To the Dandelion Yellow We Will E'er Be True
In 1861, the University of Rochester moved to a new campus. It had just one building, some houses for faculty, and ample open land--land full of dandelions.
The students began a tradition of wearing dandelions in their lapels. In the 1890s, dandelion yellow was chosen as the official school color. The student newspaper reporting on the athletic teams, called them "The Dandelion Yellows." Songs were written with dandelion motifs. As new buildings were designed, dandelions were used as architectural flourishes. Songs were even written about dandelions!
In the late 1920s, Philipp Merz of the architectural firm Gordon and Kaelber included the dandelion as a recurring design element for the original 65-acre main campus. Merz was the lead architect on the River Campus project, which was completed and dedicated in 1930.
According to Professor Arthur May's History of the University of Rochester, "The Class of 1911 turned out a show long remembered, 'A Streak of Yellow,' with George F. Abbott 'putting life and spirit' into the offering." Abbott, himself a member of the Class of 1911, would become a Pulitzer Prize-winning director and producer of Broadway shows, and the recipient of two honorary degrees from his alma mater.
In an oral history interview, Dean of Students Ruth Merrill described Cutler Union on the Prince Street Campus. Opened in 1932, the building was the first student union at a college for women in the country.
"... during Freshman Week I always talked with the freshmen. I always took them on a tour around the building and I pointed out the little interesting things. I pointed out how the dandelion had been used in the light fixtures, how it had been used in the andirons, how it had been used in many and surprising places around the building. And many the time have I heard a girl showing a stranger around the building and pointing out all these little special things."
It is unknown when the first college students composed the first song in praise of their alma mater: various experts credit the invention of football; others cite beer as the catalyst. American college students have been singing about their schools since the mid-1800s.
The University’s official song, “The Genesee” was written by Thomas Thackeray Swinburne (Class of 1892), and the music arranged by Herve Wilkins (Class of 1866). In 1923, a song-writing competition pitted classes against each other and the Juniors, represented by Charles Cole and Richard Greene, were the victors with “The Dandelion Yellow.” Charles Cole became a journalist and then head of the University’s Public Information Office (now called University Communications). Richard Greene would join the department of English in 1929 and serve until 1946, when he accepted the presidency of Wells College. After Wells, he became the Osborne Professor of English at Wesleyan College.
Hear the Yellowjackets sing "The Dandelion Yellow," "The Genesee," and other Rochester classics.
Student publications at the University have been as prolific as the namesake of this literary journal: while some have been long-lived and tenacious as a taproot, others were as ephemeral as a seed head. The Dandelion was a literary journal published annually by the students in the College for Women. Started in 1937, the name was changed to Prologue in 1950 when it merged with the literary journal of the College for Men (called The Genesee) and it continued until 1967.
Dandelion Day debuted in May 1951 as a new tradition intended to honor student activities, promote student-faculty relations, and enhance college spirit. An awards assembly in Strong Auditorium kicked off the festivities, followed by an NROTC review on the Quad, a box lunch in Genesee Valley Park, a frosh-soph tug-of-war, and a banquet. The grand finale was the Dandelion Dance and inter-fraternity song contest in the Palestra.
The first co-ed Dandelion Day was not until 1954, one year before the merger of the Men’s and Women’s Colleges. That year the female students, who lived and learned separately on Prince Street, were permitted to stay on the River Campus until midnight.
Posters for Dandelion Day from 1959 and 1980.
In 1955, an enamel dandelion was commissioned from sculptor and faculty member William Ehrich to decorate the new women’s gymnasium (named to honor Merle Spurrier in 1974).
The sculpture was later moved to the façade of the Goergen Athletic Center where it is more visible. Ehrich was also the creator of the Meridian Marker on the Eastman Quadrangle, and numerous plaques on the campus. Each dandelion petal was enameled and fired with the assistance of Ehrich's son Roger, who provided these photographs of the process for the Archives.
The Rochester Chapter of Delta Upsilon fraternity was established in 1852. In May 1925, the group issued a newsletter entitled the Blue Dandelion. The reports of the chapter include very informative pieces about the death of professor and alumnus William Carey Morey, the plan to move to the River Campus, and the question of the construction of fraternity houses on the new campus. Film footage of the construction of the Delta Upsilon house can be viewed here.
At reunion, the various returning classes of the College for Women would choose an emblem. These alumnae of the Class of 1924 are dressed as dandelions, with floral headpieces and leaves cut to drape their dresses and shoulders.
"Frosh Defeat Sophs in Interpres Rush..." Campus (May 26, 1922)
This photograph probably shows the day that the 1923 yearbooks were handed out. The student in the center holds his copy to show the front cover, and the dandelion emblem is visible. The rough-and-ready clothing of the students is explained by the festivities which accompanied the distribution, as the Campus article describes (on page 2).
The "Frosh Book" or freshman directory was the analog equivalent of Facebook, and contained individual photographs of the incoming class. The class of 2017 was the last to have a Frosh Book.
The University Mace, used at formal occasions like Commencement, was created for the inauguration of the University's fourth president, Alan Valentine, in 1935. The walnut shaft has two silver mounts engraved with the names of all the presidents, and both head and foot are liberally decorated with dandelions. It was designed by Philipp Merz, who also redesigned the University’s seal in 1928.
Leo Lewis Rust, a graduate of the Mechanics Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology) was the creative designer for the 1936 Croceus. His stylized dandelions depicted the seasons when classes were in session: fall, winter and spring.
The dandelion has been used as a motif on the cover of the student yearbook numerous times. The first appearance was 1923; the most recent use was in 2013. The flower has also appeared on the interior pages as decoration and as page borders.