Cheerleading History- 1898 -1948

Welcome back to our series, Cheerleading History, where we are looking back at the past to see how history has shaped the sport of cheerleading as we know it today.

This week, we look at the history of cheerleading between the years of 1898 and 1948.


As discussed in the previous article, the University of Minnesota had created a “pep club” to help motivate the crowd to cheer on their football team. After losing three straight games, the university student body needed to come up with a new plan to drum up excitement for their upcoming game against their rival, Northwestern University.

Six students were nominated to “lead the yelling” during the game, one of whom was Jack “Johnny” Campbell. “As later quoted in the 12 November 1898 edition of the University of Minnesota student publication “Ariel”: … These men would see to it that everybody leaves the park today breathless and voiceless, as this is the last game here, it ought to be a revelation to the people of Minnesota in regard to University enthusiasm.”

Jack “Johnny” Campbell ” … takes the credit as the very first of these “yell leaders” to pick up a megaphone, jump onto the sports field, and lead the crowd with the already popular university organized cheer:  “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-tah!”   With much credit attributed to Johnny Campbell and his “yell leaders” abilities to motivate the crowd & their American football team, Minnesota won the game 17-6 and cheerleading was born.”

Because of the success of the University of Minnesota “yell leaders”, cheerleading continued to grow alongside American Football. With “continued participation, new techniques and skills were also added. Many of the following developments were incorporated on the sidelines of both Basketball … as well as American Football … games over the next 100 years.”


Did you know, for the first 25 years, cheerleading was a “male only” activity? “It wasn’t until 1923 that the University of Minnesota introduced the first women cheerleaders at their sporting games.” The 1920’s also brought about additional skills and techniques cheerleaders continue to us today. These skills and techniques allowed cheerleaders to ” … improve their ability to lead and energize the crowd at games, witnessing the addition of various athletic skills, some tumbling, fight song team dances with traditional “motions” (arm movements), and acrobatics to their routines.”

“Although women continued to participate as cheerleaders in various parts of the USA after 1923, it wasn’t until the 1940s that women became the majority of cheerleading’s athletes…”, this was due to World War II. A vast majority of university aged males fought in the war.  “Today, women comprise of more than 90% of the world’s cheerleaders.”

Next week, we will look at cheerleading in more depth between 1948 and 1961.

Check out last weeks article here Before 1898

This article contains information from, The International Cheer Union website. Please visit their website for more historical information or other cheerleading related information.


History of Cheerleading. (n.d.). Retrieved September 8, 2015, from