Squirrel in tree, circa 1912
Found in University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana Photo-Gravures, ca. 1912
This image is in the public domain.

Love them or hate them, everyone knows that squirrels are a fixture on the UIUC campus, and especially on the Quad.  And why wouldn’ t they stick around, with all the friendly students throwing food their way?  What you may not know is how they came to campus in the first place.

Evidently, squirrels were in short supply on University grounds in the early 1900s.  By May 1901, University President Andrew S. Draper had apparently been talking about changing that, as referenced in this letter from Professor of Geology Charles W. Rolfe, dated May 6, 1901:

“Referring to our conversation regarding squirrels, I think I shall be able to secure a few…that have been bred in the city and are not afraid of people.  I would suggest that a good sized breeding cage with several separate compartments be constructed somewhere on the lawn…and that several pairs be kept in it continuously…” 1

President Draper’s reply was terse but enthusiastic:

“…I am glad that you are able to secure a few, and will be glad to cause the necessary cage to be made…I am heartily in favor of the undertaking.” 2

Draper made good on his promise, as he included the following recommendation in a letter to the Board of Trustees dated July 5, 1901:

“For some years I have had in mind the domestication of squirrels upon the grounds of the University and have made some investigations which lead me to believe that the suggestion is entirely practicable.  Conferences with Professor Charles W. Rolfe have led him to ascertain where the animals can be found, and to look into the methods for housing and retaining them.  The expense of such an undertaking is uncertain, but would easily be within $250…If successful, the influence upon University life, and upon the feelings of students, would be considerable, and students would carry that influence to all parts of the State.   I therefore recommend that Professor Rolfe be asked to initiate and supervise the enterprise, and that $250 or so much as may be necessary be appropriated to meet the expenses.” 3

The University Board of Trustees adopted the recommendation on July 6, 1901.4

1.  C.W Rolfe to President A.S. Draper, May 6, 1901, Faculty Correspondence, 1894-1904, Record Series 2/4/2, Box 7, Folder “C.W. Rolfe”, University of Illinois Archives.

2.  President Draper to Professor C.W. Rolfe, May 7, 1901, Letterbooks, 1894-1904, Record Series 2/4/3, Box 7, Vol. 24, University of Illinois Archives.

3. Twenty-first Report of the Board of Trustees, (Springfield, IL, 1902), p. 107, Record Series 1/1/802, University of Illinois Archives.

4. Ibid.

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