The History of Mortimer the Gopher

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By: William Pitts

This year, the Goucher athletic department introduced a redesigned, “edgier” logo for the Gophers, created by Skye Design Studios in New York City. To coincide with that, the department will hold a press conference later this week to unveil a new redesign for its gopher mascot.

But how did we end up with a gopher in the first place?

The origin story of the name “Gophers” dates back to the days when Goucher College was an all women’s college. Before the team even had a proper name, the popular cheer at athletic events was, “Go for it, Goucher!”

In September 1972, the Goucher athletic department – or the Physical Education department, as it was then known – announced a contest to develop a name and mascot for the athletic department, citing that the students “wanted school symbols on clothing”. However, there is no evidence that anything substantial came out of the contest that can be found in the Goucher Archives. In 1980, the Physical Education Department tried the contest idea again, and picked two winners: Beth Altman’s gopher mascot design and Shotzie Bissell’s slogan, “Gopher it, Goucher!”, both puns based off the original “go for it” chant. Finally, Goucher assumed the name “Gophers” for their teams. Afterward, students could buy bumper stickers and decals with the new slogan.

The original mascot costume was cute and cuddly, with beady eyes and pronounced buck teeth, a stark contrast to the more cartoony design we see at athletic events today. One notable evolutionary change occurred in 1987, one year after Goucher started admitting male students. They quickly made an impact, adding fangs to the mascot design. The official name Mortimer was not given to the Gopher until 1991.

Over the years, the design of Mortimer went through one radical design change after another. By 1993, Mortimer shaved his chest and grew a very pronounced muzzle around his mouth. The 1997 rendition was so small that the gopher’s tail was actually taller than its body.

By 1999, it was time for another change. As that year’s Donnybrook, Goucher’s yearbook, put it, “The old gopher couldn’t be dry cleaned one more time.” Mortimer would finally morph into the form we know today, with gigantic eyes that bulge outward at the sides and nearly converge at the center of his face, further making him resemble a Sonic the Hedgehog character. The 2005 Donnybrook explained the rationale behind Mortimer’s look. “His current, ferocious form better reflects both the natural characteristics of the mascot’s real-life counterpart as well as the competitive nature of Goucher athletes. It might also explain why few on campus refer to Mortimer by his given name and small children sometimes burst into tears when they see him.”
The current mascot will be ending its reign at the end of the season. Only time will tell if Mortimer’s next incarnation will go back to his cute and cuddly roots, or if he’ll follow the edgier lead of the Gophers’ new logo.

Many thanks to Deborah Harner at the Goucher Archives, without whose guidance this article would not have been possible.

(4/11/2017: Correction: The original version of the article stated that the name Mortimer was dubbed in 1987, by male students. It has been bought to our attention that this is incorrect. The full name Mortimer Emmett Gopher was not given until 1991 by Sarah Ravenstine.)

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