If you engage in a debate about Kenyon’s mascot — the Lords and Ladies — you’re bound to hear one word: tradition. As Campus Senate evaluates whether the name is the best representation of Kenyon athletes and the broader student body, what comes next will be informed by the history of that tradition.
The College had little use for a mascot or rallying nicknames in its first decades. Founded as a seminary, athletics were not the priority of Philander Chase, nor were there many potential competitors in Ohio in 1824. As Kenyon began to compete in intercollegiate athletics, Collegian records show a preponderance of names. “Mauve,” “Mauve and White,” “the Mauve” and other variants on Kenyon’s original pale purple color were early monikers, replaced by “Kenyon Purple” as the coloration shifted. Often, teams were simply called “the Kenyon team.”
None of these monikers comprise a mascot in the contemporary sense of a consistent rallying symbol. Rather, the labels were viewed as nicknames to differentiate the Kenyon team from their opponents, said Keeper of Kenyoniana Thomas Stamp ’73 in a Feb. 18 Campus Senate meeting.
The first written use of the nickname “Lords” appears in a 1935 Collegian article, according to Stamp and the Kenyon Athletics Page. The name stuck and became consistently used in subsequent issues. The moniker was in reference to Kenyon’s aristocratic financiers, including Lord Kenyon, whose successors maintained close relationships with the College into the 20th century.
With the formation of the Coordinate College in 1969, Kenyon’s first female students arrived at Kenyon with their own athletic ambitions, and with it came the need for a new team name. The first recorded use of the phrase “Lords and Ladies” in the Collegian was not a reference to athletics, however, but in an advertisement by First Knox National Bank released one week into co-education. The term “Ladies” was not adopted into regular use until several years after the ad appeared.
Women’s athletics began slowly at Kenyon, hindered by the College’s neglect to designate coaches for athletically inclined female students, according to Stamp. As women formed teams, often coaching themselves, some proposed names included the “Hannahs,” to honor benefactor Hannah More, according to Stamp, and the “Lordettes,” which was used regularly in 1971. The first reference to female athletes as “Ladies” in the Collegian was in their coverage of a 1973 field hockey game. Newly minted, Collegian articles reported on the successes and failures of Ladies teams along with the Lords.
Before long, the “Lords and Ladies” nickname became a tradition fiercely defended by some Kenyon alumni. Periodic critiques of the nicknames by athletes and non-athletes alike have been met with impassioned counterarguments in the pages of this paper.
Starting in the mid-90s, critics assert that the name “Ladies” is diminutive, does not represent the character of female athletes, does not evoke success in competitions or is Anglocentric. More recent critics have highlighted that the names do not adequately include students who do not identify as strictly male or female and have classist connotations.
Defenders of the moniker have their own laundry list of arguments. Many assert that the complaint is unnecessary and too critical, claiming that Kenyon’s campus culture would lose more by breaking with tradition than it would gain with a new mascot. Some, including the former Charles P. McIlvaine Professor of English Perry Lentz ’64 P’88, assert that the nickname is an appropriate demonstration of gratitude to Kenyon’s financiers, without whom Kenyon would not exist. Others deny that gender-neutral language is important as long as athletes must choose between competing with men or women.
Regardless of the current discussion’s outcome, Kenyon students can know they’re upholding tradition in at least one way — by renewing the debate.