By Meg Mason, University Archivist

Syracuse University was founded on March 24, 1870, when its Board of Trustees signed the University charter and certificate of incorporation. The day is now known as National Orange Day, so today is a great time to explore how the University adopted the color orange.

Orange wasn’t the University’s first color. According to the University Herald, “after an uproarious time, the students adopted Rose Pink and Pea Green, as the University colors” on June 24, 1872. Apparently, there was much disagreement at the time over the color green since many preferred sky blue. That opinion appears to have eventually won out, since the colors were changed to rose pink and azure, a fancy way of saying pink ‘n blue, just a year later.

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“University Colors,” University Herald, 28 September 1872, from the Syracuse University Student Publications Reference Collection

In really old collections in the University Archives, you may come across evidence of SU’s earlier colors – or at least pink and blue. I’ve yet to find the pink and pea green color combination in our collections, but the Archives does hold old diplomas bearing pink and blue ribbons, and the colors appear elsewhere, although they’re difficult to find.  Howard Dixon Mitchell, Class of 1887, kept a scrapbook that has proven to be a rich resource of late 19th century student life at Syracuse University. One of the first pages of this scrapbook reveals a beautifully preserved set of pink and blue ribbons, along with Mitchell’s poem about his college years.

Handwritten poem over crisscrossed pink and blue ribbons.
Page from Howard Dixon Mitchell’s Scrapbook, circa 1880s, highlighting the pink and blue school colors of Syracuse.

Pink and blue seemed to hold out for a while, but SU students came to find them unsuitable and babyish, especially for athletic events. At the Class of 1890’s 50th reunion, alumnus Frank J. Marion recalled how his class was responsible for the color change. That spring of 1890, the seniors were celebrating SU’s track meet victory over Hamilton College. Marion described how the men students carried canes bedecked with pink and blue ribbons. But when they tried to “whoop it up” after the meet, the pink and blue colors deflated their enthusiasm:

“What kind of ‘whoopee’ can be made with pink and blue, the pale kind you use on babies’ what-do-you-call-thems? It just couldn’t be done!”

Frank J. Marion quote from Syracuse University, The Critical Years, v. 3, 1984 (Wilson, Galpin, Barck).

Soon after, members of the senior class received permission from Chancellor Sims to form a committee to change the University colors. Professor J. Scott Clark was chair of the committee, and he consulted Baird’s Manual of American College Fraternities, which listed college and university colors. They discovered that no other college or university had claimed the singular color orange and it was up for grabs. By June 1890, the color orange had been adopted by Syracuse University.  

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Approval of color orange by the SU Alumni Association, June 24, 1890 Syracuse University Alumni Association minutes from the Syracuse University Alumni Associations and Clubs Records

SU students embraced the new color, but very early instances of orange are challenging to find in the University Archives. A Glee and Banjo Clubs program from 1891 has been the earliest use of orange I’ve found in the collections so far – once again, tucked away in an old student scrapbook.

Orange design on white background
Cover of Syracuse University Glee and Banjo Clubs program, 1891, from the Gertrude A. Shepherd Scrapbook

This is not to say we don’t have a lot of orange in the University Archives’ collections – we do! The color has become such an emblem of the University, saturating its history, from pennants and athletic uniforms to Otto the Orange, and even the name of the student newspaper, The Daily Orange.  We find orange all over the place in the University Archives: memorabilia, such as reunion buttons and beanies; publications, posters, yearbooks, and color photographs; and even letterheads on University correspondence.

Even we archivists get in on it. At special events like National Orange Day and Orange Central, the University reunion and homecoming weekend, we break out our orange cardigans. We’re always on the lookout for professional orange-wear!

Two women wearing orange cardigans
Vanessa St. Oegger-Menn and Meg Mason at the University Archives table during Orange Central.

We wish you all a very orange day as we mark the official date of Syracuse University’s sesquicentennial on National Orange Day!

The Syracuse University Student Publications Reference Collection (Syracuse University Student Publications Reference Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Syracuse University Alumni Associations and Clubs Records (Syracuse University Alumni Associations and Clubs Records, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), Gertrude A. Shepherd Scrapbook (Gertrude A. Shepherd Scrapbook , University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries), and Howard Dixon Mitchell Scrapbook (Howard Dixon Mitchell Scrapbook , University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) are part of our University Archives collections.