You may know that Columbia's lion—a ubiquitous theme seen around campus and the universal emblem of the entire Columbia athletics community, including Barnard—has long been a part of who we are, but you may not know that Columbia alumni played pivotal roles in its history, evolution, and adoption as part of our school identity.
Here are six facts you may not know about Columbia's king of the jungle, and the Columbia alumni who crowned him.
1. "Leo Columbiae"
While the Columbia lion has historical ties that go all the way back to the founding of King's College, it did not become an official mark of our University until 1910, when George Brokaw Compton (1909 CC) proposed the idea at a meeting of the Alumni Association. It was enthusiastically endorsed by Society of the Early Eighties (graduates of the classes of 1880-1884). They introduced the motto "Leo Columbiae" and the notion that Columbia should use both the King’s Crown and the lion.
Fun fact: The motion to adopt the lion as the official mascot passed on April 5, 1910, but many had argued that the lion was too royalist and instead, lobbied for Matilda the Harlem Goat as the school mascot. Matilda was a goat who lived with squatter Patrick Riley on 120th Street and Amsterdam. She was often lent to Columbia students for hazing and pranks.
"Bleat, Goat, Bleat!"
2. Baker Field Lion
When Baker Field opened in 1923, Columbia's Class of 1899 commissioned Frederick G. R. Roth to sculpt a bronze lion to overlook the field as the Class of 1899's 25th anniversary class gift.
3. MGM Lion
The iconic 'Leo the Lion' mascot used by Hollywood film studio MGM was the creation of Columbia alumnus Howard Dietz (Class of 1917 CC, JRN), who drew inspiration from The Jester’s Laughing Lion. Dietz, a former executive at MGM (formerly Goldwyn Pictures), decided to use a lion as the company's mascot as a tribute to our alma mater, and he further added that Columbia's fight song, "Roar, Lion, Roar", inspired him to make the Leo the Lion roar.
4. Roar, Lion, Roar
Roar, Lion, Roar, Columbia's fight song, was entirely an alumni endeavor! The Columbia Alumni University Federation ran a contest in 1923 for a new football song, and Corey Ford '23CC submitted a re-purposed a song that he had originally co-wrote with Roy Web '10CC for the Varsity Show, changing the lyrics from "Bold, Buccaneers!" to "Roar, Lion, Roar!" Morris Watkins '24CC wrote the melody.
5. Teaching Lion
The Teaching Lion, a statue found in the Robert M. Rosencrans Reading Room in Butler Library, was commissioned in 1992 by the Society of Columbia Graduates and sculpted by Stanley Wyatt '43CC, a professor of Art History. It is on display accompanied by a plaque honoring winners of the Great Teacher award.
6. Scholar's Lion
The Scholar's Lion was crafted by alumnus and sculptor Greg Wyatt '71CC (son of Stanley Wyatt, who created the Teaching Lion) and gifted to the University on Dean's Day in 2004 in honor of Columbia's 250th anniversary. Wyatt is also the creator of the Peace Fountain in the courtyard of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where he is a sculptor in residence. Principal funding for the Scholars' Lion included notable alumni Richard Witten '75, Mark Kingdon '71, Bill Campbell '62, Mark Lehman '73, Bob Berne '60, Brooks Klimley '79, and the Class of 1971.
(Photo: Eileen Barroso)