These Bruin facts are universal: We bleed Bruin blue and gold. We eight-clap with pride. We detest one irrelevant crosstown team. Indeed, no Rose Bowl game, no basketball match at Pauley, no gymnastics meet or any other competition is complete without this die-hard Bruin spirit. 

But when UCLA first began as an institution in 1919, there was nary a Bruin to be found. When UCLA was initially founded as the Southern Branch of the University of California — originally an annex of what is now San Jose State University — a scraggly stray dog named Rags served as the unofficial mascot. Found by a campus gardener, Rags became an unofficial yet deeply beloved symbol of school pride for students, staff and faculty alike. 

Source: The Daily Bruin, 1991
Humble beginnings: Rags the dog, 1918

Alas, Rags’ reign as a Westwood mascot was to be short-lived. As the Southern Branch evolved into the second campus in the University of California system, Rags seemed more campus pet than institutional fixture. A rebrand brought forward a new school name — the University of California, Los Angeles — and a new school mascot: the Cubs. Indeed, the UCLA Cubs felt like a natural progression from UC Berkeley’s Golden Bears; students carried teddy bears that had blue and gold ribbons around their fluffy brown necks. When the Cubs basketball team won the 1922 conference championship, a live bear was brought to campus as part of the celebration. However, much like Rags, the Cubs’ tenure was brief.

Looking to shed its roots as the Southern Branch and distinguish itself from UC Berkeley, UCLA chose the grizzly bear as its new representative. While students and faculty welcomed the “Grizzlies” with open arms, the mascot fell flat when UCLA looked to join the Pacific Coast Conference, now the Pac-12, in 1926. The University of Montana, an established member of the conference, already held a claim to the grizzly as mascot and was not willing to share it with its southern neighbors. To join the Pacific Coast Conference and appease the University of Montana and the NCAA, students and alumni headed back to the drawing board. 

Source: The Daily Bruin, 1991
Grizzly, 1923

No stone went unturned, and no possible mascot went ignored — students considered everything from buccaneers to gorillas to panthers, but every option lacked the familiar ursine charm that UCLA fanatics had grown to love. Students countered every potential mascot with a new kind of bear, offering Kodiaks, Silvertips, Bezudos and Bruins as possible monikers, though UC Berkeley had been using “Bruin” alternately with “Bears” for decades. After weeks of heated debate, Berkeley leaders offered their sister campus the Bruins. UCLA had finally found a permanent mascot. 

UCLA took the new symbol in stride. Overnight, the Daily Grizzly became the Daily Bruin, generously splashing the name of the new mascot across the issue’s pages and adding ferocious-looking illustrations. The October 22, 1926, issue proclaimed, “Death Knell of Grizzly Is Sounded; ‘Bruin’ Now Official Athletic Totem” and proudly announced, “Hail Bruin.” 

Source: UCLA, The First Century
Joe and Josie Bruin strike a pose, 1996.

Students continued their devout Bruin pride and commitment in the subsequent decades. In the 1930s, football games saw live bears, rented from Hollywood studios, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. When the Coliseum eventually banned live bears, students and alumni decided to take matters into their own hands. In 1950, UCLA purchased Little Joe Bruin, a Himalayan bear cub from India; in 1961, alumni purchased Josephine Bruin to accompany Little Joe. Alas, bear-keeping turned out to be a bit more work than anyone had anticipated, and both Joe and Josie eventually headed to the San Diego Zoo and the circus, respectively. Beginning in 1963, students and alumni settled for a costumed replica, thus creating the Joe and Josie we now know and love. 

Today, the Joe and Josie Bruin who cavort along at games and rallies are just as furry as their predecessors, though not quite as deadly. Students cloaked in anonymity (a time-honored tradition ensures that no one knows who’s inside the costume) carry UCLA’s lengthy mascot past — and an eight-pound head — on their shoulders. Since its adoption in 1926, the Bruin mascot has represented countless degrees, championships, accomplishments and stories. As UCLA approaches 100 years of Bruin pride, the legacy of Westwood’s faithful mascot continues to represent the many students, alumni, faculty and staff who have called UCLA home — a true Rags-to-riches story.

Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Spring 2024 issue.