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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014

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Ohio’s Bobkitten, before the “break-up”

Photo courtesy of: The Division of Advancement

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A Bobkitten?: OHIO's forgotten mascot


To look at him today, you’d never guess that OHIO’s rough-and-tumble Bobcat has a breakup in his past. But if you flip through any of Ohio University’s well-loved yearbooks, you’ll instantly catch a glimpse of his sweet and sassy partner, the Bobkitten.

She appears by his side on the field, cheering teams on, marching in the Homecoming parade — yet for all the images that exist, little is said about her exact role. Who was she? Where did she come from? And where did she go?

A fixture of the campus scene beginning in 1967, the Bobkitten disappeared in the 1990s, leaving few clues behind. Ohio Today has asked some of the people who knew her best — women who donned the Bobkitten mask and kept their identities a closely guarded secret — to reveal themselves and their stories.

Fight for Equality

Although today women rival and can outnumber men on college campuses, the women of the 1960s sometimes felt like second-class citizens, according to 1969 alumna Susan Jewett, the 1967 Howard Hall president. During the '60s Women’s Lib movement, Ohio University women fought key battles over strict curfews, inadequate services and lack of recognition.

Howard Hall, an all-female residence hall on the corner of Union and College streets, was a key advocate for these rights, and it was there that the female mascot and counterpart to the Bobcat was born.

Jewett still remembers the day when the residents created a full-body costume complete with a head made of chicken wire and fur. Francesca Femia Hahn, also a 1969 OHIO graduate, served as the model — and would go on to play the first Bobkitten.

“We went to Belk’s, got fake fur cloth and attached it to the head,” Jewett says with a laugh. “We tried to make eyeholes too, but Francesca complained that she was getting stuck inside with all the chicken wire and that it was hot. We weren’t experts, but we did what we could.”

During that first year, the Bobkitten became an integral part of football games and school spirit, just like her counterpart, the Bobcat, who was created in 1960 and was based at the all-male Lincoln Hall.

In the second year, Hahn shed most of the furry get-up and wore a cheerleading skirt and sweater with the costume head. She practiced with the cheerleaders weekly in preparation for the games. While she couldn’t join in the jumps (due to the oversized head), Hahn wore bloomers with OH-IO written on them; she would flash them at the audience during games. Only Howard Hall residents and top-level administrators knew the identity of the Bobkitten, and Hahn liked to keep her role a secret. She remembers a couple of close calls.

Hahn served as the one and only Bobkitten from Howard Hall during her time at Ohio University, and the tradition of the female mascot went dormant for 10 years after she graduated. So what happened?

To find out more about OHIO’s lost Bobkitten and read the stories of six other women who wore the famed costume, check out the full story in Ohio Today’s Spring 2012 issue. Ohio Today Online will be out soon, so don’t miss your chance to find out more about one of OHIO’s best kept secrets.