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July 24, 2014   A-Z Index | WebMail | Dept. Dir. | Text Only | Accessibility 
The University of Tennessee System

How Did Orange and White Become Our Colors?

(With acknowledgement to former UT historian Milton Klein)


Ayres Hall on The Hill


The school colors of orange and white date to April 12, 1889, when Charles Moore, president of UT's athletic association, chose the colors for the first field day. His inspiration came from the orange and white daisies that grew profusely on the Hill. Students endorsed the colors in 1892.


"The Hill," the original part of the campus, is symbolic of higher education in the state of Tennessee. UT, founded in downtown Knoxville in 1794 as Blount College, moved to "The Hill" in 1828 and quickly grew around it. The main part of UT's old campus stands on this rising bank above the north shore of the Tennessee River. Ayres Hall, built atop the Hill in 1919, holds a commanding view over the campus. Next to it is the oldest building on campus, South College Hall, built in 1872.


Since the Revolutionary War, Tennesseans have been quick to volunteer for military duty. That reputation was solidified during the Mexican War when Gov. Aaron Brown issued a call in May 1846 requesting 2,800 volunteers for military service and 30,000 responded. A UT athletic team was dubbed the Volunteers for the first time in 1902 by the Atlanta Constitution following a Tennessee-Georgia Tech football game. The Knoxville Journal and Tribune did not use the name until 1905. By the fall of 1905 both the Journal and the Knoxville Sentinel were using the nickname. The name "Volunteers" is frequently shortened to "Vols" in describing Tennessee's athletic teams. The dragoon uniform worn by Tennessee regulars during the Mexican War is worn by the color guard at UT athletic events.

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The first Homecoming was held in conjunction with the Nov. 11, 1916, UT-Vanderbilt football game. The first Homecoming parade consisted of the University cadet corps in dress uniform, led by the band. World War I prevented Homecoming from becoming an annual event until 1925; since then UT has had a Homecoming every year, except for 1943 when students donated funds that would have been spent on Homecoming to the Red Cross or used them to purchase war bonds. Now the All Campus Events Committee sponsors annual Homecoming activities, when all student organizations are invited to compete in events including parade floats, banners and eating contests.


The model for Torch Night was a candlelight ceremony for seniors at the University of South Carolina that was adapted for UT by Vic Davis, alumni secretary, and Ralph Frost, head of the campus YMCA. They wanted to establish more campus traditions. Initiated on Oct. 9, 1925, as the Freshman Pledge Ceremony, the event was redesignated Freshman Torch Night by 1929. The freshman class was called to the Hill by a bugler in Ayres Tower; the class then proceeded to the main entrance of the campus to "give a yell" for the sophomores and continued up the hill stopping to "give a yell" for the juniors. Seniors met the freshmen at the top of the hill where the underclassmen took an oath of loyalty to the university. The freshmen were formally declared part of the student body, and candles were lit to symbolize the "Torch of Preparation." Students left the hill in silence and placed their candles along an iron fence bordering Cumberland Avenue where they continued to burn into the night. The event has changed with the times but still continues to commemorate the symbolic passing of the torch to freshmen.


UT's Alma Mater was officially adopted in 1928 after a yearlong contest sponsored by the school's musical organizations. A Chattanoogan, Mary Fleming Meek, won the $50 prize with her song entitled "On a Hallowed Hill." Although Mrs. Meek was not an alumna of UT, both her husband, John Lamar Meek, and her son were graduates, and her father was a former trustee of the university. Listen to the alma mater at

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The first All-University Sing was held in 1932 to familiarize students with university songs. Each competing student group had to sing the UT alma mater and another selection. Other acts included the band and a fiddling competition. The event was so popular it has become a UT tradition. The name was changed to All-Sing during the 1940s, but the nature of the competition has remained similar to that of the original event.


