Beanies, Brooms and Bother: UW Freshmen Get the Initiation Treatment

With the start of the fall semester on August 29 at the University of Wyoming, it seems a good time to show off a couple of old-time UW freshman traditions.

A once constant sight on the University of Wyoming campus was the sight of freshmen wearing beanies. According to a September 1967 article in the UW school newspaper, Branding Iron, freshmen only needed to don the head wear until the first home football game of the season. After the UW Cowboys scored their first touchdown, the students threw their beanies in the air and never had to wear them again. The tradition of beanies apparently goes back to 1908 when male students had to wear green caps and women green stockings. During the 1920s, freshmen had to wear the beanies until Homecoming.

Students in beanies

In this 1950s photograph, freshmen are purchasing books while dutifully wearing their beanies. Photo File: Colleges and Universities – University of Wyoming building – Arts and Bookstore, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Freshmen were also expected to repaint the W on “W Hill”. The idea for the letter on the hill, then in a distant, unpopulated part of what is now residential Laramie, came from the freshman class in 1913—the class known then as the class of 1917. The W was 50 feet high by 80 feet wide and consisted of a layer of six inches of limestone laid in a trench. Whitewashing the W each year had to be done within two weeks after registration or freshmen would “take the consequences” from the rest of the college. The nature of the “consequences” was never stated.

W Hill

Freshmen in their beanies whitewash the W on W Hill. Photo from 1953 UW Yearbook.

As years passed, the tradition of “whitewashing the W” continued, though it has now died out. The stones have not been whitewashed in many years. But if you look carefully on the hill on the north end of Laramie, you can still see a hint of the W.


Google Earth photo showing “W” on W Hill, 2015.


Do you remember these traditions when you attended UW? 


Text courtesy of University of Wyoming by Rick Ewig and Tamsen Hert (2012) and “The W on Laramie’s W Hill” by Phil Roberts.

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