Every year, Convocation is a different color. This year it seemed to be sunshine yellow, with bright outfits peeking out from under the class of 2019’s senior robes. A sea of first-years in purple t-shirts and smatterings of sophomores and juniors in green and red, respectively, were also in attendance. The tradition of assigning a color to each class year at Wellesley dates back to the college’s founding, with the class of 1879 being dark blue. Over the past 140 years, though, the tradition and its significance have changed.
Class colors used to be much more heavily associated with Tree Planting Day. Until 1907, each class would choose their color before Tree Planting Day—then held in June, and called Tree Day—at the end of their first year. First-years would sew their own gowns, to the annoyance of class of 1897 alumna Louise Pierce, who wrote in a letter to her parents she had a “million things” to do, including sewing a gown.
The first-year class showing up to Tree Day in their newly chosen color was a source of excitement around campus; an edition of The Wellesley News from June 1902 gushes about the class of 1905 arriving in “green gowns with a suggestion of gold” that “swept the campus in artistic curves.” In addition to a class color, early classes had a class flower, tree and occasionally motto—“strong to live” for the class of 1902, for example.
The earliest Tree Day program to list the freshman class color was the program from 1897, suggesting that at this point classes had probably begun to choose and publicize their colors well in advance of the day itself. The program listed the class of 1900’s tree as the oak, the class flower as the fleur-de-lis and the class colors as purple and lavender. Using color combinations like purple-lavender was relatively common, and colors from all over the rainbow were chosen; the class of 1897 chose olive and gold as their class colors—the only class to choose olive.
1907 saw the introduction of a color rotation, and probably the distancing of class colors from Tree Day, but with blue instead of green as one of the four colors. The reason for the introduction of this rotation, unfortunately, has little documentation. In 1949, the College Senate voted to change blue to green in the rotation. In the Senate’s words, they felt that since blue is the official Wellesley color, it should “belong only to the College as a whole,” rather than just one class.
“[The g]reen class color will also enable members of 1953 to walk on the grass with greater facility,” quipped The Wellesley News editor who documented the vote, “as their hats will blend with the countryside, and will be easier on the eyes of grass cops who think that green and blue clash.” Ever since, the class colors have been yellow, purple, green and red.
The tradition of assigning a color to each class is not unique to Wellesley; Bryn Mawr, Smith, Mount Holyoke and Lawrence University all have class colors as well. Mount Holyoke has class animals, too—griffin, pegasus, lion, sphinx and phoenix, the latter of which is the class animal of nontraditional students—reminiscent of Wellesley’s class flower and tree.
Today, student opinions on class colors are positive. Student Ky Fuller ’21 likes her class color.
“I’m happy with [green]. It’s not a lime green. It’s an actual nice green. 10/10. It makes me think of plants. I enjoy it. I know it belongs to us, so it’s kinda nice,” she said.
About the tradition itself, Fuller mentioned having made a connection with someone from the class of 1981, another green class, through their class color.
“Even though the colors don’t mean a lot while you’re here,” she said, “they can start a conversation.”
Dominiki Kurz ’20 expressed a similar sentiment.
“I haven’t really talked to any alums, so I can’t really say whether it’s cool or not to meet someone who’s [in] red class,” she said. “[But] I think it’s a unique feature of Wellesley. I think it’s super cool that we have all these different majors, all these different classes, but at the end of the day, we’re still the red class.”