In the Books: A Bowdoin Rite of Passage


This week, President Barry Mills invited small groups of first-year students into his office to personally meet each one, give a quick lesson in Bowdoin history, and guide the new students to the college’s matriculation book to sign in.

Bowdoin contains five of these matriculation books, which are filled chronologically with thousands of student signatures. In the early 19th century, a college official beautifully recorded the names of matriculants one by one. Then in 1841, the pen was handed over to students to personally mark their place in Bowdoin history. While the practice of signing matriculation books stopped in 1852, it resumed in 1872. Again abandoned in 1902, the custom was revived by President Sills in 1937 and has carried on unbroken to the present.

Among the historic artifacts in his office that President Mills points out to students are four matriculation books opened to the names of four distinguished alumni: writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, class of 1825; arctic explorer Robert Peary, class of 1877; Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, class of 1852; and olympic champion Joan Benoit, class of 1979.

Click through the slideshow to see a few photos of the matriculation of the class of 2018, as well as some signatures by Bowdoin’s notable alumni written when they were 18-year-old incoming first-years.

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