The Big C

The Big C is a key symbol of the university, shining down from the hillside over our campus. It’s queen bee yellow color radiating Cal spirit and pride. However, believe it or not, it hasn’t always been there. This 60 foot block C was built back in 1905 by the classes of 1908 and 1907, replacing a tradition of division with a symbol of unity. Before the C, every year on Charter Day the freshman and sophomore classes would meet on the hill in an event which became known as The Rush. As the rest of campus came together to celebrate the founding of the university, the freshman would fight to paint their class numbers on Charter Hill where the sophomores would be waiting, ready to do anything to prevent them from succeeding. This tradition was dangerous, as many students were thrown down the side of the hill in the fight, leaving either the sophomores standing with pride knowing that the freshmen numbers would not be displayed, or the freshmen gleefully painting their class numbers on the hill. By 1904, the Rush was seen as such a danger that the Committee of Student Affairs determined that the Rushes were too boisterous and prohibited them – a decision supported by the Senior class but was left to the Sophomores and Freshmen to decide.

The Sophomores, wanting to protect their Honor, decided that they would be waiting on Charter Hill in the event that the freshmen would show up. That left the Freshmen to determine the Fate of this tradition – whom after a heated debate, decided that they would not rush – and that was the end of the Rush. However, the Rush was not to be forgotten. In 1905, the Class of 1907 (now Sophomores) and the Class of 1908 (the new Freshmen) held a joint meeting, and decided that instead of continuing the tradition of fighting, they would unite to both commemorate the Rush and create a permanent fixture on the Hill that the entire University could be proud of, a campus landmark that later became known as “The Big C”. 

After this meeting both classes worked tirelessly to make their idea turn into reality. Excitement amongst the students was growing, but not everyone was happy about it. On March 18, 1905, the men of the Class of 1907 and 1908 lined the hill to use a relay system to pass buckets of rock and other material up the steep hillside. A few days later was Charter Day, and the men came back the Charter Hill to finish passing materials up the hill, and construct the actual C. The final touch was a gift from W.T. Garret & Co. of San Francisco, an iron plaque that stills sits in the C today, and reads, “In memory of the Rush, buried by the classes of 1907 and 1908, March 23, 1905, Resquicat in Peace.” The C was finished shortly before noon, and the entire campus knew it for a “Oski-Wow” cheer came roaring downing the Hill, right in the middle of the Charter Day address that was being delivered by Dr. Henry van Dyke. So while Dr. Henry van Dyke didn’t see the numbers of the Freshmen class, he certainly did hear them that day.

And ever since then, the Big C has stands there, 600 feet above Greek Theater at an impressive 60 feet tall and 25 feet wide. The C is an important symbol of our university and, to quote Harold P Williams who wrote the song Big C, it means to fight and strive and win for blue and gold.

Author: Bridget Bernet

Howdy! My name is Bridget, I am a junior here at UC Berkeley, double majoring in philosophy and rhetoric with a concentration in narrative and image. I love all forms of writing, which is why I decided to write for Bear Talk :) and I'm so excited to share my perspective on this amazing campus. From cheering on the sports teams to studying in Moses Hall, every moment here is a special one, and I plan on documenting it all. Go Bears!