I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one
But I can tell you anyhow
I’d rather see than be one.
— Gelett Burgess, 1895
The “Royal (hued) beast” that has evolved into the Williams College mascot has no known genealogy! Unsubstantiated rural legend has it that she* is descended from those bovines that grace the earliest prints of the college campus. It is also conjectured that she became part of the college community due to the popularity of a student publication that used the college color along with the hooved creature.
In 1907, the Purple Cow humor magazine went to press for the first time with a plethora of student authored pieces and clever cow graphics. The name for the campus publication was the winner among many suggested. The editorial staff, of course, gave credit for its whimsical title to Frank G. Burgess and his jingle was included on the cover of the first issue.
The monthly magazine continued until 1942 and was revived for a short time during 1946-1950 and 1952-1962. By that time it seems that the purple cow and the Ephs had become “family”. The House of Walsh, a Spring Street store, advertised “droll” ceramic purple calf and bulls for sale in 1938.
Though we lack hard facts of the mascot ‘s origins and any published official mascot designation, there is no denying that the purple genus of “bos” now holds a firm place in the lore and legend of Williams.
By Linda Hall (Archives Assistant)
*Our now ubiquitous bovine mascot was named in a WMS radio station contest in October 1952. “Ephelia” was first submitted by Theodore W. “Dorie” Friend, Class of 1953, who garnered over $220 in prizes donated by area merchants.