Academic Dress & USM History

Today’s academic regalia originated in Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, when the earliest chartered universities were formed. The daily clothing of a scholar, whether student or teacher, was the dress of a cleric. Long gowns and hoods were worn and may have been necessary for warmth in unheated stone buildings. The gown, hood, and cap designate the level of academic achievement of the wearer. Bachelor’s gowns are worn today by all recipients of undergraduate degrees, typically with a flat square cap, and occasionally with a short hood. The Master’s gown has short, distinctively shaped sleeves, and the hood is about 3 feet in length. Hoods are lined with the official colors of the college or university conferring the degree. University of Southern Maine hoods are lined in blue and gold, with additional colors to indicate the discipline of the degree.

At USM, the most frequently awarded master’s degrees are the following:

  • American and NE Studies - White
  • Business - Light Brown
  • Education- Light Blue
  • Fine Arts - Brown
  • Music - Pink
  • Nursing - Apricot
  • Occupational Therapy - Slate Blue
  • Public Administration - Peacock Blue
  • Public Health - Salmon Pink
  • Science - Gold
  • Social Work - Citron

Our faculty members wear doctoral gowns with colorful hoods representing their alma maters and their disciplines. The doctoral gown is black or may be in the colors of a particular university. It also has distinctively shaped sleeves with three velvet stripes. The hood is very long and is typically lined in blue velvet to indicate the Ph.D. Caps may be the flat mortarboard which dates from the 13th century or the 14th century velvet cap. Only doctoral caps have gold tassels.

The gowns that will be worn by the USM Graduating Class of 2014 are made out of 100% recycled materials. The caps and gowns are the graduate's to keep, but anyone wishing to recycle the gowns may drop them off at the USM Bookstore table in the lobby after Commencement, or any time after Commencement at one of the USM Bookstore locations.

The University Mace

In medieval times the mace was a heavy club, surmounted by a spiked metal knob. An effective weapon of war against armor, it was originally carried by knights for battle and by royal bodyguards to protect the king. It assumed more ceremonial functions by the 14th century and began to be decorated with jewels and precious metals.

Today the mace stands as a symbol of authority. It is displayed during sessions of the British House of Commons, where it is placed on the treasury table, and during sessions of the United States House of Representatives it is placed to the right of the Speaker. Maces are often carried during academic and ecclesiastical processions, particularly in English-speaking countries.

The University mace of walnut and brass was crafted in Westbrook, Maine, by R.G. Eaton Millworks.

***The mace will be carried by Professor Michele Kaschub.

Predecessor Institutions

The predecessor institutions of what today is known as the University of Southern Maine share a common vision that is as true today as it was 134 years ago: provide an education that transforms students’ understanding of the world while equipping them with the knowledge and skills to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

In the fall of 1878, Gorham Normal School was founded to provide the region and state with well-prepared teachers. During the Great Depression, a transplanted Boston University dean led an effort to establish a college in Portland to provide further educational access to local citizens. These institutions in Portland and Gorham merged in 1970 and became the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham. The institution was renamed the University of Southern Maine in 1978 to reflect its role as a public regional university. USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College, which fills a regional need for university education, opened its doors in the fall of 1988. Today, USM serves 9,000 students and, as an outstanding public, comprehensive university, is dedicated to playing a strategic role in the social, intellectual, and financial well-being of the state and region.