For current members of the University of Delaware community, it seems nearly impossible to think of the university without YoUDee. Our bright blue and gold ambassador can be seen at sporting events and campus celebrations, on t-shirts, hats and banners, in various incarnations representing individual campus units and sometimes just strolling across the Green between classes, greeting all he encounters. YoUDee has won national mascot championships, and the hearts of Delawareans of all ages.
However, for much of the University’s existence, there was no mascot. In the nineteenth and the early twentieth century, Delaware students had no less school spirit and pride, but like many schools in that era, they lacked a physical representation. Delaware College students were already identifying with the blue hen by 1911, when they named the yearbook The Blue Hen. But there was no standard representation of what the school’s hen looked like. For example, that particular yearbook featured a silhouette of a chicken and four small chicks on its cover and end pages – a far cry from a fierce, fighting bird.
While modern sporting events features appearances by and images of mascots galore, early Delaware football teams played for decades without a mascot representation. Delaware College fielded its first football teams in the late nineteenth century and opened its first dedicated playing field, Frazer Field, in 1912. But while the all-male cheerleaders and student body were certainly cheering teams on to victory over the decades, there was no mascot on the side lines until 1931.
As seen in the accompanying photo, Delaware College cheerleaders were accompanied that autumn by a live chicken, “dressed” in wing covers with a Delaware D and kept on a leash. This image comes from the Willard B. Jordan Scrapbook in the University Archives collection. Jordan, a cheerleader at that time, recorded how he and his squad-mates borrowed a rooster from a local farmer to serve as the college’s first mascot. These original chickens were not actually blue hens, but whatever breed the cheerleaders could acquire. Keeping the mascot on a leash was necessary, since they did not want the rooster taking off for parts unknown during the game. On some occasions, Jordan noted, the cheerleaders would hitch the rooster to a tiny wagon also bearing the Delaware D.
Although this process was begun informally, cheerleading squads would continue to keep and care for at least one chicken as the campus Blue Hen mascot. Several yearbook pictures of the Delaware College cheerleaders feature one of the squad members holding a somewhat vexed looking rooster. Though World War II saw a brief cessation of sporting events and club activities on campus, with the resumption of full activities after 1946, the live mascots returned, still cared for by a now-coed cheerleading squad. In 1950, the first mascot costume was created by the cheerleaders from paper mâché, bringing an end to live blue hens at Delaware football games until the recent addition of the Birdgade, three live members of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Blue Hen flock, who began to appear outside of University of Delaware home games in 2017.