University of Helsinki

Mannerheim was awarded a doctor honoris causa degree at the first academic conferment ceremony in the newly independent Finland 100 years ago

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In spring 1919, Finland’s regent, Baron Gustaf Mannerheim, was awarded the title of doctor honoris causa in philosophy at the University of Helsinki. To commemorate this event, the Helsinki University Museum has created the exhibition The Flame and the Sword, which sheds light on the relationship between Mannerheim and the University. The exhibition will open to the public on 27 March, at 12.00.

Conferment ceremony of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Philosophy on 31 May 1919, photo: Helsinki University Museum
Conferment ceremony of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Philosophy on 31 May 1919, photo: Helsinki University Museum

With Finland yet to decide on its future system of government in spring 1919, General Baron Gustaf Mannerheim served as the country’s regent. Mannerheim was awarded the title of doctor honoris causa at the first academic conferment ceremony in the newly independent Finland on 31 May 1919. The Faculty of Philosophy selected the recipients of the doctor honoris causa title, former regent Pehr Evind Svinhufvud and Gustaf Mannerheim, to consolidate relations between the Government and the University. This decision was particularly symbolic for the new, free country.

Although the official garland-weaver at conferment ceremonies was usually the daughter of the most senior professor, the honour was bestowed in 1919 on Mannerheim’s daughter Sophy Mannerheim.

Due to the Winter War (1939–1940), the University did not celebrate its 300th anniversary until September 1940 in conjunction with the opening ceremony of the academic year. To express his gratitude for the sacrifices made for the homeland, the commander-in-chief granted the Cross of Liberty to the University for inclusion in its seal.

Mannerheim held education in high esteem

Mannerheim held education in high esteem and frequently attended events at the University. He was in direct telephone contact with the University chancellor and also invited professors to his dinner parties. In addition, he was invited to become an honorary member of the University’s Nylands Nation and Varsinaissuomalainen osakunta student nations, the latter representing his birthplace.

The Helsinki University Museum is organising The Flame and the Sword exhibition in cooperation with the Mannerheim Museum. Objects on display from the Mannerheim Museum include Mannerheim’s full conferment attire and the diploma of doctor honoris causa as well as printed material and photos associated with the 1919 conferment ceremony. Items on display from the University Museum’s collections include the rector’s chain of office and a formerly used seal, changed after the University received the Cross of Liberty. This honour was reflected in the University’s medal and plaque and continues to be reflected in the rector’s chains of office. The exhibition also features a sword carried by Mannerheim at the conferment ceremony, borrowed from a private collection.

Mannerheim’s memory lives on

Mannerheim’s memory lives on at the University of Helsinki. The University was recently endowed, together with the National Defence University, the Mannerheim professorship in Russian security policy, partly funded by the Mannerheim Foundation. The chair is held by Katri Pynnöniemi and is based at the Aleksanteri Institute. 

Mannerheim exhibition at the Helsinki University Museum

The new permanent exhibition of the Helsinki University Museum, The Power of Thought, opened in March 2015 on the third floor of the University’s Main Building on Fabianinkatu. The exhibition covers the University’s history from 1640 to the present day. The Flame and the Sword, a special exhibition on Gustaf Mannerheim’s relations with the University, has been integrated into the permanent exhibition by changing the content of some showcases, posting new printouts in empty spaces and placing an additional glass showcase with Mannerheim’s conferment attire in the exhibition venue. The University Museum has digitised all the photographs included in a commemorative album associated with the 1919 conferment ceremony, which are on display as printouts and a slide show. Most of the exhibition texts have been written by the Mannerheim Museum.

The exhibition will be open at the Helsinki University Museum (Fabianinkatu 33, 3rd floor) from 27 March to 28 June, Tue–Thu 12.00–18.00, and Fri 12.00–16.00. Free entrance

Thirty-minute lunch-time tours of the exhibition The Flame and the Sword every other Tuesday as of 2 April (excl. 30 April) at 12.00.

Contacts

Further information: Pia Vuorikoski, pia.vuorikoski@helsinki.fi, phone +358 50 415 6760

Images

Conferment ceremony of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Philosophy on 31 May 1919, photo: Helsinki University Museum
Conferment ceremony of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Philosophy on 31 May 1919, photo: Helsinki University Museum
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The University of Helsinki is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary research universities, renowned for its high-quality teaching, research and innovation. It is proud to be constantly ranked among the top one hundred best universities in the world.

The university has an enrollment of over 35 000 students and it offers a wide range of Master’s programmes taught in English. Established in 1640, the University of Helsinki is the oldest university in Finland.

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