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

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. 

Read more about Mannerheim and the university