Although our oldest official document is The Charter of the Union Academy 1813 and the oldest building on campus is the Daniel Kimball sheep barn behind Rowe Hall, there are few other legacies that have survived as long at the Academy as the Kimball Union seal, one that has been in continuous use in numerous ways since its conception in 1817. It has appeared in publications, yearbooks and on letterhead, on jewelry, medals and signs and on school clothes, diplomas and emblems. Today, you can find the seal magnified in three large floor sculptures around campus: the entry into the Barrette Center; the stone circle on the quad; and the foyer of the new library. There are also elements of the seal in the decorative relief above the doors just inside the library’s main entrance, which was created by former theatre director David Stern.
How did the seal come into being, why does it include a snake circling a dove, and what do the Latin words mean for KUA? We need to go back to the early days of the Academy to find a few of the answers.
The eleven original trustees, whose terms began in 1812, are titled in the first General Catalogue, 1815-1880, as follows: six as ministers (Rev.); two designated Honorable (Hon.); one was a deacon (Dea.); one with only Esquire after his name (Esq.); and one as professor (Prof.). The professor was Ebenezar Adams who taught at Dartmouth College from 1809 until his retirement in 1833. Adams served as a KUA trustee and the first school treasurer until his death in 1841, age 76. His trustee term of 29 years included being board chair, 1824 to 1841. Adams son-in-law, Ira Young, class of 1824, was also a trustee and treasurer at KUA, 1841-1858 and the legacy begun by Adams continued with Ira’s son who served on the board, 1870-1874.
On May 7, 1817, a few months after Daniel Kimball’s death and before his name was added to Union Academy, the Board of Trustees voted to have fellow trustee Adams appoint a committee “to devise a suitable emblem for a common seal for this corporation.” At the next trustees’ meeting, Adams presented his committee’s design to the board and they declared, “…the devise of the Dove & the Serpant & the motto Accademia, Concordia, Religioni et Scientiae 1813 be adopted as the seal for this corporation.”
Why a dove and snake? Over the years, this theme has often been used by schools and organizations. As long ago as 1250 AD, the Scottish King Alexander III included the words “be wise as the serpent and gentle as the dove” on his privy seal. Kimball Union’s founding fathers’ original goal was to make “…the new Seminary an Academy, whose object should be, as set forth in the charter, –‘To assist in the education of poor and pious young men for the gospel ministry; and such others as may be admitted by the trustees, subject to pay tuition.’” It is not surprising then to find in the seal a sentiment from a far earlier time than even King Alexander. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus spoke to his disciples with these words: “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.”
Several years ago former faculty member, parent of two graduates and former trustee Paul Sheff, was asked by the administration as a Latin scholar, to describe the meaning and relevance of the KUA seal. Sheff interpreted the two words at the top of the seal, Academia Concordiae, to mean Union Academy. Academia is, simply, Academy. “Concordiae denotes harmony, literally with (one) heart.” When the Class of 1938 reinstated the yearbook after a lapse of nine years, they named it The Concordia and in the 1990s, former music director Kit Creeger named our choral group, The Concordians – all of one heart, harmony.
On the bottom of the seal are the words Religioni et Scientiae. Sheff interpreted this phrase as conscientiousness and knowledge, drawing on the classical use of these terms: “Conscientiousness: respect for what is sacred and, in a person – conscientious exactness.” And “knowledge: a knowing or acquaintance with.” He added, “The motto probably flows out of the founding of the school and its aim: literary institution and/or seminary.”
Although the Academy has recently created and adopted the popular Kimball coat-of-arms to represent the school in many new ways, the legacy of the seal continues in the twenty-first century as an emblem of union, knowledge and kindness, one that the earliest trustees created for the young Academy in 1817.