Tradition suffuses the College of Charleston’s 250-year history. Many are timeless – Cougars forever remember their crossing of the Cistern at commencement. Other customs have been abandoned, and mercifully so.

Consider the story of the “rat caps”: striped beanies with maroon bills, topped with a green button. To encourage school spirit – and not without a hint of hazing – upperclassmen enforced a strict policy: All freshmen, men and women alike, were to don these beanies Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., for the duration of their first semester.

Should freshmen be spotted without their headgear, a medieval punishment quickly followed: The culprits had to push, with their noses, a peanut across the length of what was then the chapel (today’s Alumni Memorial Hall).

The tradition lasted well into the modern era of the College (it ended in the early 1970s). The felt beanies can be spotted among this group of students cavorting at the Battery in 1965 in the run-up to a basketball game. (Cheerleaders left to right: Barbara LaMarche ’66, Kathy Paul ’69, Susan Cutts ’65 and Patsy Canfield ’67.)

Note the mascot listed on the placard affixed to the Ford convertible: “Maroons.” The College wouldn’t adopt the cougar until the 1970–71 school year, a gesture honoring a real-life cougar that had arrived at the Charles Towne Landing zoo.

The Lowcountry Digital Library makes freely available thousands of images documenting the traditions and transformations of the College. Learn more at

Featured image courtesy of College of Charleston Special Collections