At this point, “Ivy League” is practically synonymous with “upper crust.” The eight private schools that comprise the Ivy League all boast rigorous academic programming, world-class research labs, and stately campuses — several of which occupy prime real estate in the urban Northeast.
The Ivy League has plenty of secrets, too. Not Skull and Bones type secrets — though those abound as well — but plain old quirky trivia of the sort that tends to accumulate amid centuries of prestige.
Unless you’re a keen observer of the Ivy League, it’s fair to bet you’re unaware of at least one of these strange but true facts.
- There’s Some Truth to the “Skull and Bones” Name
Okay, here’s one Skull and Bones secret. According to legend, the famously opaque secret society keeps (some) of Native American chief Geronimo’s remains at its Yale headquarters. The rumor was apparently credible enough to warrant a lawsuit from Geronimo’s descendants.
- Ivies Have Division I Teams, and Some Are Pretty Good
The Ivy League is primarily known for excellence in academics, but don’t sleep on its athletics departments either. (Some of them, at least.) Sports entrepreneur Ryan Nivakoff fondly remembers his playing days at Columbia University, whose Upper West Side campus is better known for imposing brownstone edifices and petite lawns than the sporting life. The Lions’ 1-0 bowl record says otherwise.
- Yale Has Biblical Origins, Sort of
Legend has it that Yale arose out of the ashes of an internecine war among Harvard faculty. Some 90 percent of the school’s founders were Harvard outcasts who chose to leave Cambridge rather than teach at a school that didn’t require mandatory study of Biblical Hebrew.
None of the rebel faculty were available for comment.
- The “Big Three” Once Described Three Ivies
Today, college football’s center of gravity is the SEC, where powerhouses like Alabama and Clemson and Auburn win year after year after year. If there’s a “Big Three” to be had in today’s egalitarian NCAA football landscape, it’s found well south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Back in the day, things were different. The “Big Three” football schools of the late 19th century were Princeton, Yale, and Harvard — and they utterly dominated the competition during the 1870s and 80s.
- The University of Pennsylvania Isn’t a Public School, Thank You Very Much
You’d be forgiven for assuming that the University of Pennsylvania is, well, Pennsylvania’s flagship public higher education institution.
That would be a grave mistake, at least in west Philadelphia. UPenn has minted members of the American elite since State College was just a gleam in founder Evan Pugh’s eye.
- Stanford Isn’t an Ivy, for the Last Time
It’s a good school and all, and its recent century alums’ collective net worth dwarfs its Ivy peers’, but it’s not one of the original eight.
To Each Her Own
There’s no archetypal Ivy League school, much as Yalies and Harvardites might insist otherwise. Each of the eight Ivies is unique in its own way, and that’s okay.
Whether you wind up matriculating at Princeton, completing a summer course at Dartmouth, or ditching the Ivy League entirely for more pedestrian pastures, carry these tidbits with you. If nothing else, you’ll relish the opportunity to brandish your knowledge at some distant dinner party or trivia night.