Ask Benny: The Ivy League, from fiction to the facts

Dear Benny,
How did the Ivy League get its name?
—I Bleed Red and Blue

Dear Loyal Quaker,
There are a number of apocryphal tales about the origins of the term “Ivy League,” including a widely-circulated one that attributes it to an 1890s alliance among Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Penn known as the “IV league,” after the Roman numeral four.

The answer to this question, though, is found in the preface of Mark F. Bernstein’s “Football: The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession” (Pennsylvania, 2001).

According to Bernstein, New York Herald Tribune sportswriter Stanley Woodward was the first to use the word “ivy” in an Oct. 14, 1933, article referring to “a proportion of our eastern ivy colleges” meeting lesser powers in football games. The eight schools Woodward included in his nonexistent league were Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Army and Penn, with Cornell added later in the story. The first use of the exact phrase “Ivy League” in print occurred in a Feb. 8, 1935 story by Associated Press sports editor Alan Gould, and by that fall, Herald Tribune sportswriter Jesse Abramson had gone so far as to publish standings for the fictitious 10-team “Ivy Conference,” with Navy also thrown in.

Although an “Ivy Group Agreement” governing intercollegiate football was signed in 1945, the Ivy League—officially, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents—claims 1954, the year the agreement was extended to all varsity sports, as its founding date.

Dear Benny,
Why does the garage at 38th and Walnut streets have water cascading from rooftop tanks?
—Suddenly Thirsty

Dear Thirsty,
That water helps cool and remove humidity from the air in campus buildings. Facilities Services Director Barry Hilts explained that the tanks are part of a system that supplies chilled water for climate control.

Originally published on October 17, 2002