Documenting Campus History with UF University Archives

UF coeds clustered around an information booth located in the historic part of campus. Most in the photo are wearing the Rat Caps that designate them as freshmen.
Submitted by Sarah Coates, Interim University Archivist

October is Archives Month and to celebrate, we’re highlighting one of our 13 collecting areas in Special and Area Studies Collections: the UF University Archives.

What are University Archives?

University Archives’ goal is to save, secure, and share the story of the University of Florida. In order to accomplish this goal, we collect records of enduring historic value from the various colleges, departments, and units across campus. We also collect the President’s papers (and have them from every president from Andrew Sledd in 1904 through Charles Young’s in 2003). Campus and student life is documented through records from organizations and clubs, and through photographs, newspapers, yearbooks, scrapbooks, film, and memorabilia. A particular highlight of our campus organization collections is the Black Student Union’s records, which allows researchers to see how the BSU has changed and shaped campus life from its inception in 1968.

Documenting Campus Architectural History

University Archives’ materials are how we know what campus was like years ago, and how it has developed, grown, and changed over time. One of the ways we can document these changes on campus is through our extensive photograph collection, some of which is digitized and freely available online. For example, take a look at what campus around the University Auditorium looked like in the 1920s:

University Auditorium photo that includes a dirt road, lots of trees, and a largely undeveloped UF campus.
University Auditorium, viewed from the east, in the 1920s

And then what it looked like in 1966:

Aerial photo of UF Century Tower and University Auditorium taken from the north west in the 1950s. There are multiple parking lots where the music building and Turlington are now.
University Auditorium and Century Tower in 1966

And just a few years later in the 1970s, when the Music building was under construction (notice the parking lot in the upper right corner of the previous image is now taken over by the Music building):

Aerial photo of UF Century Tower and University Auditorium taken from the north west. The music building is under construction in the background.
University Auditorium, Century Tower, and UF Music Building in the 1970s

These images are just some of the many examples we hold of how construction and growth has changed how the campus looks over the years.

Documenting Student Life

We can also document how student life has changed as time marches on. Reading through the Alligator newspapers, or flipping through the yearbooks (The Seminole and The Tower), provide insight into student life—the issues they cared about; the teams, clubs, and organizations they joined; and fashions and fads.

One such fashion that’s gone out of style was the freshman “rat cap” or beanie, that all freshmen wore on campus. Usually made of felt or wool, sometimes cotton, the rat caps were normally orange with your graduating year on either side of a blue F in the middle front. After your freshman year ended, the rat cap retired, and in some cases, signed by friends, as this cap from a member of the class of 1933 shows.

Photo of a wool UF Rat Cap sitting on the table of our Grand Reading Room. It includes the letter F and the number 33 in blue and has additional writing in what looks like pen ink.
Wool UF Rat Cap

Rat caps were a staple of the freshman class for many years, as seen in this photo of freshman students gathered around an information booth on the Plaza of the Americas in the 1950s:

UF coeds clustered around an information booth located in the historic part of campus. Most in the photo are wearing the Rat Caps that designate them as freshmen.
University of Florida coeds in Rat Caps around an information booth circa the 1950s

If you want to explore more of what University Archives has to offer, you don’t have to wait in line like students registering for classes in the Florida Gym in the 1950s. Instead, you can start your research on our website, and learn more about our collections from our list of physical collections and videos, to digital resources like the yearbooks, Alligator, photograph collection, and the University Record. If you have questions about what we hold in the UF University Archives , or would like to learn more, please contact us at

Black and white photo of hundreds of UF students in Florida Gym in the 1950s registering for classes.
UF University Archives photo of students registering for classes in-person during the 1950s
Want to learn more University of Florida history? We recommend you read Restoration of the “History of Learning in Florida” next!

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