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Universities of Washington (D.C.)

Last modified: 2006-07-22 by rick wyatt
Keywords: georgetown university | george washington university | howard university | catholic university of america | american university |
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Washington, DC, has a rather heavy concentration of colleges and universities, several of the most prominent and prestigious of which have some fairly decent and interesting flags:

See also:

Georgetown University

[Georgetown University flag] image by Joe McMillan

Founded in 1789 by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) as a Catholic alternative to the existing colleges in the United States, almost all run by various Protestant churches at the time. Georgetown now enrolls about 13,000 students and has a very strong academic reputation. The flag is dark blue with the university seal in gold surrounded by a narrow gold orle. The seal depicts an eagle displayed supporting a globe in one talon and holding a cross in the other, with a lyre above its head. In the eagle's beak is a scroll inscribed "Utraque unum" ["from both, one"] and on the rim of the oval surrounding the eagle is the inscription "Collegium Georgiopolitanum ad Ripas Potomaci in Marylandia," translating as Georgetown College on the Banks of the Potomac in Maryland. (At the time the university was established, the District of Columbia had not yet been created.)

The motto "Utraque unum" ["from both, one"] is a Biblical quotation from Ephesians 2:14-- "ipse est enim pax nostra qui fecit utraque unum," translated in the King James Version as "For he [Christ] is our peace, who hath made both one."  In the context, Paul seems to be referring to the Jews and the Gentiles being made one people.

For Georgetown, however, I found this official interpretation at

"The University seal, designed about 1803, and adopted as our corporate seal in the congressional Incorporation in 1844, bears witness constantly to our spirit of Americanism. Modeled on the Great Seal of the United States, the seal of Georgetown pictures the American eagle, bearing on its breast the escutcheon of the Union. The left talon holds a cross, a symbol of Christendom, the right a terrestrial globe surmounted by calipers, signifying the natural and social sciences. Over the head of the eagle is a lyre, traditional symbol of the liberal arts and in the beak a scroll bearing the words "Utraque Unum." The meaning is clear upon reflection: "religio" - the sum of man's relationship with God, "Scientia" - the sum of his search for truth in the natural order. Together they fashion man to his true destiny - a life of service to God and country."
Joe McMillan, 9 January 2004

George Washington University

[George Washington University flag] image by Joe McMillan

founded as Columbian College in 1821; took on its present name in 1904. Although originally established as a Baptist institution with the main mission of training clergymen and missionaries, GWU has long since lost any noticeable denominational identity; it now operates as a non-sectarian private university with an  enrollment of about 15,000 students. The flag formerly flew outside the old university hospital--recently razed after the construction of a new building. It was also displayed inside the university's Lisner Auditorium, traditionally one of the main performing arts venues in Washington. The flag--buff with a dark blue cross bearing the university seal on the center--was designed by Frederick D. Owen and officially displayed for the first time on 22 February 1905. Owen also designed the seal, which shows a shield bearing the bust of George Washington below a book inscribed with the first four verses of the Gospel of John in Greek. The shield is surrounded by the motto "Deus nobis fiducia," which is essentially a Latin translation of the U.S. national motto "In God we trust." Unfortunately, traditional symbols of the university have largely been displaced in recent years by advertising-agency style "wordmarks" and logos, so neither the seal nor the flag are very visible these days. (Note: Because of this, the image is a reconstruction of the flag from memory; it is possible that the seal should be placed in the upper hoist rather than in the center of the cross.)
Sources on history of flag and seal:

Howard University

[Howard University flag] image by Joe McMillan

Organized in 1866 and opened in 1868 at the initiative of a Congregationalist church in Washington with support from the Freedmen's Bureau, the federal agency in charge of supporting ex-slaves transition to freedom after the Civil War. It is still one of the few institutions of higher education that receives direct federal budgetary support. With an enrolment of about 9,000, Howard remains almost entirely African-American; it is traditionally one of the leading "historically black colleges and universities" and has produced a number of prominent leaders in the African-American community. The flag as shown at is divided quarterly, white and bright blue, with the university seal overall, the surrounding lettering counterchanged. Based on another photograph of the campus, the American shield on the center of the seal, upon which an open book is superimposed) appears to be shown in full color. The motto surrounding the shield is "Veritas et utilitas," translating as "Truth and usefulness."

