History of the Beanie

Since 1920, each incoming freshman at South Dakota Mines has donned a beanie hat. The Pahasapa Quarterly from 1920, wrote that the sight of the “cap floating on the campus will serve as a pleasant reminder to visiting alumni of the days when they first wore the freshman headgear and of the various festivities connected with it.”  

Today the voluntary tradition continues from the start of school until halftime of the homecoming game when frosh (as they are referred to prior to this event) run a lap around the track and then gather in the middle of the field in the shape of an M where they remove their beanies and are officially advanced to freshman status.

For the last three decades, these hats have been handmade by a group of local volunteers. To date the Rapid City CK Chapter of the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) Sisterhood has sewn more than 11,000 Mines beanies. The group sells the beanies to Mines and the small profit they earn is put into a scholarship fund that sends young women to college. In the last 30 years, the group has raised more than $36,000. 

“My husband, Grove Rathbun (MinE52), has his beanie from 1948. We must be the only place in the world that still does beanies,” PEO Sisterhood member Jan Rathburn said of the Mines’ freshman rite of passage.

You can read more about the tradition in this article in Inside Higher Ed

Here are some excerpts:

“The School of Mines is perhaps the only institution left in the country that still maintains the tradition of handing out freshman beanies -- a small felt hat that signifies a student's newbie status -- as a way to broadcast that the new students might need some assistance getting acclimated to the campus.

‘Even if I was in a hurry, if a freshman looked lost, I would try to stop and help them,’ said Mines alumni Will Smith (CE20).

The beanie tradition also creates camaraderie among the new students as they start their studies.

‘It means you’re not alone in it, you always have a study buddy,’ Smith said. “I still talk to people I met getting my beanie and during homecoming.’”

The beanies worn at South Dakota Mines are green and yellow, the colors of our rival Black Hills State University. Incoming students wear these colors in jest, signifying that Mines freshmen are smarter than Black Hills State University seniors.

Traditions evolve over time. In 2019, a new tradition began that includes the cohort of incoming freshmen being ushered from the Surbeck Center towards the quad, welcomed by faculty and staff along the way. They then walk through the Arch to receive their beanies and learn the school song as part of student orientation. Prior to 2019, the beanies were given out to freshmen at the President’s Picnic during Welcome Week.