“[Many] schools call themselves Wildcats and I am very sorry for there ought to be just one school by the name of Wildcat and that is that little Calvinistic, Presbyterian, fire eating, Bluestocking, Covenanter, dissenting Scotch-Irish school down in the wilds of upper Mecklenburg County.”
– Henry T. Lilly ’18
Origins of the Name
For almost a century, the “Wildcat” has been Davidson’s proud mascot. Our first mascots were the children of professors, while our athletes were referred to as “Presbyterians,” “Preachers,” and the “Red and Black.” It was not until 1918 that the Wildcat became our nickname and mascot.Theories on its origin abound but the story with the most evidence is that Albert Potts ’19 who gets the credit. As he recalls it:
“When I was at Davidson, … I undertook.. the job of writing sports stories for the Atlanta and Charlotte newspapers… At that time. The Davidson teams had no definite nickname, and the newspapers referred to our teams as the ‘Preachers’ and other random nicknames which did not seem to suit the fighting qualities and high spirit of Davidson teams… So I began using ‘Wildcats’ as a term for Davidson teams in these stories, and so far as I know, that was the beginning of this usage.”
– Albert S. Potts
After a victory over Auburn in 1917, the Atlanta Constitution headlined the story “Wildcats Twist Tigers’ Tail.” and shortly after that the wildcat image made its first appearance in yearbook and then regularly on the pages of the student newspaper.
Potts choice of wildcat does have some history at Davidson– at least according to one tale of a prank in1892-93.. A rumor started that a wildcat could be heard prowling and crying on campus at night. A few students made a wildcat out of wire and rags to play a prank on a friend. Full Account
Little is known about the first live Wildcat, only that he was the first “Felix.” The second wildcat, Felix II, died in 1927 after awing students for three years:
|The Wildcat [10 November 1921]|
“Felix’s ability to make away with chicken has long been an object of wonder and amazement for many Davidson students. The procedure is as follows: A full-grown hen is thrown into the cage. As lithe figure leaps down on the hen form above. An agonized ‘squawk,’ and the wild cat glares his defiance at the wondering students, and if he hopes just one of them will dispute his rightful ownership.”
Upon the death of this beloved mascot, Felix II’s skin was stuffed, mounted, and placed in the trophy room.
That same year, two new wildcats appeared on campus. A yearling “Min” was purchased by the student body for $35. Captured when she was a kitten, Min was fairly tame and could be led about. “Tom” was donated by Mr. Hansell Watt, of Thomasville, Ga., who captured him in Monticello, Fl. Tom was noted for his ferocity and “fighting spirit.” Tom and Min produced two little wild-kittens.
At an unknown date, Felix III, a “pampered and petted mascot” with a “ferocious appearance” arrived on campus. In his early days he was the glory of the campus and the teams, but as he aged his popularity fell. “Maybe Davidson man became too sophisticated to put their faith in such a mascot as Felix, but more probably they just tired of the snarling little cat.” Felix was cared for by Doc White until Felix’s death of old age in 1941, shortly after the end of the school year.
In 1961, our final living, breathing wildcat arrived on campus. Feeding and care fell to the cheerleaders, though President Grier Martin considered creating the “Wildcat Scholarship” for a student feeder. The wildcat was named “Peter Stuart Ney II” (he is also referred to as “Peter Stuart Ney IV,” perhaps because he was almost named “Felix IV”). He received a plush new cage from the class of 1962, though he was still fed the limited diet of one-half a chicken a day. Head cheerleader Joe Martin ’62 recalls affectionately that “[a]fter spending time… building a cage, giving up my blankets so that cat could keep warm, and staying up night talking to him to keep him from getting too lonely, I became pretty attached to him.”
|The Wildcat statue  9-1285|
The World’s Largest Wildcat
For almost a decade, the college held a record. On September 28, 2001, what was then the world’s largest Wildcat arrived on campus. “Weighing 1,500 pounds and measuring eleven feet from outstretched paw to tail,” the bronze statue was a gift from Irwin Belk ’45. It was sculpted by Jodi Hollhagel and Hanna Jubran. The statue was placed between Richardson Stadium and Baker Sports Complex.
Wildcat – Works Cited
“College Snares Live Cat: From Pet Shop To Swamp.” Davidsonian. 6 October 1961. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Fairly, John. “Death Claims Local Mascot.” Davidsonian. 30 October 1941. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Giduz, Bill. “The ‘Big Wildcat’ Arrives on Campus.” Davidson News and Events Website. 8 October 2001. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
“Growl of Mascot Silenced by Death.” Davidsonian. 22 September 1927. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Lily, Henry T. Letter. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Loflin, Tom. “Capricious ‘Cat Report: Ney Not Underachieving.” Davidsonian. 5 October 1962. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Loflin, Tom. “Mascot Gets Name… Peter Stuart Ney Lives On!” Davidsonian. 20 October 1961. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
“Oldtimer Recalls Wildcat’s Origin.” Davidsonian. 8 February 1952. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
“The Original Wildcats Return to Campus for Big Reunion.” Davidsonian. 16 October 1953. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Tarr, Brian. “Wildcat Lore.” Davidson Journal. Summer 1992. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
“Two New Wildcats Take Place of Former Mascot.” Davidsonian. 3 November 1927: 1. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
“Why They’re Wildcats.” Alumni Journal. December 1955. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
“Worthy Successor to Faithful ‘Felix’ Wildcat Mascot, Found in Murphy, N.C.” Davidsonian. 29 September 1927: 1. Wildcat Mascot Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.
Author: Tammy Ivins
Date: November 2007
Cite as: Ivins, Tammy. “The Wildcat” Davidson Encyclopedia November 2007 <https://davidsonarchivesandspecialcollections.org/archives/encyclopedia/the-wildcat/>