Traditionally, the term “Ivy League” conjures up visions of imposing Neo-gothic gables and archways, grassy quadrangles, the cut and thrust of youthful debate over dining hall tables, and an abundance of preppy chic clothing (of an early Ralph Lauren ilk). A romanticised view, perhaps, but there is no denying the air of prestige and distinction that surrounds America’s eight iconic colleges and universities (Harvard, Yale, The University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth and Cornell), not least in their continual use as the settings for endless books and films. Their history precedes that of the country itself – all, with the exception of Cornell, having been founded during Colonial America – and together they boast the education of fourteen of America’s forty-four presidents, as well as countless writers, academics, politicians and Nobel Prize winners.
For one ex-Ivy-Leaguer, writer Daniel Cappello, the timeless allure of “America’s greatest educational institutions” was such that he embarked on the creation of a publication in their honour, with the aim of “pushing through the iron gates and wooden doors of the Ivy League,” unearthing the mysteries behind what he dubs, “One of the most successful and singularly American brands.”
"The Ivy League journeys through the individual colleges and universities one by one, brilliantly unpicking their idiosyncrasies and defining qualities within the context of their histories."
The book, entitled simply The Ivy League, journeys through the individual colleges and universities one by one, brilliantly unpicking their idiosyncrasies and defining characteristics within the context of their histories. A wonderful array of decade-spanning images accompanies the text, showcasing the beguiling architecture of the campuses and interiors; the changing and enduring student fashions; the colleges' famed alumni – from a young JFK to S.J. Perelman; as well as intricately illustrated, vintage sports posters. In his far-reaching approach, a detailed consideration of everything from dominant political stances to athletic rivalries, the presidents they've trained and the fictional characters they've inspired, Cappello captures the spirit of each institute, successfully propagating the "giddy excitement" he once felt at the prosepect of joining their elite.
The Ivy League is out now, published by Assouline.
Text by Daisy Woodward