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Why is Dartmouth color green?

Why is Dartmouth color green?

Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, uses a distinctive shade of green as its official school color. This iconic forest green hue, known as “Dartmouth Green,” is deeply ingrained in the identity and traditions of the Ivy League institution. But why exactly did Dartmouth adopt green as its emblematic color? The origins can be traced back over 200 years to the college’s founding in 1769.

In the 18th century, most American colleges like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton chose school colors that were based on the official heraldry of their English counterparts, Oxford and Cambridge. For instance, Harvard took crimson from Oxford, while Yale adopted Cambridge’s azure blue. Dartmouth, which was established by Eleazar Wheelock as a school for Native American and English youth, did not have these direct European antecedents. Thus, its founders were free to pick an original color.

According to Dartmouth lore, the specific shade of green was chosen by the university’s first president, Rev. Wheelock. The pine trees that surrounded the rural college’s campus inspired him to dub the forest green “Dartmouth Green” as the official school color. The lush trees can still be seen today along the College Green that connects the center of campus. This picturesque vista overlooks the Connecticut River Valley, reinforcing the close bond between the signature green and Dartmouth’s sylvan surroundings.

Beyond Rev. Wheelock’s initial role in selecting it, Dartmouth Green became cemented as the college’s defining hue for other historical and practical reasons.

Historical Origins

Dartmouth Green has been strongly associated with the college for over 200 years. After Wheelock chose the color in 1769, it started appearing consistently as the school’s official identity.

One of the earliest known uses was printing the Dartmouth seal in Dartmouth Green. Daniel Webster, a famous Dartmouth alumnus who graduated in 1801, owned a personal seal engraved with the college’s coat of arms in green ink. This demonstrated the school’s early adoption of the color in its visual branding.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the school colors of most universities were not as pervasively used as they are today. Few students owned college sweatshirts or waved pennants at sporting events. However, green was occasionally referenced as Dartmouth’s representative color even in this era.

In 1810, the “Dartmouth Gazette” student newspaper made a passing note about senior classes wearing green ribbons during graduation. A comic song called “The Gallant Youths of Dartmouth College” also described students as the “youths who wear the green.” Such subtle references indicate green’s growing status.

By the mid-1800s, using the forest green shade was deeply ingrained as a Dartmouth tradition. In 1854, an editorial in “The Dartmouth” student newspaper discussed the meaning of the “well-known Dartmouth green” at length as a central part of Dartmouth’s identity. Surveying the campus, the writer described how “everything visible is green” from caps and gowns to shutters and doors.

This distinguishing color was further spread through mass production and distribution of green Dartmouth merchandise in the early 20th century. Students wore and displayed Dartmouth Green proudly, cementing its firm association with all things Dartmouth.

Sporting Traditions

Dartmouth Green became intrinsically tied to the college’s athletic programs and spirit in the late 19th and 20th centuries. As intercollegiate and intramural sports became a bigger part of student life, the team colors were adopted as a way for fans to display their Dartmouth pride.

In 1866, the first recorded intercollegiate athletic event between Dartmouth and Harvard marked one of the earliest sporting uses of Dartmouth Green. The baseball game inspired Dartmouth fans to create badges with green silk, inaugurating a tradition of wearing the color to cheer on Green teams.

When the Dartmouth football team was established in 1881, green and white were selected as the team colors. Fans wore green pennants, scarves, and other garb to games and meets by the turn of the century, deeply associating Dartmouth Athletics with the forest green shade. The first Dartmouth football game was in 1886 against Amherst.

Dartmouth students also wore green blazers over white flannel pants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as athletic-inspired fashion. This style of dressing in Dartmouth Green persists today among “Big Green” fans and alumni.

With the rise of intramural athletics at the college, sporting green helped strengthen class and team spirit. By 1919, all Dartmouth intramural teams wore identifiable green markers like bands and socks. Green class numerals on white sweaters also became popular among the student body in this era.

This sporting culture and team apparel tradition ensured that Dartmouth Green was ubiquitously recognized within the college and beyond as the Dartmouth color.

Official Recognition

While Dartmouth Green was well-established as the school’s color by the early 20th century through tradition and popular usage, it was also enshrined at the institutional level. It became officially approved in protocols and publications as the Green.

As early as 1867, the Trustees and Overseers of Dartmouth College passed a resolution adopting Dartmouth Green as the official college color. This formal acknowledgment in the school’s governance solidified its status.

Subsequent official college documents, student handbooks, and alumni directories all explicitly referenced Dartmouth Green in texts and images. For instance, the 1925 “Dartmouth Songs” songbook published green song covers stamped with “Dartmouth Green.”

Perhaps most visibly, the school newspaper changed its masthead and flag from black to Dartmouth Green in 1904. This demonstrated the universal recognition of green across all institutional facets of college life.

Today, Dartmouth Green remains an official school color trademarked and monitored by the Office of Communications. The unique Pantone Matching System number PMS 343 is used to maintain color consistency. Protecting the brand identity maintains Dartmouth Green’s special meaning.

Geographic Isolation in New Hampshire

Dartmouth’s relative geographic isolation further encouraged school spirit to coalesce around the singular color of green. Tucked away in rural New Hampshire, Dartmouth did not have local professional sports teams to follow. Unlike Boston’s Harvard and MIT, there were not multiple colleges creating overlap and rivalries.

This isolation meant Dartmouth athletic events were main social gathering points. Cheering on the Dartmouth Green teams became a focal method of fostering community and identity on campus. The school color took on even greater meaning and prominence in this setting compared to more urban campuses.

Relatedly, the popular winter Carnival tradition reinforced Dartmouth Green’s special role in campus life. Starting in 1911, it united students through unique Dartmouth-centric events like ski races, snow sculptures, and social gatherings. School spirit expressed through green helped warm the long winters, further bonding students to the color.

Between graduates and undergraduates, the one-of-a-kind Dartmouth Green has been a critical unifying force within the tight-knit college for over 200 years and counting.


In the end, Dartmouth Green has become so familiar that it is hard to imagine Dartmouth College any other way. Yet it was Rev. Eleazar Wheelock who originally made the innovative decision to adopt forest green back in 1769, inspired by the green New Hampshire pines. Dartmouth Green’s one-of-a-kind story demonstrates how a school color can profoundly shape an institution’s spirit and community over centuries. With its rich history and many traditions, it is easy to see why Dartmouth proudly wears the green.

Decade Key Dartmouth Green Milestones
1760s College founded in 1769, and Rev. Wheelock selects Dartmouth Green inspired by pine trees
1810s Students wear green ribbons at graduation
1850s “The Dartmouth” editorial says green is established as the Dartmouth color
1860s First intercollegiate game where fans wear green vs Harvard in 1866
1880s Green and white adopted as Dartmouth football colors in 1881
  • Dartmouth Green masthead adopted by The Dartmouth paper in 1904
  • Merchandise with Dartmouth Green proliferates
1910s Green class sweaters and Carnival traditions unite students
1920s All intramural teams adopt green identifying markers
1925 Official Dartmouth Songs songbooks feature green covers