Campus Squirrels

Though it may be hard to believe, squirrels weren't always as prevalent on campus as they are today. In fact, in 1901, squirrels were in such scarcity that the university payed $250, which is about $6500 today, to buy squirrels to domesticate and breed on campus. President Draper proposed to the Board of Trustees on July 5, 1901 the following:

"For some years I have had in mind the domestication of squirrels upon the grounds of the University and have made some investigations which lead me to believe that the suggestion is entirely practicable...If successful, the influence upon University life, and upon the feelings of students, would be considerable, and students would carry that influence to all parts of the State."

The next day, the Board of Trustees approved his recommendation. Professor of Ecology and Natural History Charles Rolfe was named "squirrel master" and led the project, with much obvious success. The squirrels were kept for breeding at a greenhouse on campus as well as the basement of the Law Building. Students assisted in the care of the squirrels. The squirrels were welcomed as a beautifying addition to the area and the cities of Champaign-Urbana passed ordinances against bothering the squirrels.

In 1919, The Campus Squirrel became a reoccurring featuring in the Daily Illini. The Campus Squirrel offered nonsensical bits of wit and wisdom, such as:

"Can anyone, with the imagination even of a prohibition spy, conceive of John Depler standing fondly on an Urbana porch, in the old fashioned May-basket night style with a clump of snowballs clutched in one fist? 'Tis all too true" (Daily Illini, May 3rd 1921). John Depler played for the University football team between 1918-1920 and was captain in his final season.


A squirrel Image courtesy Flickr user Californian Em under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Botany Greenhouse, 1890 It is likely that this was the greenhouse that housed the squirrels. Image courtesy University of Illinois Archives



Laura Miller, “Campus Squirrels,” ExploreCU, accessed January 27, 2022,