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Establishing school colors

When thinking of the university, one of the most common associations is the school’s colors: BYU, white and blue. According to the university’s centennial history, the colors were adopted in 1892 during the administration of Benjamin Cluff. However, Eugene Robert’s 1947 biography of Cluff claims the school colors were introduced during Cluff’s time as Assistant Principal, stating that “Brigham Young Academy was the first Utah educational institution to adopt school colors. White and blue (Columbia blue) were chosen” (p. 60). The reasons for adopting the colors is not as well documented, though, and is often listed alongside a number of innovations from the Cluff era related to developing school pride, such as the establishment of athletics on campus or the organization of Founder’s Day.

School pride was a undoubtedly a factor in choosing the colors, but it was not initially part of an administrative effort. The drive actually began a year earlier than commonly held as part of a student-led initiative in early 1891. According to Cluff himself in the annual Brigham Young Academy principal’s report published in the Provo Daily Enquirer on May 23, 1891:

“During the year also, the students, desiring to have some distinguishing badge, chose the colors white and blue. These colors were afterwards accepted by the Faculty. It remains for the Board to take action, when these will become the official colors of the Academy.”

The badge and the colors mentioned by Cluff are described in the school’s student-produced journal, The B.Y.A. Student. In the February 10, 1891 issue there is some discussion of the production of a new Academy badge, to be worn on college days and other special occasions. In describing the badge, it mentions that “attached to [the] plate are two ribbons, one white and the other blue” (B.Y.A. Student, p. 3).

Images of the badges appear prominently in the photograph of the 1891 graduating class. In the detail of that image shown here, the badge with ribbons is worn by Thomas J. Yates, Eugene Hart, Henry Peterson, Archibald Bevan, O. W. Andelin, and Richard R. Lyman (seated). BYA Class of 1891 (detail)

The use of the ribbon colors caught on quickly, and later in February during an outing to visit Brigham Young College and the state Agricultural College in Logan, a special car was festooned in “the ‘Academy colors,’ white and blue”, resulting in baffled looks as they passed through Salt Lake City (B.Y.A. Student, p. 2). By the time of commencement in late May, the colors were being used in commencement decorations while the opening musical number was “White and Blue” (Provo Daily Enquirer).

A version of the badge also appeared on the cover of the 1891 commencement program, with accompanying labels indicating the meaning of the colors–white for purity, and blue for truth. As part of the class history, included in the program, Ida Alleman spoke of the importance of the color selection, and pled that “purity and truth ever characterize the graduates of B.Y.A.” (Commencement program, 1891, p. 29) Commencement program 1891

The school badges themselves do not seem to have lasted, as they do not appear in the Class of 1892 photograph and there is not an exemplar in the University Archives, but the colors have remained an important part of university tradition.

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