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The Origins of the “Ivy League”

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Where did the term “Ivy League” come from, and what schools are in it?

A. The eight universities belonging to the Ivy League are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale. The idea dates back to October 1933 when Stanley Woodward, a sports writer for the New York Herald Tribune, used the phrase “ivy colleges” to describe these schools, which had common athletic programs. In 1936, the student newspapers of these colleges printed an editorial calling for the formal establishment of an athletic league for the “ivy colleges.”

Clip from NYHT
Clipping from New York Herald Tribune, October 16, 1933.

When initiated by administrators in the eight schools in September 1946, the “Ivy Group” was concerned about growing interest in college athletics as a form of national entertainment, especially football. The advent of televised college football games only intensified the colleges’ resolve to develop rules governing the sport. The Ivies were to be places where athletes were primarily students who participated in sports as a part of an overall educational program, not professionals who were recruited for their physical abilities nor students who were exploited for the material gain of their institutions.

February 1954 is the accepted founding date of the Ivy League, but athletic competition between all eight schools did not formally begin until the 1956-57 season, when the presidents of the universities adopted a round-robin schedule for football. The phrase is no longer limited to athletics and now represents an educational philosophy inherent to some of the nation’s oldest schools.

Cover of Franklin Field Illustrated, University of Pennsylvania, October 13, 1956. C. Bernard Shea Collection on Princeton University Athletics (AC278), Box 2.


C. Bernard Shea Collection on Princeton University Athletics (AC278)

Ivy League Athletics web site

Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.

Office of the President Records (AC117)

This post was originally an FAQ page by Stasia Karel (2003) that appeared on our old website. It has been revised and expanded here as part of the launch of our new website.

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