Winthrop University: 40 Years Later: Winthrop’s Coat of Arms Granted By Queen of Great Britain
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40 Years Later: Winthrop’s Coat of Arms Granted By Queen of Great Britain

June 09, 2021

HIGHLIGHTS

  • It took six years to gain approval from the Queen of Great Britain before Winthrop officially adopted the coat of arms in 1980.
  • At the time there were only five other U.S. institutions with a coat of arms. 

ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA-- Those who attended the May 2021 Commencement Ceremony may have noticed a familiar Winthrop symbol on the program cover. The Coat of Arms has been in use for more than 40 years, but many do not know its significance and the lengths university officials went to secure it. 

It took six years to gain approval from the Queen of Great Britain before Winthrop officially adopted the coat of arms in 1980.

The process started in 1974 when President Charles Brooks Vail suggested that a new seal should be created to reflect the institution’s transition to become coeducational.  He reached out to the Palmetto State’s highest official to help request a Coat of Arms, a highly respected symbol, be designed by the College of Arms in London. 

S.C. Governor James Edwards consented and sought approval from Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. After the Queen approved the request, she assigned a British Herald to develop the design. Finalization of the coat of arms required a long process of requests, design creations, revisions, and external communication.

At the time there were only five other U.S. institutions with a coat of arms. Many were shocked that Winthrop, with less than 5,000 students in 1980, was granted the prestigious symbol. Today, fewer than 10 universities have an official coat of arms, many of which are Ivy League universities. 

Once the design was completed, the community was excited to adopt it as an official symbol. Winthrop held a ceremony at Byrnes Auditorium, among the largest of its kind in the Southeast, to formally present the coat of arms. S.C. Governor Richard W. Riley was among those involved in the ceremony. Classes were encouraged to be cancelled so students and faculty could attend the event. 

“As a sophomore in the fall of 1980, I was amazed that a small Southern college in the United States could be the recipient of a British royal coat of arms. When I heard about the presentation ceremony, I knew that I wanted to attend,” said Gina White '83, now director of Winthrop’s Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections for Dacus Library. “The ceremony was quite impressive and the arms that the Royal College of Arms bestowed on Winthrop made its students proud to be a part of such a notable school.”

The Winthrop Coat of Arms includes a shield and helm (helmet) as the centerpiece. The university motto is displayed on the shield reading “Veritas Cum Libertate” (Truth With Liberty). The blue diagonal line across the shield represents the blue uniforms that were worn by students until the 1950s. A palmetto tree, South Carolina’s state tree, is included at the top of the helm. Both the two flaming torches and two open books included are symbolic of learning. The colors of the symbol are the school’s colors, maroon and gold, which also represent both sexes.

“See it as a symbol of pride and identity and spirit that eventually will be incorporated on the college’s stationary and diplomas and official invitations,” said President Vail. “The coat of arms shows again that we hold a very high position in higher education. It’s a reflection of that and a commitment to it.”

It was incorporated in exactly that way.  It was even printed on scarves to be worn by students, faculty, or alumni. Today, the university continues to use it on a variety of official and unofficial documents. So, next time you see the Winthrop Coat of Arms on a poster around campus remember the special history behind the symbol.

For more information, contact White at whitegp@winthrop.edu.

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Last Updated: 10/4/21