- the school, college, or university that one attended or in which one has studied
- the official anthem of a school, college, or university
- a metaphorical Latin phrase presently used to identify a school, college, or university that one formerly attended or graduated
- Alma mater literally means ‘mother who nourishes or fosters.’
- He was delighted when he was offered the position of professor of English at his alma mater.
- Mark visited his alma mater last week.
- Harvard Law School is the alma mater of former US President Barack Obama.
- Her alma Mater invited actress Scarlett Johansson to chat with students and encourage them.
- He enjoyed his four years at his alma mater, but it is time to move on.
“Alma mater” originally derives from the full name (“Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna”) of the oldest European university, the University of Bologna, founded in 1088.
After the fall of Rome, the phrase came into Christian public worship practice in association with the Virgin Mary. “Alma Redemptoris Mater” is a well-known eleventh-century antiphon devoted to Mary.
The oldest documented use of the expression to refer to a university in an English-speaking country is in 1600, when the University of Cambridge printer, John Legate, began using an emblem for the university press. The first known presence of the device is on the title page of a book by William Perkins, A Golden Chain, where the Latin phrase Alma Mater Cantabrigia (“nourishing mother Cambridge”) is inscribed on a pedestal bearing a nude, lactating lady wearing a mural crown.
In English etymological reference works, the first university-related usage is often cited as 1710, when a literary mother figure is mentioned in a remembrance of Henry More by Richard Ward.