1929 Lamp of Wisdom Seal with Founding Date of 1817

Lamp of Wisdom Seal with 1817 founding date

1920's controversy over the founding date of the university

The John Monteith seal had yet one more important part to play in the university's history. In the 1920's a controversy developed between two groups of alumni over the birth of the institution. As the Washtenaw Tribune of November 6, 1928, put it, the Regents "settled the controversy regarding the birth of the institution. . . The University will continue to operate under the present seal, showing that it was founded in 1837, the opinion of rabid alumni to the contrary."
[Washtenaw Tribune, 11/6/1928]

But in May of 1929 the regents reversed themselves. The deciding event was a communication from university librarian William Warner Bishop calling attention to an enclosed photostatic copy of a document recording the "Laws and Ordinances of the University of Michigania." We have come full circle, for what had come to Bishop's attention was the description of the 1817 seal in John Monteith's handwriting.

The Ann Arbor Daily News reprinted Bishop's facsimile and described his discovery as follows:

While University librarian W. W. Bishop was engaged upon a systematic search in the rare book room of the main library for material which might have a bearing upon the real founding date of the University, he came upon a work called "Laws and Ordinances of the University of the University of Michigania." In this original work, which had been presented to the school in 1892 by Chas. Farmer of Detroit, Dr. Bishop found a page relating to the seal of the University. He made a photostatic copy of the page and sent it to the board of regents. The copy, reproduced above, plainly indicates the date of Sept. 12, 1817 as the date upon which the seal was declared to be in effect, although not actually in existence.

The appearance of the copy reopened the question as to whether 1817 was the correct date instead of 1837. Together with evidence presented by the committee on history of the General Alumni Association in support of the 1817 date, the regents considered Dr. Bishop's find and decided to revoke its earlier stand in favor of 1837. At the meeting of May 24, it was decided to accept 1817 as the founding date, thus adding 20 years to the age of the school. The seal will be changed to conform with the decision. [Ann Arbor Daily News, undated, 1929, Vertical File, Fimu D1, Seals, BHL]

In 1929, the university seal incorporated the 1817 founding date.