For most people heraldry is associated with the medieval knighthood of films and reenactments, a romantic vision of a chivalric past, with jousting knights nobly displaying coats of arms inherited from their ancestors. Yet in many ways heraldry is integral to the University of Chicago’s identity and the lives of its students. In 1910 Pierre de Chaignon la Rose, a heraldic specialist, designed the University Coat of Arms, a shield displaying the phoenix below an open book with the University motto, Crescat scientia; vita excolatur. The coat of arms and University Seal, which also incorporates phoenix and book, are proud emblems of the University, adorning diplomas and t-shirts like medieval shields: public proclamations of pedigree and allegiance.
Within the University, the House System takes on its own form of heraldic heritage. In April 1893 the College opened its first undergraduate residence, Snell Hall, and officially began to refer to residence halls as “Houses.” Today there are thirty-five houses with approximately eighty residents in each that pass along a set of unique traditions to its members. Some houses have mottos, such as Hitchcock’s deformis sed utilis (deformed but useful), while some keep portraits of their namesakes in common spaces, and others have adopted symbolic mascots, such as the Large Rooster, mascot of Vincent House. Houses compete against one another in the Scavenger Hunt and intermural sports, with past champions listed on the walls of Bartlett Commons. For many houses, membership is life long, and students take a great deal of pride in their lineage and affiliation.
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