Why Are the Ivy Leagues Called the “Ivy Leagues?”

Flickr user Dieter Weinelt

Harvard, Yale, UPenn, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell: These eight schools make up the high academic standard world of the Ivy League. But how did the name come about? Does ivy have anything to do with it?

Ivy Vines

More than likely. Some of the schools were covered in ivy in the European style. Students even had ivy-planting days as part of the school year. So the image of old ivy-covered buildings lent to the name and was frequently referenced when talking about the older universities.

“Ivy League” History

Most historians agree that the term was coined in an article by Caswell Adams in 1937. He was writing about the Columbia/UPenn football game, and, supposedly upset at not being allowed to cover his alma mater, complained about the old “Ivy-covered” universities, leading him to call them the “Ivy League.” The name stuck, and in 1945 the Ivy Group Agreement—concerning academic standards and football scheduling—was signed by the eight schools. Another agreement was signed in 1954 to include all the other sports.

Another theory is that Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and another school (usually Dartmouth or Columbia, depending on who you talk to) had set up a conference of sorts called the “Four League,” only written in Roman numerals as “IV League.” People would say “Ivy League” instead of “Four League.” It’s not the favored story, but it is an interesting look at how colloquialism can change language.

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