Did You Know? Bits of UW-L History
The Hanging of the Lantern
“We’ll hang the lantern in the old college tower ... You won’t need to look for the key — the door will be open.” — English Professor O.O. White, 1931.
Professor White inaugurated the Homecoming lantern tradition in 1931 with those words. Since, a lantern has been a beacon for alumni. A lantern hung above Graff Main Hall’s south stairwell each Homecoming until 1997 when it moved to hang throughout the year in the Hoeschler Clock Tower. Today, the lantern also serves as the Alumni Association’s logo.
The Lighting of the ‘L’
“As we banged down the bluff, the fog started to lift ... and returned to the stadium where we could see the glowing ‘L.’” — F. Clark Carnes, Class of 1937.
On a foggy fall night in 1935, Class of 1937 roommates F. Clark Carnes and Bernie Brown spent room and board money on gasoline to fire up the Homecoming crowd. They ran up Miller’s Bluff and ignited a large brush pile in the shape of an ‘L.’ Police sirens blaring toward the glow, they ran back down to the field as the fog lifted for the Memorial Field crowd to see the glowing ‘L.’ Since, an electric ‘L’ has been illuminated on Grandad Bluff welcoming alumni who return for Homecoming.
Presidents and Chancellors
The merger of the State University System and the University of Wisconsin resulted in a title change, from president to chancellor, in 1971. The list of UW-L presidents and chancellors includes:
President Fassett A. Cotton President Rexford S. Mitchell
- Fassett A. Cotton, 1911-1924
- Ernest A. Smith, 1925-1926
- George M. Snodgrass, 1927-1939
- Rexford S. Mitchell, 1939-1966
- Samuel G. Gates, 1966-1971
- Kenneth E. Lindner, 1971-1979
- Noel J. Richards, 1979-1991
- Judith L. Kuipers, 1991-2000
- Douglas N. Hastad, 2000-2006
- Joe Gow, 2007-present
The University’s Name
Throughout Its History
1909-1927 La Crosse Normal School
1927-1961 La Crosse State Teachers College
1951-1964 Wisconsin State College, La Crosse
1964-1971 Wisconsin State University-La Crosse
1971-present University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
La Crosse (Fight Song)
(Tune: La Crosse by Joyce Grill)
We’re going to cheer, La Crosse,
Because we’re here, La Crosse,
Let us make it clear.
We’re going to fight, La Crosse,
With all our might, La Crosse,
Victory is near.
So let’s dig in, La Crosse,
We’re going to win, La Crosse,
Go Maroon and Gray.
We’re going to fight, win,
show that we’re the best,
because we are La Crosse, La Crosse.
UW-La Crosse Chant
Hooray, Hurrah, La Crosse, La Crosse (repeat 3 times)
With a bully for old La Crosse,
Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah,
La Crosse, La Crosse, La Crosse...Eagles!
(Tune: Far Above Cayuga’s Waters)
Morning sun greets many banners,
on its westward way;
Fair to us above all others,
waves Maroon and Gray.
Colors dear, flag we love,
float for aye, old La Crosse to thee;
May we all be ever loyal,
to thy memory.
What’s in a (nick)name?
Walk the campus today and you’ll see an array of maroon and gray T-shirts, hats and hoodies proudly proclaiming “UW-La Crosse Eagles.” The colors haven’t changed over the years, but the names of the institution and its logo have.
- UW-L men’s athletic teams took the nickname “Eagles” in fall 1989. The women followed a year later.
- Men’s teams had been called “Indians” since 1937 before the ’89 makeover due to changing campus and public sentiment toward mascot nicknames. Before ’37, men’s teams were known as Red Raiders, Hurricanes, Racqueteers, Peds and Maroons.
- Women’s athletic teams were called “Roonies” when intercollegiate sports for them began in the ’70s. Their nickname derived from the school’s color, maroon.
- Long-time men’s football head coach Roger Harring, a 1958 graduate, emphasized that the institution is more than a nickname or mascot when the change to Eagles took place following controversy. “It’s the educational process and how we treat people that are important,” Harring noted. “Our athletic success has not been because of a name, but because of the athletic ability of our students. The name is not the tradition, the people are.”
- The contemporary Eagle in the L and eagle caricature sported by today’s athletic teams were created in 1989, just before teams took the field as the Eagles for the first time. Dave Christianson, a 1973 art graduate, penned the images.
- The Eagle in the L is a simple design, but not obvious. At first glance, fans see either the L or the eagle. Eventually they see both in the optical illusion. The eagle caricature has a link to the past. The eagle’s sweater sports the traditional block-style L used by teams for decades.
A Short History Lesson
University’s excellence dates back to its beginning
If it had been a baseball game, the third pitch would have been remembered for its home run.
La Crosse leaders around the turn of the 20th century had lobbied the state legislature in 1871 and again in 1893 for a normal school, but lost to River Falls, Superior and Stevens Point. But, finally in 1905, La Crosse State Sen. Thomas Morris helped secure the state’s eighth normal school and brought it to the region.
The decades-long drive for the school was economic in nature, but there were other overtones. The local press praised Sen. Morris, for whom Morris Hall is named, for his “masterful work” in bringing a normal school to La Crosse. It lauded the new school for the “things it will create, in the garment of educational growth, elevation of moral standards, enrichment of the state’s teaching forces, and increase in local wealth and business activity.”
Now, 100 years later, that prediction has proven itself true many times — and continues to be the leading force in taking the La Crosse area into the next century and the new millennium. The home run hit by Morris’ pitch in Madison in 1905 keeps scoring for the entire La Crosse area — and for the thousands of alumni lucky enough to say they attended UW-L.
Early roots to train the whole person
When the doors of Graff Main Hall opened in the fall of 1909,
teaching and physical education were the university’s foundation.
While curriculum has expanded to 85 undergraduate programs in 30
disciplines, UW-L’s roots remain strongly intact.
The philosophy of the first president, Fassett Cotton, was to train the whole person. Mens Corpusque – Latin for mind and body — is the motto on the university seal. The School of Physical Education, formed in 1913, grew quickly. A physical education building, later known as Wittich Hall, was built in 1920 to handle the growth. For the time, it was one of the best-equipped gymnasiums worldwide and the program gained national recognition.
The school grew in other ways too, especially in academics. In 1927, La Crosse State Teachers College was accredited by the North Central Association.
The Great Depression threatened, but the campus continued to grow. A women’s gym was added to Wittich Hall in 1931; a heating plant was built in 1937. The campus school (Morris Hall) was completed in 1940.
During World War II, enrollment dropped. Of 317 students in 1943-44, only 27 were men. When the war ended, men swarmed back to campus. In fall 1947, enrollment passed 1,000 for the first time. Space became a problem and the school arranged temporary housing.
During the ’50s, the college remained essentially a teacher-training institution, but laid groundwork for future growth. In ’51, the Board of Regents authorized the granting of bachelor of arts and sciences degrees in the liberal arts. The school became Wisconsin State College, La Crosse and planning for a graduate program began. The first master’s degree was awarded in 1956.