“‘Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!’ So went the very first organized cheer at an intercollegiate football game, a rallying cry meant to break the University of Minnesota squad’s losing streak. Though college football had begun in 1869, and all-male pep clubs had long sung fight songs to inspire their teams to victory, it wasn’t until the turn of the century—on this day, Nov. 2, in 1898—that a fan named Johnny Campbell led the cheer that would earn him the title of America’s first cheerleader.
Like Campbell, the majority of early cheerleaders were men—in large part because squads did not begin opening their ranks to women until the 1920s. The gender balance shifted further during World War II, when an increasing number of women filled positions vacated by men who had been drafted to fight in the war. By the 1960s, the sport became dominated by women, as National Football League teams began to organize professional squads.”
College Vault celebrates the 117th anniversary of cheerleading! Click through to the article to see some of LIFE’s best images of America’s “purveyors of pep”.