From the Archives: Evolution of the Blue Devil Mascot

The Duke team nickname could have been the Grizzlies or Badgers

Part of the From the Archives Series

In a 1921 editorial in The Trinity Chronicle newspaper, when Duke University was still called Trinity College, the editor-in-chief issued a call to action. In the editorial, R. Dwight Ware rallied the campus community to come up with team names. Football at Duke had just been reinstated, a year after the end of World War I, and students were looking for an alternative to the nicknames “Methodists,” after the college’s Methodist roots, and the “Blue and White,” after the college’s colors. “We want something now that shall be our own possession – personal in the sense that it will apply aptly to Trinity,” according to the 1921 Chronicle editorial in Duke University Archives. “It should become incorporated into our campus songs, our yells, and our department of publicity.”A few days later, the newspaper had an initial list of names: The Catamounts, Blue Titans, Grizzlies, Blue Eagles, Badgers, Dreadnaughts, Polar Bears, Royal Blazes and the Captains, according to the Archives. No name received a majority of the vote.When Duke student William H. Lander took over as editor-in-chief a year later, he and other editors at the paper began to throw around the term “Blue Devils.” Their freshman class was the first post-World War I freshmen to enter Trinity College, and many people knew of the Blue Devils, or the outfit of French soldiers who wore blue uniforms and blue berets. The soldiers were known for their unique training and alpine knowledge, and their role was to break the stalemate of trench warfare in the French Alps, according to now former Duke University archivist William King. “We decided to ‘put over’ the name Blue Devils for the college and its teams,” Lander wrote in a 1964 edition of the Duke Alumni Register. “We still were not enthusiastic about it, but felt that it was the best one available, and that if we did not take action, nobody would. So, from the very first issue of the Chronicle, the athletes were referred to as Blue Devils. We kept it up, month after month, even though the name was generally unpopular.”This Chronicle headline in October of 1922, “Guilford Defeated to the Tune of Seven Touchdowns by the Blue Devils,” began circulation of the Blue Devils name. The cheerleaders and college press bureau didn’t use the name that first year. But over the years, the name caught on, and the mascot itself has evolved from drawings of an original Blue Devil French soldier to a long-sleeved jumpsuit in the 1930s to a cape and Batman-style mask in the 1970s. In 1992, Duke English senior Lisa Weistart played the role of Blue Devil, putting on the giant cartoon head, dancing with cheerleaders and ripping apart dolls. In a Durham Herald-Sun article, she said it was her second year as Duke’s mascot.“I think my parents are prouder that I’m the mascot than that I got into Duke,” Weistart said at the time. The cartoon version gave way to the current design of the Blue Devil mascot in 2008, when the refined head and noticeable horns made their debut at the August football game against James Madison University.Today’s Blue Devil leads the crowd in cheers at athletic events and will be at Wallace Wade Stadium for this Saturday’s Duke Football Employee Kickoff Celebration against Elon University.The Blue Devil, who remains anonymous to preserve the Blue Devil image, will be leading the football team into the stadium, drinking lots of water in the heat and waving the battle flag after touchdowns.“Everyone has a little bit of the Blue Devil in them; it’s just a matter of how you can let it show,” he said. “It’s different, really, from any other college mascot. Some of them are cute and cuddly animals, but the Blue Devil really has a level of swagger that I don’t think many other college mascots have.”