Curious about the Colby Seal or the History of the Mule?

Exhibitions at Miller Library shed light on both

Colby seal
An exhibition at Miller Library offers perspective on a longtime Colby symbol and icon, the College seal.
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By Bob KeyesPhotography by Ashley L. Conti
January 30, 2024

If you have wondered about the history of the Colby seal or how the mule became the mascot of the College, Miller Library has all the answers.

Of course it does.

The Colby seal dates to 1821.

Members of the Colby College Libraries Special Collections & Archives staff have assembled exhibitions in display cases across from the library service desk that explain the history and evolution of both the seal and the mascot with artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other items.

A version of the current Colby seal—a crisp, circular burst of white sun rays against a backdrop of blue, with the College name in English and its motto in Latin (Lux Mentis Scientia, or “knowledge is the light of mind”)—came into use in 2002, but the seal itself dates to 1821. That is when the school became known as Waterville College, following its founding in 1813 as the Maine Literary and Theological Institution. The original 1821 seal included the sun, earth, and Latin motto, and it remained in use until 1866 when trustees renamed the school Colby College.

The seal has been streamlined and revised several times, always retaining the starburst of sun rays, Latin motto, and school name. For many years, there was a face in the middle of the sun. The face was dropped from the seal in 1936, when the rays became more defined and vibrant, and was revived for the bicentennial seal in 2013.

The College seal has been streamlined and revised several times, always retaining the starburst of sun rays, Latin motto Lux Mentis Scientia, or “knowledge is the light of mind,” and school name. For many years, there was a face in the middle of the sun.

The Mule became the Colby mascot in a more organic manner. In the early 1920s, a sportswriter for the Colby Echo newspaper lamented the perception of Colby sports teams as “the dark horse” in competition. “We often win, but we are seldom expected to win by the ‘dopesters,’” wrote the scribe. “We have always preferred to bewail our poor prospects, make our opponents overconfident, and then surprise everybody by unexpected power. But lately this has been happening so regularly that sporting experts hesitate to predict a Colby defeat. In other words, Colby is changing from a ‘dark horse’ to some other kind of creature which may be well typified as a ‘white mule.’”

The Mule became Colby’s official mascot soon after. 

College Archivist Kathryn Donahue said the material in the display cases has received a lot of attention from students, who are able to see themselves as part of a larger Colby experience. The items will remain on display into the spring semester. 

Members of the library’s Special Collections & Archives team, including Erin Rhodes, Madison Taylor, and Maggie Libby ’81, assembled the material, combing through the archives for the right mix to put on view. 

“We have found that exhibitions are a great way to bring insight into the collections. There are a lot of materials in the college archives; this is just a tip of what we have. We’re always excited to show these materials in a different light,” Donahue said, adding that Special Collections & Archives is always interested in hearing from people who might have Colby material in their personal archives they would be interested in donating to Colby.

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