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Solved: The Mystery Behind the Purple and Gold

May 18, 2000


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MACOMB, IL -- Surrounded by "vast golden prairies strewn with purple coneflowers." Wait a minute... Where are these "golden prairies"? And what exactly does a "purple coneflower" look like?

For years, it has been assumed that Western Illinois University's colors of purple and gold originated from Mother Nature herself; the proud colors named after western Illinois landscape. But where is the proof? For some, that has been the most challenging mystery connected with the history of WIU.

Recently, WIU historian John Hallwas uncovered the answer to the unknown.

The year was 1902, and her name was Mary Jarvis (later to be Peterson). She was a first year student from Fandon.

It is alleged that during WIU's first school year, 1902-1903, a contest was held to determine the school colors. It was at this time that Mary Jarvis suggested purple and gold. The choice was put to a vote by the student body after a committee had placed different color combinations on display for their consideration.

This important piece of information was discovered when an elderly man had mentioned to a WIU staff member that his mother had selected the school colors.

Further investigation in April 2000 proved to be valuable as Hallwas visited the man, Maurice Peterson, Jarvis's son.

Peterson was able to verify the story with a newspaper article written about his mother just after she died in 1969. In the article, a close friend had stated, "Mary was the one who suggested the purple and gold as the school colors."

Posted By: WIU News (U-Relations@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations