Images of UC

The UC Bearcat in basketball regalia.

Photo courtesy of the University of Cincinnati

To those outside the University of Cincinnati community, the school is defined by a handful of emblems. The name of the university itself, red and black uniforms in motion and an odd mascot that is neither a bear nor a cat: these are the images UC projects to the world at large. These icons are so constantly visible that we often don’t question how they came to be, but their stories prove to be worth retelling.

Who Are We?

UC’s seal will inform you that the university was founded in 1819, but this simple date glosses over our institution’s surprisingly complicated origins. That year actually marks the founding of Cincinnati College and the Medical College of Ohio, which were two separate schools. The University of Cincinnati name wasn’t used until 1870, when the city of Cincinnati created an entirely new school; first christened McMicken University after its major financial backer, the school was renamed within a month by its board of directors. UC absorbed the two earlier colleges in the city, but its expansion was far from finished. The Carl H. Lindner College of Business, College of Nursing and College-Conservatory of Music all had lives as private institutions before getting rolled into the larger university.

Nippert Stadium filled with fans in UC colors.

Photo courtesy of the University of Cincinnati

The Red and Black

Can you imagine UC’s football team storming into Nippert Stadium in anything other than red and black? If the team wanted real throwback uniforms, they might instead end up wearing blue and brown. The university had no official colors for the first 20 years of its existence, leaving its students to deck themselves in whatever they felt appropriate, and a student publication from 1889 suggested blue and brown as the institution’s hues. Different graduating classes also had their own colors, from purple and white to green and gold.

The first mention of red in association with the university occurs in a poem by Joseph Baermann Strauss, a UC student who would later become the architect of the Golden Gate Bridge. Strauss was apparently quick to change his mind: his poem mentioned “dear colors red and white,” but three months later he proposed black and white as university colors to the student government. White proved unpopular, but red and black must have clicked with the students, and that pairing was formally recognized in April 1892.

The first drawing of the UC Bearcat, done by John Reece in 1914.

Photo courtesy of the University of Cincinnati

Learning to Growl

UC’s colors were the main nickname for the school’s football squad around the turn of the century; although it seems unthinkable now, most colleges of the day lacked a mascot for their sports teams. The Kentucky Wildcats were an exception, and one fall day in 1914, they were beating up on the Red and Black. Aggravated by his team’s lack of progress, UC fullback Leonard “Teddy” Baehr loudly demanded of his quarterback to “Give me the goddamn ball!

Cheerleader Norman Lyon, overhearing this ferocity, turned to the crowd and made what became an historic pun: “They may be Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side!” The wordplay was illustrated soon after the game by the cartoonist for the student newspaper, John "Paddy" Reece, who also corrected the spelling to the current “Bearcat.” Mainstream news sources didn’t pick up on the nickname until 1919, when the Cincinnati Enquirer used it to describe UC’s football team in a battle with Tennessee, but the Bearcats have been on the prowl ever since. In fact, you can occasionally find a “real” bearcat named Lucy patrolling the Sheakley Lawn before home football games: the Cincinnati Zoo shows its UC pride by bringing along its binturong, a South Asian mammal also known as the bearcat.

Pride with Knowledge

The symbols we see every day at UC, like the university itself, have a long history. Knowing a little more about their origins helps to inspire a little more pride in the place we now call our alma mater.

Written by Daniel Walton, Graduate Assistant to the Graduate School Office