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Rats and Rabbits at the University of Maryland

  • Tug of war, c. 1920 Tug of war, c. 1920 University Archives, University of Maryland
  • Beanie, c. 1915 Beanie, c. 1915 University Archives, University of Maryland
  • Reveille, 1914 Reveille, 1914 University Archives, University of Maryland
  • Barbara Kurz's Rabbit, c. 1940 Barbara Kurz's Rabbit, c. 1940 University Archives, University of Maryland
  • Handbook, 1924 Handbook, 1924 University Archives, University of Maryland
  • Walter Beam's Rat, c. 1943 Walter Beam's Rat, c. 1943 University Archives, University of Maryland
  • Reveille, 1916 Detail from Reveille, 1916 University Archives, University of Maryland
  • Beanie, c. 1960s Beanie, c. 1960s University Archives, University of Maryland

 

The tradition of wearing freshman caps began at the Maryland Agricultural College even before the cadets were allowed to abandon their mandatory military-style uniforms. The first evidence of beanies appeared in the 1912 Reveille yearbook, in a sketch depicting a becapped sophomore lighting the way for the incoming freshmen, known as “rats.” In the early years, the color of the caps varied annually according to the sophomore class’ chosen hue(s), one year green, another white and scarlet, yet another orange and blue, and so on. The sophomores also established a set of “rat rules” which required the freshmen to know the college songs and cheers, limit their smoking to certain areas, respect and recognize seniority, stay on the campus paths, assist in preparing for athletic games, dances, and other college events, and wear their rat caps at all times, among other strictures.

The Class of 1921 claimed the distinction of abolishing the “rat rules” and establishing a freshman code, likely similar in content to the old rules but trumpeted as kinder to the incoming students. This class also pledged its support to the fledgling Student Assembly as a mechanism for organizing student activities, and by 1927-1928, the freshman regulations began appearing as part of the assembly’s constitution in increasingly abbreviated form. As the rules shrank in number, the superiority of the freshman vs. the sophomore class was now determined by annual contests between the classes, including a tug-of-war over Paint Branch Creek at the edge of the campus.

Co-eds arrived at Maryland in the fall of 1916 but the freshmen women, known as “rabbits,” remained uncapped for five years. After much debate on the fate of the beanies for the first six months of the 1921-1922 academic year, all students were required to once again don their small caps, including females. For an unspecified period , the rabbit caps also had a distinctive style, and the University of Maryland Archives holds one such hat, donated by alumna Barbara Kurz, for the Class of 1944.

Rat and rabbit caps disappeared in the face of a huge influx of veterans utilizing their G.I. Bill benefits following World War II. The 1947 Terrapin yearbook reported that “…the reinstitution of ratting came up for a lot of discussion. The freshmen, most of whom had been through a war, didn’t need this period of knocking down, and therefore ratting was discontinued.”1

The caps, then known as dinks, returned to the campus scene in fall 1952. Students could order their dinks in the bookstore, and a “Dink Debut” event became part of Orientation Week by the late 1950s. Freshman Orientation Board members, crowned with their own small F.O.B. caps, patrolled the campus and quizzed the first-year students on the contents of the student handbook, the M Book. Any student found lacking could be subjected to gentle public ridicule for their lack of knowledge.

The precise date for the end of the beanie tradition at the University of Maryland is unknown. The last yearbook photo including a dink appears in the 1970 volume, although the image may have been taken in an earlier year. Dinks were likely a victim of the rising tide of rebellion on the campus in the late 1960s, as students began an extended series of protests against the Vietnam War and increasingly rejected the strictures of the university’s in loco parentis control.

Anne Turkos and Robert Headley


11947 Terrapin yearbook, p. 107.

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