Oregon State University Dress Traditions

By Jennifer Mower

These caps were recently donated to the HCTAC by the Nichols family, whose relative, Benjamin Nichols was a freshman at Oregon Agricultural College in 1917. He earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1919 and went on to earn a Master’s of Science degree in 1932. Between 1934 and 1953 he worked as faculty in the Electrical Engineering program at Oregon State College.

The orange felt Oregon Agriculture College cap is similar to a hat in the Benton County Historical Society and Museum collection. The tasseled cap has a Meier & Frank department store label. The green felt rook cap was required daily attire for freshman males, women wore hair ribbons, in the early 1900s when the tradition began and lasted until 1960s, when it was required only on Wednesdays (“School Traditions at OSU #3, 2012). See Figure 1 for a picture of one OSU freshman wearing a rook lid in 1969. These green caps or “lids” as they were called, were useful in identifying freshmen to upperclassmen.

In addition to conspicuous head wear, freshman were required to “carry at all times the ‘Rook bible,’ a small book giving information of interest and value to the newcomer at the college,” including information about school traditions, names of deans and Associated Student officers, organizations, publications, school songs, and so forth (The Beaver 1926-27, 44). “Rooks had several rules which, when violated, earned discipline carried out by the sophomore class” (“School Traditions at OSU #3, 2012). At the University of Georgia in Athens, punishments for not wearing freshman caps included cleaning toilets, being paddled, or other forms of condoned hazing (Hunt-Hurst and Blanco 2013, 3).

Back in Corvallis, freshman would “burn their green [caps] . . . at the annual Junior Weekend held at the end of May, signifying their advancement into the sophomore class. In 1961, OSC had become Oregon State University, and “the Burning of the Green had moved to Homecoming in the fall” (“School Traditions at OSU #3, 2012). Freshman caps are a form of symbolic communication, expressing group “membership in the larger university community, and marking the student as a new—and therefore less meritorious—member of that community” (Hurst and Blanco, 2013, 2). Rook “lids” appear to have fallen out of use by the OSU student body in the late 20th century.

Figure 1. Historical Images of Oregon State University, Oregon State University, 1969. A student wears his “rook lid” while walking on campus Retrieved from https://oregondigital.org/concern/images/df71d721f

Works Cited:

Hunt-Hurst, Patricia and Jose Blanco, 2013. “Georgia History in Pictures,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 97, 4: 447-475.

Oregon State College felt cap, 1923. Benton County Historical Society and Museum Pinterest.

“The Rook Green,” (2012). School Traditions at OSU #3, Retrieved from https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/scarc/2012/03/

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