Mystery Mascot

Photo provided by Francesca Hahn

Photo provided by Francesca Hahn

Grace Dearing

Susan Jewett, a 1969 alumna, remembers having a 10 p.m. curfew and bed checks every night during her time at Ohio University. If she or her fellow female students received good enough grades, then their curfews were extended until midnight — but only so they could study later at the library.

“I mean, it was ridiculous because the library was open until midnight and the guys could all stay out,” Jewett says. “I was part of the president’s committee to deal with the issue of women’s hours. So, the Bobkitten was part of that whole zeitgeist.”

With Jewett at the helm as president of her hall council, the residents of Howard Hall, an all-girls dormitory, were inspired to leave their legacy at OU by channeling their frustration into advocacy.

It was during a hall council meeting in 1967 when the idea to create the university’s first female mascot was suggested. The intent was for the Bobkitten to march equally with the Bobcat, which was created in 1960 by residents in Lincoln Hall, an all-boys dormitory.

Jewett, who studied fine arts, spearheaded efforts to design the Bobkitten’s costume, which consisted of the head (made of paper mache and chicken wire), a white sweater with a green ‘O’ patched on, a skirt and bloomers that read ‘OH-IO.’

The residents of Howard Hall never anticipated the Bobkitten would gain as much fame on campus as it did. In fact, the Bobkitten probably would not have made such a lasting impression  if not for Francesca Hahn.

Hahn, another 1969 alumna, exuded an aura of confidence and pep that made her the perfect choice for OU’s first female mascot. Her signature move  — turning her back to the crowd and flipping up the Bobkitten’s skirt to reveal her embroidered “OH-IO” bloomers — made those bloomers a staple of Hahn’s fame.

“Soon, the Bobkitten became a campus celebrity, or at least her shapely legs did, otherwise her identity remained closely guarded among the Howard Hall women and a select few others,” writes Mike Johnson in his book, “Mascot, Minister, Man of Steel.” Johnson, a 1967 alumnus, who studied journalism and public relations, spent much of his time at OU photographing and writing about the Bobkitten for his internship with the university’s athletic department.

As the primary sponsor of the Bobkitten, Howard Hall residents fiercely guarded Hahn’s identity, and the athletic director even gave Hahn her own locker space so she would not be seen carrying the mascot head across campus.

The mystery of the Bobkitten’s identity was so elusive that other schools began to wonder about the face behind OU’s new female mascot.  Hahn specifically remembers Miami University’s basketball team growing desperate in their attempts to unmask her at one of the games she attended.

Throughout the entire game, Hahn says she noticed the Miami basketball team’s friendly demeanor. At the end of the game, the team rushed over, picked Hahn up and brought her into their van.

“They wanted me to take off my head and talk with them and say hello,” she says. “The OU team and fans were pounding on the door [of the van] and trying to get in. So, I turned around and took off the head and shook out my wet hair and tried to look decent, and we all had a good laugh.”

The Bobkitten also gained the attention of Dr. Vernon R. Alden, OU’s then-president, who frequently posed for photographs with the mascot. Dr. Alden asked Hahn if he could borrow the costume for his wife, who was a fan of the sassy character. Hahn agreed and says Mrs. Alden dressed as the Bobkitten for many Halloweens after that.

The Bobkitten’s popularity increased as the feminist movement of the 1960s surged. Between the publishing of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and the transformation of the popular Cosmopolitan magazine into a women’s magazine, ’60s women were finding their voices. Hahn remembers protests and marches on campus as the women’s liberation movement grew.

Many women attending OU in the ’60s believed the Bobkitten was influential in showcasing newly liberated woman. With little resistance from the Bobcat and the athletic department, Hahn was able to let the Bobkitten flourish in the spotlight.

“I think the Bobkitten was able to represent something for the feminist movement and the fact that it was accepted and the athletic department supported me was very important,” Hahn says.

Hahn attended football, basketball and hockey games as the Bobkitten and was showcased in the annual Homecoming parade and other smaller events throughout the year, like fraternity events during Moms and Dads weekends. She even made an appearance with the Bobcat on The World of Cats, a PBS cable TV show.

Hahn remembers the day she was first recognized at a football game that she assumed was just like every other.

“The athletic director came out on the field with the football team at attention. He came to the podium and asked me to join him,” she says. “So I did, of course. He then made a little speech about the addition of the Bobkitten and indicated that I should wear an official green letter sweater to match the Bobcat and to represent the school well in parades and official responsibilities. I knew then that they had embraced the concept fully.”

When Howard Hall closed in 1976, Chi Omega sorority sisters took over the Bobkitten responsibility. In addition to Hahn, there were six other Bobkittens from 1967 to 1990.

As university athletics became more competitive at a national level during the ’90s, the Bobkitten went dormant, the costume was lost and it has not been seen since.

Hahn’s legacy as OU’s first female mascot transcends her other college experiences. Not only was she the Bobkitten OU’s only female mascot for over two decades, but she exemplified the women’s liberation movement of the ’60s and gave students and faculty members lifelong memories.

“It was a truly great experience,” Hahn says. “All that sweating under the sun was worth every game, and even the sore shoulders could never take away the joy I had those four years of being the Bobkitten and the distinction of being the very first one.”