Nearly 113 years ago at Mills the graduating class of 1902 – self-styled the “Naughty-Twos” – wanted something by which to remember their time at Mills. The pearl M tradition was born.
The pin was created by an art student for her graduating peers and the design was then taken to a jeweler in San Francisco, who made the pin: A gold M, about the size of a dime, set with pearls.
Twenty-four women graduated from Mills in 1902; six received college degrees and 18 earned seminary diplomas. It is unclear whether the art student attended Mills as a college or seminary student.
“The 1902 senior pin may have been connected to possible rivalry between students of the college and the seminary,” Professor of history Bertram Gordon said. “There were two schools on the Mills campus at the time.”
Traditionally, only graduating seniors, alumnae and the honorary member of each class could wear the pin. Each year, at the Pearl M dinner, the first commencement event, the AAMC (Alumnae Association of Mills College) honors exemplary seniors by presenting them with pins that have been donated for the purpose. The donated pins come from alumnae and are given to seniors chosen because of their dedication and service to Mills and to the Alumnae Association.
The pins were the Mills’ equivalent to class rings worn by graduates from other institutions. For some time, they continued to be individually crafted and, year after year, altered slightly in their design.
Though the brooches are now sold at the College bookstore and available to anyone who can afford them, they used to be more difficult to obtain. Students could only place their orders for a pin from the San Francisco jeweler, Mr. Granat of Granat Jewlery store, if they had a signed letter from then President Susan Mills confirming their status as seniors.
This year’s Pearl M Dinner and Champagne Reception was held on Thursday, April 30.