IVY LEAGUE was coined in 1937 by a newspaper columnist to describe football competition at ivy-covered northeastern universities. The term came to identify eight prestigious private American universities that admit less than 20 percent of their applicants and require an academically rigorous curriculum. Their alumni often enter highly influential and lucrative careers. Once overwhelmingly male, white, and Protestant, they now enroll a diverse student body by recruiting cultural, ethnic, racial, and religious minorities. Seven of the eight were established as colonial colleges: Harvard, Congregational, was established at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1636; Yale, Congregational, was established in 1701 and relocated to New Haven in 1715; the College of New Jersey, Presbyterian, was established in 1746 and renamed Princeton University in 1896; Franklin's Academy in Philadelphia, nonsectarian, was established in 1749, chartered in 1754, and renamed the University of Pennsylvania in 1791; King's College, nonsectarian but Anglican-controlled, was established in New York City in 1754 and renamed Columbia College in 1784; Rhode Island College, Baptist, was established at Providence in 1764 and renamed Brown University in 1804; and Dartmouth College, Congregational, was established in 1769 and relocated to Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1770. The eighth, Cornell University, chartered in 1865 at Ithaca by the New York legislature, was endowed with federal land grants and by Ezra Cornell. Strong presidents and outstanding faculty transformed the institutions into national universities. Charles William Eliot (Harvard); James Rowland Angell (Yale); Nicholas Murray Butler (Columbia); Woodrow Wilson (Princeton); and Andrew Dickson White (Cornell).
The first Ivy Group Agreement on football in 1945 committed the eight universities to similar academic standards, eligibility rules, and need-based financial aid practices with no athletic scholarships. The Ivy League was officially founded in February 1954 by extending that agreement to all sports. Between 1956, the year of the first round-robin schedule in football, and 1995, Dartmouth won the most Ivy League championships, eight, and tied for another eight. In May 1974, five years after Princeton and Yale admitted women undergraduates, the Ivy Group inaugurated league championship competitions in women's sports.
Bernstein, Mark F. Football: The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
Birmingham, Frederic Alexander. The Ivy League Today. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1961.
Goldstein, Richard. Ivy League Autumns: An Illustrated History of College Football's Grand Old Rivalries. New York: St Martin's Press, 1996.
Lillard, Dean, and Jennifer Gerner. "Getting to the Ivy League: How Family Composition Affects College Choice." Journal of Higher Education 70, no. 6 (November–December 1999): 706–730.
McCallum, John. Ivy League Football Since 1872. New York: Stein and Day, 1977.
www.IvyLeagueSports.com, official Web site for Ivy League athletics.
Marcia G. Synnott
The term "Ivy League" is informally used to describe eight East Coast universities—Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale—which are acknowledged as among the most prestigious postsecondary schools in the United States. The ivy image derives from the fact that these institutions are also among the oldest in the country, with stately buildings and beautiful historic campuses. Because of highly selective admissions criteria, an "Ivy League" degree represents the near-guarantee that a graduate will rise to the top of his—or, only since the 1970s, her—profession (the Ivy League colleges were originally all-male institutions). As educational writer Joseph Thelin wrote, the mystique of the Ivy League describes "the process by which the collegiate ideal has been … associated with trade marks, and brand-name imagery."
The term itself did not originally connote academic excellence: it was coined in the late 1930s by Cas Adams, a New York Herald-Tribune reporter, who bestowed the name on the schools because he noticed that buildings on all eight campuses were covered in vines. Before the 1880s, as Thelin wrote, "contacts between these institutions were few" until intercollegiate athletic teams began to develop. Walter Camp, a Yale student in the 1870s, had all but invented college football and, by the turn of the century, the eight universities were dominating the sport.
With applications to most Ivy League universities topping 20,000 a year by the 1990s, and acceptance rates hovering between 10 and 15 percent, it is not hard to see how the Ivy League sets the benchmark of exclusivity against which other postsecondary institutions are measured. Many high school seniors and their parents invest so much in acceptances—from SAT preparation classes to costly counselors—that they overlook colleges that do not have such recognizable brand names. Loren Pope, author of the college-application handbook Looking beyond the Ivy League, is one of many authors who try to dispel myths of an Ivy League education as making or breaking one's future success. The first myth on Pope's agenda is "An Ivy … College Will Absolutely Guarantee the Rich, Full, and Successful Life." More often than not, however, efforts to dispel these myths serve only to perpetuate them.
—Daryna M. McKeand
Goldstein, Richard. Ivy League Autumns. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Pope, Loren. Looking beyond the Ivy League. New York, Penguin, 1995.
Thelin, John. The Cultivation of Ivy: A Saga of the College in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Schenkman Publishing, 1976.