History of the Ivy league schools


If you live in the United States and have yet to pick your college of choice, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of the term ‘Ivy League.’ I mean, the phrase has probably been shoved in front of your noses from a young age, with many students (and parents) dreaming of attending one of the eight prestigious schools from a young age. So what are the Big Eight? Well, there’s Harvard University, Yale University, Cornell University, Columbia University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and Brown University. But where have they come from? Well, it turns out there is no simple answer because there are numerous potential reasons why the Ivy League school was called just that.

The Ivy Plant

If you’ve ever visited an Ivy League school, you may notice that the walls and the buildings are adorned with the Ivy plant. In fact, many of the colleges ask their students to plant ivy on their first day at the college in a ‘Planting the Ivy’ ceremony. This idea was first thought up in the 1800s, in schools like Harvard. However, at the University of Pennsylvania, the college used to allow their graduating students the opportunity to plant the ivy on the last day. The other colleges in the Ivy League group have also reported their practice of this ceremony – leading many to believe that this ceremony is the reason the schools have been grouped together with this name.


A sports writer

Many believe that the first official use of the term ‘Ivy League’ occurred in the early 1900s, in the 1930s. It’s believed that a sportswriter for the New York Herald-Tribune by the name of Caswell Adams used the name while he was reporting a Columbia v. Pennsylvania football game. It is thought that Caswell Adams complained to his editor about the fact that he had to write a story of the boring ‘Ivy-covered’ colleges. From there came the official term.

A fellow sportswriter

However, there was another sportswriter who supposedly coined the phrase. Stanley Woodward also worked for the New York Herald Tribune and wrote about the ‘Ivy colleges’ in his sports reports. Many have questioned whether Stanley became confused between ‘Ivy League’ and the ‘IV League’ which was established in 1876. This term came from the 1876 meeting of Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia staff members when they decided on the correct uniform rules for the sport, American Football. Nevertheless, Stanley’s use of the word spread and the term was consistently used among sports journalists.


First official usage

Although the term ‘Ivy League’ had been floating about for decades, the first official usage of the phrase came in 1954, after the NCAA Athletic Conference for Division I was established. During the mid-1900s, college prestige came from sports, rather than academics. Nevertheless, the Ivy eight were still dominating the sports world. These schools were already classed as the elite, but this term pushed them even further into the realm of elitist culture.

The Ivy League colleges

Nowadays, the Ivy League colleges are now for being the best of the best – both academically, and sport based. All of the colleges are located in the North-East of the United States and are all privately owned. This means they are not only difficult to get into, but they can often be more expensive than public colleges. Their elitist reputation also dates back to their establishment – as all but one of the colleges was founded before the American Revolution, with the earliest school founded in 1636. Because of this, they are often referred to as the ‘original’ colleges.

There’s no doubt that the term ‘Ivy League’ comes with great prestige, but historians are still flummoxed by its origination. What really is the history of the Ivy League schools?