Catholic University of America

[Catholic University of America flag] image by Joe McMillan

Established by the Catholic bishops of the United States in 1887 as a postgraduate and research institution, then opened to undergraduates in 1904. CUA is the only pontifical university in the United States, i.e., it is accredited by the Vatican to grant ecclesiastical as well as normal academic degrees. It also offers the full range of non-theological courses as well and has an enrolment of some 6,000. The flag is divided vertically, gold and silver (the papal colors - generally manufactured in golden yellow and silver grey) with the university coat of arms on the center: quarterly azure and argent and in the first quarter a crescent of the same; overall a cross per cross of the second and gules surmounted by an open book inscribed "Deus lux mea est (God is my light)."
Source: photograph of flag at commencement exercises, published in CUA alumni magazine.
(Note: the black lines outlining the coat of arms are as shown on the actual flag.)

American University

[American University flag] image by Joe McMillan

Chartered as a Methodist institution in 1893 (but not opened for classes until 1914), AU is still supported financially by the United Methodist Church but is for all practical purposes a fully secular institution. It now has an enrolment of some 12,000 students. The flag is divided vertically, blue and red, with a white AU monogram on the center reaching from the upper edge to the lower.
Source: personal observation; it can also be seen in a number of photographs on the web.
Joe McMillan, 8 January 2004

I have a small flag which I purchased from the American University bookstore back about the fall of 1989. I assumed at the time it was official, but perhaps not. It is white, with a broad blue horizontal band, a thin white one, and a thin red one running across the top and bottom. In the center, facing the fly, is a blue eagle with white tail feathers and a white head, looking much like something the U.S. Post Office would use as a logo. There is no other lettering or logo. I don't recall ever seeing this flag anywhere other than in that bookstore, but I never spent much time in that section of the District of Columbia.
Andrew S. Rogers, 12 January 2004

A page on the AU website says:

  • 1943 - First university flag introduced; featuring the Lodestar, the flag was designed by art department chair Charles Watkins. University celebrates 50th anniversary.
  • 1985 - AU's flag is redesigned.
Joe McMillan, 12 January 2004

The AU monogram logo as shown was introduced in late 1994, shortly after Dr. Benjamin Ladner became university president. The flag described by Andrew S. Rogers, featuring the eagle, was the university flag before the monogram was introduced.
M.D. Raney, 7 June 2005

As another American University alumnus (BA 1962, MA 1964) I was particularly interested in the above e-mail. My own recollections of the AU flag are that one morning in 1960 or 1961 a flag suddenly appeared over the McKinley Building (a unique structure whose interior structure is so convoluted that it was used for testing mustard gas during WWI). This consisted of a dark blue flag with the university seal centered in white (the seal being a central image of the US Capitol outlined in a similar shade of blue and set at an angle, with an outer circle containing the words 'THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY' in dark blue block letters at the top. At the bottom of this circle were written the words 'WASHINGTON, D. C.'. Beneath the Capitol was the date of the University's founding, 1893, in Roman numerals, while around the top of the central image in small block lettering was the school motto 'PRO DEO ET PATRIA' (For God and Country). Around the seal itself was a red border. As a reporter for the American University Eagle, the campus newspaper, I was sent out to discover what this was all about. The University PR Director stated that this was the university flag. When I asked why it had never been seen before and when it had been designed, adopted, etc, he told me to 'get lost;.' this was in the days when university administrators were unconcerned with the opinion of their students. I had never heard that this flag had been modified and/or replaced in any way before reading Alum Raney's comments. The only flags which I can recall flying at AU prior to the sudden and mysterious appearance of the flag described above were the US and DC flags, each flown on separate masts in front of Hayes Hall, which was at that time the university administrative building.
Ron Lahav, 7 June 2005