To answer those questions we have to go all the way back to 1903, when the Board of Trustees formed a Seal Committee to come up with a Seal that would represent Bryn Mawr College.
According to the minutes of the Trustees dated Dec. 18, 1903, the Seal Committee delivered a report in which they
“unanimously decided to recommend to the Board for adoption a seal consisting of three owls with the motto ‘veritatem dilexi,’ ‘I have chosen truth,’ and the superscription in Latin ‘Bryn Mawr Sigillum Collegii,’ with the usual abbreviations.
“Last summer the President of the College consulted the College of Arms in London in regard to this seal and it was drawn up by a regular official of the Heralds College and pronounced it to be in accordance with the best devices of English Colleges. The College colors, yellow and white, appear on the shield. The Committee also decided to recommend that the crest or badge of the college should be a lantern supported by the college flower, the daisy.”
At this point in our story, we have directions for a design, but the Seal itself doesn’t exist quite yet. But now we know that even prior to the Seal’s existence, the College colors were yellow and white, that the College flower was the daisy (who knew?), and that lanterns and owls were already in use as College symbols.
Fast forward to the minutes of the April 15, 1904, Board meeting during which the Committee on the Seal reported that it had a “die” made of the design of the seal approved at the 1903 meeting and presented to the Trustees an impression of the seal. (Remember this is way back when you had to take a block of wood or metal and smear ink on it and press it onto a piece of paper to print it.) The Seal was copyrighted by the Trustees in 1904, and this is a scan of that original impression:
In addition to the above impression, the Seal Committee also provided the Trustees with the technical description from which the die was made.
“[The Seal] consist of an annulus with beaded edge bearing the inscription — “Colleg. Bryn Mawr. Sigill.” The words being separated from each other by three ancient lanterns and the circular space further ornamented by four conventionalized daisies. All this surrounds a shield — per pale or and ermine, three owls ppr. The motto “veritatem dilexi” is placed at the sides of the shield in the space between the shield and annulus.”
OK, the daisies, the lanterns, the owls, the motto, it’s all there: we can see it in the impression and read it in the technical description. But what about the College colors, yellow and white? Here’s where it gets interesting.
The shield is described as “per pale or and ermine.” According to the laws of heraldry (which were at one time used to make and identify real shields in battle), “per pale” indicates a shield divided into two vertical halves, one half “or” and one half “ermine.” Our College colors, yellow and white, get translated into two metals, which happen to correspond to two metals, gold and silver. But the laws of heraldry state that two metals cannot be used together on a shield. Since “Or” is gold, the metal, or yellow, the color, the other half of the shield has to be another material that is not a metal, not silver. So “ermine” was chosen to represent white. Because ermine is the winter fur of a stoat, it can represent the College color white on the shield next to the metal gold, representing yellow. And now you know that before color printing, the black dots on the left side of the shield represent gold, or yellow, and the three little black dots and black arrow actually represent the fur of ermine (the white weasel-like stoats with black paws and tips of their tails), or white.
So there you have it, the first symbolic and graphic representation of Bryn Mawr College: owls, lanterns, Latin, daisies, and ermine. Hope you enjoyed this story of our College seal!
— This account was first published on the Bryn Mawr College Visual Identity Project Blog in April 2011. The above has been edited for context.