1. The “P” started as an “H”
The “P” has been around since 1919 but wasn’t initially created as a symbol of Cal Poly pride, as it is today. San Luis Obispo High School and Cal Poly has a history of intense rivalry. As a prank, students from San Luis Obispo High School hiked up the hill overlooking the university and spelled the letter “H,” standing for “high,” in stones on the hill.  Cal Poly students immediately climbed the hill to turn the “H” into a “P.” The symbol was changed many times over the years until 1957, when fraternity Delta Sigma Phi built the concrete “P” that stands today.

The "P"
Cal Poly students turn the “H” into the “P” in 1919. | Courtesy of Cal Poly Special Collections and Archives
Cal Poly students turn the “H” into the “P” in 1919. | Courtesy of Cal Poly Special Collections and Archives

2. Cal Poly had one of 20 naval flight schools in the nation
Cal Poly cooperated with the navy to train male students to join war efforts after the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. Cal Poly opened one of 20 Naval Flight Preparatory Schools in the nation. As the naval preparation, cadets had a 90-day pre-flight training program. The navy designated Cal Poly as a “fleet school” once the program took off. There were more than 3,600 out of 80,000 nationwide cadets trained by the end of the program.

3. Women were banned from Cal Poly
After the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression was in full swing and affected women going to universities. To save money, the California Government banned women from enrolling or studying at Cal Poly in 1930 so the school no longer had to spend money maintaining women’s dormitories and the household arts curriculum. This legislation was repealed in 1937, but women didn’t know because the news was not publicized. Cal Poly remained an all-male campus until 1956 when women were officially re-admitted to Cal Poly’s student body.

Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, Cal Poly
Cal Poly Women’s Basketball Team in 1909 | Courtesy of Cal Poly Special Collections and Archives
Cal Poly Women’s Basketball Team in 1909 | Courtesy of Cal Poly Special Collections and Archives

4. After women were re-admitted, they had strict rules
After women re-joined the campus community and moved into renovated male dormitories in 1956, a handbook called “Cues for Coeds” was given to all female students. The handbook was meant to help them adjust to campus life and provide rules for off-campus living. The handbook covered topics such as behavioral guidelines and regulations, dress code and studying tips.

Some of the rules and tips from the 1963 Campus Cues included:

  • Chew gum in private
  • Women are not allowed to visit men’s apartments or residences at any time unless accompanied by parents or college approved chaperones
  • Head residents will be doing one weekly room check to “promote neatness”
  • Men and women should not sunbathe in the same areas
  • Women have a 10:30 p.m. curfew on weeknights and 1:30 a.m. on weekends

The booklet was developed and changed multiple times. Below is a 1963 copy of “Campus Cues:”

Cal Poly Campus Cues, 1963 by Olivia Proffit

5. Poly Royal madness
Poly Royal began in 1933 as an event to publicize the school and prepare agricultural students for state-level livestock judging, furthering Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing philosophy. Events included a stock parade and judging, farm project exhibits, tours, horticultural judging, a baseball game and an award ceremony. Poly Royal grew over the years with more exhibits and visitors from all over California until it got too large with more than 100,000 people visiting Poly Royal in 1990. At this Poly Royal, a crowd of 1,000 people gathered Friday night and committed crimes such as vandalizing, throwing beers and rocks and overturning cars. Arrests were made and authorities attempted to tame the unruly crowd. The Poly Royal tradition and other celebrations ended that night until 1994 when “Open House” was created to be a much smaller version of Poly Royal.

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