“The [Davidson] College Diploma is a fine specimen of engraving. ”
–Charlotte Journal [28 August 1846]
The Davidson College diploma given to graduating seniors in the early twenty-first century is easily recognizable by its language (Latin) and elaborate design. In fact, the modern diploma is based on the college’s original diploma, used from 1840-1920. [Beaty] However, the diploma went through many changes before returning to its original form.
In the late 1830s, Davidson College was considering multiple diploma designs. One of which was designed by Peter Stuart Ney, creator of the Davidson College Motto. His design included “a view of the Catawba River, the battle of Cowan’s Ford, Feb. 1st. 1781, the British troops crossing the river, American forces on the east side, and General Davidson falling from his horse. And arched over the whole, the motto, ‘Alenda lux ubi libertas orta.’” However, Ney’s design was ultimately declined, in favor of the design we have today. [Beaty]
The college’s two Literary Societies gave out their own diplomas, almost as large and ornate as the college diplomas. These were handed out at separate ceremonies. The first Eumenean Society diploma was handed out in 1844; its engraving was made by C.C. Hollis. The Philanthropic Society began giving diplomas in 1846. Their diploma was designed by Prof. Wilson and had blue ribbons threaded through.
From 1870 to 1889, “the Scientific Course was reorganized to cover three years, leading to the Bachelor of Science degree without the study of the ancient languages.” [Shaw 204-205] The Bachelor of Arts degree continued to include the study of Latin. During that time, 1870-1889, the Davidson College B.S. diploma was written in English, while the B.A. diploma continued to be written in Latin.
On May 30, 1916 The Board of Trustees agreed with the faculty that diplomas would be signed only by the President of the Board of Trustees, President of Davidson College, and the Secretary of the Faculty. Previously, diplomas had been signed by the entire faculty. [Beaty]
In 1920, Davidson College abandoned the “Old Diploma” in favor of a simpler, less ornate style. [Beaty]
By 1929, diplomas had begun to be printed in a combination of English and Latin. So on April 4, 1929 the faculty voted 16-15 to again have the diploma written in only one language. They chose Latin.
In 1953, there was a push from the student body to re-instate the “Old diploma.” The next year, the old-style diploma was re-instated at the Davidson College diploma. [Shaw] Almost 100% of Davidson students at the time voted in favor of the change. [Jones]
Through most of the 20th century, Davidson College diplomas were made of sturdy sheepskin. By the 1970s, Davidson College was one of very schools in America that still printed on sheepskin. [News] In 1981, as an economical measure, Davidson College began charging seniors an additional $10 for a diploma printed on sheepskin (parchment diplomas were offered for no fee). [Update] The College eventually abandoned sheepskin altogether.
Beaty, Mary. Unpublished Notes. Diploma Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives., Davidson, NC.
“Davidson seniors to get real sheepskins – in latin.” The Charlotte News 2 June 1970: 14B.
Davidson Update. June 1981.
Jones, Jane Jeffries. “Lamon ’54 and the Latin Diploma.” Davidson Journal. VII (Fall 1991): 54.
Shaw, Cornelia Rebekah. Davidson College. New York: Fleming H. Revell Press, 1923.
Author: Tammy Ivins
Date: May 2008
Cite as: Ivins, Tammy. “Diploma.” Davidson Encyclopedia May 2008. https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/encyclopedia/page/diploma