The Beginning of the Mascot
Native American history at Dartmouth College dates back to the founding of the College itself. Dartmouth College was established in 1769 by Eleazar Wheelock as an institution to educate Native Americans. However, in the first 200 years of the College’s existence, only 19 Native American students graduated from the institution. The absence of native American representation in the student body did not prevent the College from adopting the “Indian” as their symbol and mascot.
Although its exact origins are unknown, the Indian symbol and “Wah-Hoo-Wah” chant at sporting events emerged near the end of the nineteenth century. In the following decades, the symbol was increasingly embraced by students and the College itself. The “Indian” became Dartmouth’s official mascot and its symbol gained popularity across campus as it began appearing on athletic uniforms, senior canes, College stationary, the library weathervane, and featured in many ad campaigns. In the 1930’s, the authenticity of the symbol was called into question by a former student because it did not depict an accurate image of the Native Americans from the region, but rather a stereotypical image of a Plains Indian adorned with a feather headdress. Although concerns for accuracy became prevalent in the 1930’s, there were no calls for the symbol or mascot’s removal during this time. The continued use of stereotypical imagery and red-face generally went unchecked. It is critical to note that during these decades of the symbol’s prominent use, the student body and administration were almost entirely made up of white men, and hence, the Native American voice on the use of the symbol was absent from the conversation.
This letter, written by a Dartmouth Archivist in 1948, explains that although the first uses of the Indian insignia may date back as early 1860, no “definite proof” could be established until 1909. However, the use of the “Wah-Hoo-Wah” chant, the archivist notes, began in 1879.
Erected in 1949, the tombstone of Eleazar Wheelock is stamped with the Indian head symbol that was adopted by the College. As the founder of Dartmouth College and the Moor’s Indian Charity School, Wheelock initiated Dartmouth College’s relationship with Native Americans. Although the charter Wheelock received for the school was specifically for the purpose of educating the native population, Wheelock failed to fulfill his promise of educating Native Americans. In the first two centuries of the school’s existence, only 19 Native American students graduated from Dartmouth College.
Carrying senior canes at graduation from Dartmouth College is a longstanding tradition. In 1898 or 1898, the Indian head cane designed by Charles Dudley was adopted as the official cane. This development provides a more precise date as to when the Indian symbol became prevalent at the College.
This Indian head symbol appeared on the cover of the yearbook, The Aegis, in 1905. The symbol on the cover is different from the insignia that was widely used in later years.
In 1932, Walter Beach Humphrey proposed a new official Dartmouth Indian insignia. He noticed that the previous symbol was designed in the likeness of Sioux Native Americans rather than the Mohegans who were present at the College’s founding. Humphrey explains that because he was used to drawing Caucasian skulls, the process of designing the insignia was particularly difficult due to the “business of making the head typically redskin.”
The Indian symbol at Dartmouth has its roots in athletics. The “Wah-Hoo-Wah” chant and the sports teams’ mascot are some of the earliest recorded uses of the Indian symbol in Dartmouth life. Pictured are two club lacrosse players from 1937 with the Indian head symbol on their jerseys. The symbol was widely used by athletic teams and served as the official Mascot.
For their 40 year class reunion, representatives from the Class of 1927 dressed as Eleazar Wheelock and one of his “Indian” students while the rest of the class broke “Indian peace pipes” on a rock. This was not a ceremony specific to the class of 1927, but rather a longstanding tradition of Class Day that was not eradicated until 1993. The enduring use of red face and the act of smashing Native American ceremonial pipes demonstrates the lack of student consciousness about the derogatory nature of these actions.
A student carves a snow sculpture, “Indian Reads Book”, in preparation for Winter Carnival outside of the Chi Phi fraternity house. This sculpture shows that the stereotypical and derogatory image of the Dartmouth “Indian” permeated student life.