“Never neglect to say ‘hello’ to a man who wears a Freshman cap, whether you know his name or not.” – Columbia Blue Book, 1917-18
Proudly worn as symbols of a freshman’s distinctive but lowly position on campus, these caps helped the new classmates forge a close allegiance amongst themselves and against their greatest detractors: the sophomores. The wearing of the beanies was mandatory and a bareheaded freshman was an outrage to sophomores. The 1927-28 Columbia Blue Book (a handbook for first year students) contained freshman rules – including the requirement to wear your freshman cap at all times – and noted that rule-breakers would be “summarily dealt with.”
The oldest beanie in the Columbia University Archives collection, was for members of the Class of 1900, and would have been distributed in 1896 when Columbia was preparing to move its campus from midtown Manhattan to Morningside Heights.
The last class to wear these caps as a whole was the class of 1971, which entered in the fall of 1967. After that, interest in this tradition dwindled. By the fall of 1969 only a few students at Columbia wanted them and, ultimately, the caps disappeared from campus.
Since then, the beanies have made a few sporadic comebacks on the Columbia campus, most notably in 1977 when entering Columbia College, Barnard College, SEAS and School of Nursing students all were given light blue caps with their class years on them. Students were strongly encouraged to wear the caps, but it was no longer a mandatory piece of head gear. Instead it was viewed primarily as a souvenir for these first year students.
– Columbia University Archives Staff