History Lesson: Haverford Cheerleaders

History Lesson: Haverford Cheerleaders

Peppy, pom-pom-wielding cheerleaders at Haverford? You betcha! The troupe pictured here is made up of Bryn Mawr College gals who answered a call from Haverford to cheer at football games. Clad in letter sweaters borrowed from the team and skirts they purchased themselves, the group, according to a 1965 Philadelphia Inquirer article about them, was first launched in 1963, had 20 cheerleading routines, and distributed mimeographed sheets of the cheers before games, which included this “erudite incitement to ferocity”:

Circumvent the tacklers!

Pass when ’tis propitious!

Run with great celerity;

But most of all, be vicious!

But long before the sight of female cheerleaders at an all-male school puzzled and bemused visiting teams and fans, cheerleading—of the all-male variety—had a venerable history at the College. As far back as 1910, the constitution of the Haverford College Athletic Association specified that the football program should include “a Cheerleader and two Assistant Cheerleaders.” That system seemed to endure through the 1930s, as evidenced by a 1938 yearbook photo captioned “Cheer Leaders.” In it, three students clad all in white, each with a giant megaphone next to him, kneel on one knee and strike a pose with one arm outstretched.

By the 1940s, traditions seemed to have changed. According to The Record of the Class of 1948, the cheerleading squad of that year had six men and the group’s captain was also charged with emceeing pep rallies, as well as the “fireworks-bonfire extravaganza before the Swarthmore game.”

1940s cheerleaders

According to The Record of the Class of 1950, it is the Haverford cheerleaders of that era whom we have to thank for coming up with a name for the College’s sports teams. “Previous Scarlet varsity teams had been referred to as everything from ‘Hornets’ to—well, you name it,” reported The Record. “The boys decided that ‘Fords’ was the appellation that best suited.” The cheerleaders even drummed up student contributions to purchase “a mascot that would most closely carry out the nickname”: a vintage 1922 Model T Ford. “With a little scarlet and black paint applied to strategic places,” the car made its appearance at home games, and was towed over to the Swarthmore game.

In the late 1950s, it appears that the cheerleading corps went co-ed for a time, bringing in Bryn Mawr students to fill out the ranks. By the early 1960s, though, cheering had turned into an all-female affair. But there was nothing “namby-pamby” about the cheers proffered by the group, said that 1965 Inquirer article, which reported that one “rather unfriendly yell” exhorted the Fords to:

Mash their viscera: gouge their eyes!

Come on Quakers, kill those guys!

Blood! Blood! Blood!

 

—Eils Lotozo

 

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