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From the Archives

December 5, 2017 Maggie Shane, ATA Archivist

ATA motto an early act of defiance

Leading up to its official 100th anniversary in June 2018, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is celebrating its history through a number of initiatives, one of which is this column. Curated by archivist Maggie Shane and appearing in each issue of the ATA News this year, this column will feature significant moments and individuals in the Association’s history as well as interesting artifacts or documents from the Association’s archives.

 Since 1920, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (originally called the Alliance) has proudly declared “Magistri Neque Servi” as its motto.

The motto (as distinct from the round logo) first appeared in print on the cover of Vol. 1, No. 1 of the ATA Magazine in June 1920. It is credited to H.C. Newland, the ATA president of the day. The motto translates from Latin to “Masters Not Servants.

Although today many people associate the word “magister” with medieval uses of “magistrate” having to do with judges or masters of law, “magistri” is also the Latin plural of “teacher.” So the motto (deliberately, I believe) conflated the concept of masters and teachers from the outset.

The motto was an act of defiance in opposition to those contemporary powers who considered teachers as servants to a school board or other authority rather than as master professionals in their own right. Striving for professional status was the engine of Alliance efforts in the ATA’s early years and certainly informs John Walker Barnett’s “call to action” that blazes across the cover of the very first ATA Magazine.

Although the motto first appeared in June 1920, the image of the familiar round logo did not appear until the next issue, Volume 1, No. 2. So sometime between June and July of 1920 a circular emblem was designed to support the Alliance’s efforts to establish itself as the steward of public education among teachers, legislators and the public. The original 1920 logo featured the sleek, modern Art Deco style of the day.

 Original ATA Logo 1947 ATA Logo 


The motto was not added to the logo until September 1947. The Art Deco styling persisted but “Magistri Neque Servi” was incorporated to encircle the logo.

For several years during and following the Second World War, the Association also used a classical torch version of the logo/motto.

This wartime version dominates each cover of the ATA Magazine between September 1941 and June 1947. In this version, the motto and the logo are once again detached from each other with the logo appearing as an emblem on the torch base and the motto appearing on the ribbon beneath. The torch appeared in various colours from turquoise to hot pink each month for those six years.

 Logo/motto during Second World War

The symbolism of the torch during the war years is obvious, that the ATA would keep the home fires burning for those in harm’s way on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. In 1948, the war being over, the Association once again incorporated both logo and motto together with the now familiar blue and gold colours.

In time, the logo colours were made official. In 1987, the first ATA visual identity manual was issued under the direction of executive secretary Bernie Keeler. This document fixed the ATA’s official colours as yellow gold (Pantone 129) and blue (Pantone 293). The colour choices reflect the best characteristics exhibited by Alberta’s teachers. Yellow signifies intellect, joy and boundless energy. Blue symbolizes stability and depth, trust, wisdom, confidence, sincerity and intelligence.

From time to time over the last century there have been calls to replace or even abandon this iconic design in favour of something more “modern” or “hip,” including one thankfully thwarted 1970s attempt to employ a Bauhaus font. A competition to replace the logo was even run in the spring of 1982 garnering many interesting submissions. Each time, however, teachers have chosen continuity of identity and honoured the work undertaken by generations of teachers under this sign.

It endures. Magistri Neque Servi.

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