In the early part of the previous century, UT students celebrated the end of the year's classes with an event called the June Jubilee. It evolved into a carnival with the Glee Club performing, vaudeville shows by the students, and side shows. In 1912 a circus was added with students dressing as elephants, cows and other animals. By 1925 the carnival had become a mid-winter carnival held indoors and the circus an outdoor event held in the spring. In 1929, the All Campus Events Committee combined the two activities and George Abernathy, a member of the All Students' Club, coined the word “Carnicus.” As Carnicus evolved over the years, emphasis was placed on the skit competitions.


In 1953 the campus Pep Club sponsored a contest to have a live mascot. The hound was chosen since it is a native breed. Announcements in the local newspaper solicited candidates, and Rev. William C. Brooks entered his prizewinning bluetick hound, which won over eight other contestants. Smokey was the last hound to be introduced at the half-time contest. When his name was called out, he barked. The students cheered and Smokey threw his head back and howled again and UT had its new mascot. Rev. Brooks supplied UT with the line of canines until his death in 1986, when his wife, Mildred, took over the caretaking role. She did so until 1994, when her brother and sister-in-law, Earl and Martha Hudson of Knoxville, took over responsibility. Today’s mascot is Smokey IX. Smokey is famous for leading the Vols through the “T” prior to each home football game.

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The Volunteer Statue


"Rocky Top" was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant in 1967. The song did not become popular until after 1972 when the Pride of the Southland Band used it for one of their drills. The football crowd loved the tune and its words; the more the band played it, the more people wanted it. It has now become one of UT's best-known traditions. Its popularity also extends beyond the UT campus; "Rocky Top" became one of the Tennessee state songs in 1982. Listen at


The classes of 1928 through 1932 gave $1,000 to be used as a prize for a sculpture that would capture "the spirit of university youth and its ideal of service." The contest winner was announced on May 12, 1931 -- a Yale School of Fine Arts student, Theodore Andre Beck. Complaints from faculty and students caused the design to be modified. The resulting design held aloft a torch representing the maxim "One that beareth a torch standeth in shadow to give light to others.” On his left side, partially hidden, hung a "sword of protection,” and in his left hand was held the Goddess of Winged Victory, the symbol of success. Later, the design was modified to include a globe upon which Winged Victory rested. The depression and World War II prevented the statue from being cast and placed on campus, although the design was adopted as the official symbol of the University and copyrighted in 1932. The class of 1967 raised funds to cast a nine-foot-tall Volunteer. The design was again modified in response to protests. The statue was finally cast, placed in Circle Park, and unveiled on April 19, 1968.


Unearthed in the 1960s, the Rock probably soon thereafter became a “canvas” for student messages. For years the university sandblasted away the messages but eventually deferred to students’ artistic endeavors. The Daily Beacon has editorialized: “Originally a smaller rock, The Rock has grown in prestige and size while thousands of coats of paint have been thrown on its jagged face. Really, its function is as an open forum for students.”

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"The Strip"


The official university seal (or emblem) had its beginnings in the 1800s and has taken several forms over the years. The seal has included imagery representing enlightenment, peace, and science, as well as the words “agriculture” and “commerce.” It appears on building signs across campus and in many other settings.


The University of Tennessee band was organized immediately after the Civil War when the university reopened. Since then, enrollment in the band program has grown to more than 400 students. The “Pride of the Southland” has represented the state of Tennessee for the last 40 years at 10 consecutive U.S. Presidential Inaugurations, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. The band also has made more than 40 bowl appearances.


Cumberland Avenue was one of the original Knoxville streets surveyed and platted by Charles McClung in 1791. The street and the surrounding area were home to wealthy business owners, but by the late 1920s, Cumberland Avenue became increasingly commercialized. Some owners began to rent all or parts of their homes to students, and other homes became fraternity houses. Businesses moved in as homeowners moved out. Through the years, the street has been home to filling stations, grocery stores, clothiers, restaurants, clubs, drugstores, an automobile dealership, and other neighborhood enterprises. Cumberland Avenue first earned its nickname "The Strip" after a drug raid during the 1960s.

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