WIU HISTORY: From the Teachers to the Leathernecks


MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS3) – Have you ever wondered how Western Illinois University started?

Kathy Nichols, Senior Library Specialist, knows WIU’s history like the back of her hand. She believes Western started “in a fascinating way” and that “we were going to have a unique mission.”

She explains that it was common to finish eighth grade and begin teaching in the fall. 

“Obviously, they didn’t have a lot of preparation, and that is what we were going to provide,” Nichols said.

Many students might not know that the university’s athletic teams were not always named the Leathernecks. 

“Before we were the Leathernecks, we were actually the Teachers,” Nichols said.

Between laughs, she said that the Leathernecks is much more effective for competitive sports.

WIU is the only public school in the nation with permission to use the nickname The Fighting Leathernecks. But Nichols said that there is no written record for that.

“As far as we know, we are the only school that uses that name. The part regarding permission, that is a bit of a question,” Nichols said. “No one has been able to find written documentation of the fact that we were officially granted permission to use that nickname by the Marines.”

Throughout the institution’s 120-year history, Western’s colors are purple and gold.

“During the 1902-1903 school year, which was our first school year, they ran a contest to find the choice of school colors, because we didn’t have any,” Nichols said. “There was an election after the contest and that was accepted.”

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