The Springfield College beanie. It is a symbol that has been described in numerous ways, both positively and negatively, with emotion or apathy, and with many words, some of which probably should not be printed.
Some people embrace them. Some people despise them. Others think they are childish and stupid. Still others see them as lighthearted and fun. But no matter what students, parents, faculty or outsiders think of them, one fact in undeniable. The SC beanie is one of the college’s longest-standing traditions.
“They are definitely part of our college culture. You can’t get away from that,” Director of Alumni Relations Tamie Kidess Lucey said. “There’s something about it that ties generations together.”
The earliest documented record of the SC beanies dates back to 1920. In that year’s Student Association Handbook in the “Hints to Freshmen” section, the acronym “Springfield College” is used to provide a set of pointers to the incoming class. Each letter of the acronym stands for a new tip, and the “P” in “Springfield” provides the first written documentation that has been found at this time of the freshmen beanies. It instructs freshmen to “Procure the regulation of the Freshman Cap.”
In the 1920s, the beanies were green to represent the inexperience of the freshmen, who were subsequently referred to as being “green.” The school colors were not used for the beanies until 1930, which is when they were first implemented according to an article in The Springfield Student.
The Massasoit of 1920, the school yearbook, also mentions beanies in relation to the friendly, yet wildly competitive rivalry that developed between the freshman and sophomore classes year after year. For years, the freshmen competed in “class scraps” against the sophomores to see if they could remove their beanies early. The class scraps included various events over time, including class football or soccer, tug-of-war/rope pull, flag rush, cane rush, cage ball/push ball, and crab-cage ball.
In the beanies’ earliest days, the class scraps were a monumental occasion because of how long the freshmen had to wear their beanies if they lost. In 1920, if the freshmen could not defeat the sophomores in a contest of football or soccer, they could not remove their caps until the “second hour of the second day of the second month; that is, February 2d [sic] at 2 a.m. of the current year” according to The Massasoit of 1920.
As the years passed, however, the rule was altered to become less and less stringent. Freshmen were required to wear their beanies for shorter amounts of time, perhaps to adapt to the changing times. In 1962-63, for instance, a field day was held between the freshman and sophomore classes, and if the freshmen conquered their counterparts in the rope pull, they could remove their caps. If they were defeated, however, the freshmen had to continue wearing their beanies until the conclusion of the fall term.
“Springfield College has been really insightful in terms of allowing our traditions to adapt with the times, which is why I think our traditions have lasted so long,” Lucey said. “It’s a beanie tradition that fits the time.”
John Wilcox, who graduated in 1967 (G’69) and then later worked at SC for 41 years in several different positions in the Financial Aid and Admissions departments before retiring in 2008, recalled having to wear his beanie until Christmas because his class could not overcome the sophomores.
“I didn’t like it [wearing my beanie], and I guess it was because when you were wearing your beanie at that point, all during the first semester you could be stopped by anybody and they would say, ‘What’s tradition number four?’” Wilcox said. “Basically you had to memorize all of those things.”
In addition to being required to memorize traditions, Wilcox also said that freshmen could be asked to sing the first chorus of “Show Me the Scotsman” or other college songs at a moment’s notice by any non-freshmen students. In addition, if freshmen broke a tradition or a set of rules laid out in the Freshmen Code, they could be held accountable by the upperclassmen.
“I grumbled about it…we all did. But it [my beanie] somehow stayed with me,” Wilcox said.
Lucey, who graduated from SC in 1981 (G’82), had a more pleasant beanie experience, especially since she only had to wear hers for two weeks at most if they lost the rope pull against the sophomores, and only the first week of classes if they won.
“I don’t remember being scarred by it as a student,” Lucey said. “You knew you were going to do it, so you got up the first day of classes and you stuck your beanie on your head.”
According to Lucey, sometime between her freshman year in 1977 and when she returned to work for Springfield College in 1986, students were no longer wearing beanies for the first week or two of classes. Instead, it changed to the current length of four days for New Student Orientation.
In the late 1970s, transfer “bucket” hats were also brought into existence because transfers wanted “something to make them feel less young, or less inexperienced,” according to Wilcox, who also served as the advisor to NSO during his time at SC.
The beanie tradition has seen its fair share of change over the years, but every year without fail, a new group of freshmen can be seen parading around campus sporting unique beanies representing their year. Love it or hate it, the SC beanies are here to stay.
“It’s a very tangible piece of that intangible spirit that is part of the bond of the Springfield College family,” Lucey said. “And I think no matter what your reaction was to the beanie at the time you had it on your head, at some point you realize that it’s this symbol of family, this symbol of community, this symbol of being part of something that’s much bigger than you are and pretty darn special.”
In other words, long live the beanie.
A special thanks to Tamie Kidess Lucey, John Wilcox, Jeff Monseau and Nicole Chaves for all of their help in providing information for this article.