 1920, the King of Belgium asked for a typical American college yell. The assembled athletes agreed on KU's Rock Chalk and rendered it for His Majesty.

"Rock Chalk Chant" (532K mp3)

KU's Colors
KU's colors have been crimson and blue since the early 1890s. Originally, the Board of Regents had decided to adopt the University of Michigan's colors, maize and sky blue. Maize and blue were shown at oratorical meets, and they may have colored the Kansas crew in rowing competitions in the mid-1880s. But in 1890 when football arrived at KU, a clamor arose for Harvard's crimson to honor Col. John J. McCook, a Harvard man who had given money for KU's athletic field. Faculty members who had graduated from Yale insisted that their academic lineage and Yale blue not be overlooked. In 1896, crimson and blue were adopted officially.

The University Seal
KU's first chancellor, Rev. R.W. Oliver, chose the seal in 1866. It pictures Moses kneeling in awe before a bush that is engulfed in flames but "is not burnt." The story of Moses' vision is from the Bible's third chapter of Exodus. Fire symbolizes knowledge in many stories and myths. Moses is thought to represent the humble attitude of the scholar who recognizes the unquenchable nature of the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

Birth of the Songs
College students and faculty used to make up school songs - and sing them. Many have faded away. Two at KU struck a responsive chord and still are sung enthusiastically. In 1891, Professor George Barlow Penny searched for a school song for the Glee and Mandolin Club to sing on a tour. Just before departure, he thought of Cornell's "Far Above Cayuga's Waters." Changing a few words, Penny taught it to the glee club. The campus has been singing "Crimson and the Blue" ever since. George "Dumpy" Bowles, class of 1912, longed to make a big contribution to KU spirit. He was not football-sized, but he could write music. One of his musical shows had a song called "I'm a Jayhawk." Written in 1912, it became a hit with students in 1920. The 1926 glee club performed it nationally.

"I'm a Jayhawk" (976Kb mp3)
By George "Dumpy" Bowles
(Revised, October 1958, to conform with Big Eight Conference team names.)
Talk about the Sooners
The Cowboys and the Buffs,
Talk about the Tiger and his tail,
Talk about the Wildcats,
And those Cornhuskin' boys,
But I'm a bird to make 'em weep and wail.

'Cause I'm a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,
Up at Lawrence on the Kaw
'Cause I'm a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,
With a sis-boom, hip hoorah.

Got a bill that's big enough
To twist the Tiger's tail,
Husk some corn and listen
To the Cornhusker's wail -

'Cause I'm a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk,
Riding on the Kansas gale.

"Crimson and the Blue" (844Kb mp3)
Far above the golden valley
Glorious to view,
Stands our noble Alma Mater
Towering toward the blue.

Lift the chorus ever onward,
Crimson and the blue
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater,
Hail to old KU.

Far above the distant humming
Of the busy town.
Reared against the dome of heaven,
Looks she proudly down.

(Repeat Chorus)

Greet we then our foster mother,
Noble friend so true,
We will ever sing her praises,
Hail to old KU.

(Repeat Chorus)
(Follow with Rock Chalk Chant)

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