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History of Northwestern Trademarks

History of Willie the Wildcat

The tradition of Willie the Wildcat was established in 1924 when Wallace Abbey of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "The Northwestern team fought like wildcats yesterday..." The name so expressed the fighting spirit of the team that the name "Wildcats" was officially adopted as the University's athletic nickname.

Alpha Delts Frank Willard, John Balch, Rog Johnson, and Bill Henning designed the first Willie for their homecoming float in 1947. They designed the head while their mothers sewed the rear section of the costume. The first Willie costume required two people: one for Willie's front and one for Willie's rear end.

In 1948, two women students wore the Willie costume, causing trouble at a Notre Dame game. Notre Dame had a standing rule forbidding women from being on the field, so Willie was stopped at the gates of the South Bend stadium. After a length conference, the officials gave the women special permission to appear.

The fate of Willie did not improve in 1949, when Purdue male cheerleaders, not realizing that Willie was two women, picked up the wildcat and threw it into their boilermaker mascot. Apologies were made after they heard the women yelling.

Since its inception in 1947, Willie the Wildcat's appearance has undergone many changes, but still remains Northwestern University's athletic nickname.