William & Mary has had several mascots along with changes to the nickname used for its athletic teams over time. While a mascot is defined as "a person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure especially to bring them good luck,"1 the nickname for the athletic teams is generally a "descriptive name given instead of or in addition to the one belonging to a person, place, or thing."
1894-1916: Orange and White or Orange and Black
This first nickname quite simply came from the School Colors. Through the beginning of the 1923 football season, the school colors were orange and black. Originally, the colors orange and white were derived from William III (orange) and the white rose of York associated with Queen Mary II. In 1908, the colors of the athletic uniforms were changed to orange and black because the orange and white uniforms dirtied easily. However, the official school colors remained orange and white. Orange and black could still be linked to the royal family since King William was not only the Prince of Orange, but also the head of the House of Nassau whose colors were orange and black.
The Loonies and the Jaspers, 1915
"A few years later, the teams acquired their nicknames. In 1915, while the College engaged in various athletic contests with its archrival, Richmond College, William & Mary players began calling their opponents the "Jaspers," because of a famous black Baptist preacher in Richmond named Richard Jasper. Richmond College was, after all, a Baptist school. The Richmond players fired back and dubbed William & Mary the "Loonies" because of their proximity to the Eastern Lunatic Asylum. Before the name could stick, a William & Mary student suggested "Indians," because of the Indian School once held in the Brafferton."
--From The College of William & Mary: A History, Volume II 1888-1993, by Susan H. Godson . . . et al., King and Queen Press, The Society of the Alumni, 1993, page 495.
The nickname of Indians was first referenced in the 1916 Colonial Echo referring to the baseball team of 1916 (reference and photograph, p. 156). Women's teams were routinely referred to as the Indianettes in the early 20th century.
Other unofficial nicknames for the athletic teams during this time period included: Big Green Tribe, Tribe, Big Green, Warriors, Fighting Virginians, and Braves. The Fighting Virginians nickname was attributed to the "Northern Press" in the 1924 Colonial Echo after the College of William & Mary lost its first football match against Syracuse University 63-0 in 1923.
Freshmen (football only?) teams (circa 1920s-1930s) were referred to as the Papooses. The football team of the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary (the present Old Dominion University) were nicknamed The Braves upon fielding their first football team in 1930.
A caricature similar to that of the Cleveland Indians was used from the mid- to late-1960s through approximately the mid-1970s. This image was certainly not used after 1978 (see image B2532). An article in The Flat Hat raised the possibility that a new likeness would be needed after the American Indian Center in Cleveland filed a lawsuit against the Cleveland Indians charging that their Chief Wahoo was "degrading, Demeaning, and racist." See the February 4, 1972 issue (p. 6, republished September 2, 1972, p. 7).
A "WM" with feathers logo was used from 1974 through 2006 (and later unofficially). Variations on this design included a WM with an Indian wearing a headdress.
1978-present: The Tribe
In 1978, the Indian images were removed from the athletic logo. The term Indian and Tribe were both used, but Indian was phased out by the early 1980s and Tribe has been in use through to the present. Not William & Mary's athletic teams were routinely referred to as the Tribe prior to this official phasing out of the name Indians (example, College Observer 5 November 1971, p. 2).
A WM with feathers logo was used from 1974 until the feathers were ordered removed by the NCAA in 2006 despite an appeal by the university.3 The WM with 2 feathers first appeared in a 1974 Football Yearbook, then on the helmets of the 1977 football team (see 1978 Colonial Echo, p. 174). The nickname Tribe in script was first used on the football team's helmets for the 1981 season (see 1982 Colonial Echo, p.70).
For further details see the 2/28/1978 Departmental Communication from the Dean of Students W. Samuel Sadler to Dr. Thomas A. Graves, Jr. regarding the change in nickname and logo ("Athletics--Indian Symbolism," University Archives Subject File Collection).
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- "Athletics--Indian Symbolism," and "Mascots" Folders, University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William & Mary.
- University Archives Artifact Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William & Mary.
Images of a growing number of artifacts are available through the SCRC's Flickr account at http://www.flickr.com/photos/scrc/sets/72157601972522069/.
- Search the SCRC Collections Database for other mentions of mascots and related topics.
- The Flat Hat, Alumni Gazette, Alumni Magazine - The Flat Hat is available online, while the others are available in paper form in the SCRC or on microfilm in Swem Library's microfilm collection.
- [https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/2112 The Colonial Echo} - also available in the SCRC, Swem Reference and Stacks.
- Colonial Echo, 1916, 1978.
- [https://hdl.handle.net/10288/13359 "Athletics--Indian Symbolism," University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William & Mary.