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Honorary Doctorates

Selected eight recipients of honorary doctorates from our faculty

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Born June 4, 1867, Askainen. Died January 27, 1951, Lausanne, Switzerland
Honorary doctorate 1919

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Born April 26, 1865, Pori. Died March 7, 1931, Stockholm
Honorary doctorate 1923

Otto Manninen
Born August 13, 1872, Kangasniemi. Died April 6, 1950, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1927

Frans Emil Sillanpää
Born September 16, 1888, Hämeenkyrö. Died June 3, 1964, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1936

Ilmari Kianto
Born May 7, 1874, Pulkkila. Died April 28, 1970, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1957

Lennart-Georg Meri
Born March 19, 1929, Tallinn. Died March 14, 2006,Tallinn
Honorary doctorate 1986

Esteri Hellen Vapaa-Jää
Born August 24, 1925, Kärkölä. Died November 22, 2011, Espoo
Honorary doctorate 1994

Mirkka Elina Rekola
Born June 26, 1931, Tampere. Died February 5, 2014, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 2000

Photo: Faculty of Arts
Written by Tero Juutilainen and Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim – Soldier and Explorer

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim was born in Askeinen in 1867, at the family seat of Louhisaari Manor. Although his father, Carl Robert Mannerheim, had embraced business and moved towards a more bourgeoisie lifestyle, a military career felt like the natural choice for the blue-blooded Mannerheim.

The young Mannerheim had a rough start to his military career, and at 19 he was expelled from the Finnish Cadet Corps in Hamina for disorderly conduct. He then completed upper secondary school at the Helsinki Private Lyceum and enrolled at the University. However, Mannerheim would not actually study at the University, as he was accepted at the Nicholas Cavalry School in St. Petersburg. There the future of his military career began to look brighter.

Young Mannerheim at the Nicholas Cavalry School in the late 1880s. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

Although Mannerheim was first stationed in Kalisz, on the Russian-German border, with the help of relatives he was transferred to the Chevalier Guard Regiment of Her Majesty Empress Maria Feodorovna. He quickly rose through the ranks, which also meant greater expectations for his lifestyle to reflect his new-found position. The relatively modest salary paid by the army was ill-suited to a profligate lifestyle and caused financial insecurity. However, His family arranged for him to marry Anastasie Arapova, which solved his money worries.

Mannerheim was determined to advance his military career. He was rejected by the Military Academy of the General Staff, and thus required a substitute for formal training. Consequently, he distinguished himself by raising horses for the army and volunteering for duty in the Russo-Japanese War. After the war, Mannerheim visited Finland and represented his family at the final meeting of the Diet of Finland. He remained largely aloof from actual politics, instead concentrating more on making himself known and forging connections with the powers that be in Finland.

In addition to his military career, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim is remembered for his expedition to Asia, which he undertook in October 1906 at the request of the General Staff. The purpose of the voyage was purely to chart out the area militarily. However, Mannerheim had become familiar with the Fennoman movement and the latest ethnographical research while staying in Finland. During his journey through Asia he took photographs and delved into the culture and languages of the region. Mannerheim donated an impressive collection of photographs and artefacts gathered during the expedition to the Finno-Ugric Society.

Mannerheim in Manchuria. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

During the First World War, Mannerheim served as a general on the Austro-Hungarian front. The February Revolution then sent the internal affairs of Russia into turmoil, and the country’s new leadership did not look kindly on Mannerheim, relieving him of his command. In the autumn of that year Mannerheim left the Russian army and moved to Finland, where he led White Finland in the Civil War that broke out in January 1918.

After the war was over, Mannerheim acted as head of state for the young nation while it decided what form the government should take. In 1919, he was awarded an honorary doctorate, along with Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, at the conferment ceremony of the Faculty of Arts. When Mannerheim once again became Commander-in-Chief two decades later, he returned the favour by granting the then 300-year-old University the Cross of Liberty during the Interim Peace in 1940. The Student Union of the University of Helsinki in turn recognised President Mannerheim with their highest honour during their conferment ceremony in 1950.

The 1919 conferment parade of the Faculty of Philosophy sets out from the University. Pictured from the right are the bedels, professor Ernst Lindelöf, conferment professor Theodor Homén, and Mannerheim the recipient of an honorary doctorate.


  • Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. Wikipedia article. Accessed September 16, 2015
  • Klinge, Matti, Maan sydän ja isänmaan toivo (‘Heart of the Country and Hope of the Fatherland’) from Klinge Matti (editor) Helsingin yliopisto 1640–1990. 2. osa Keisarillinen Aleksanterin yliopisto 1808–1917 (‘The University of Helsinki 1640-1990 part two, Imperial Alexander University 1808-1917’). Otava, Helsinki 1989.
  • Klinge, Matti, Mannerheim, Gustaf. National Biography of Finland Online Publication. Accessed September 16, 2015 Available for free through Nelli Portal.
  • Klinge, Matti, Politiikkaa ja korkeakoulupolitiikkaa (‘Politics and Higher Education Policy’) from Klinge, Matti (editor) Helsingin yliopisto 1694–1990. 3. osa Helsingin yliopisto 1917–1990 (‘The University of Helsinki 1640-1990, part 3, The University of Helsinki 1917-1990’). Otava, Helsinki 1990.
  • Klinge, Matti, Vallankumouksesta talvisotaan (‘From the Revolution to the Winter War’) from Klinge, Matti (editor.) Helsingin yliopisto 1694–1990. 3. osa Helsingin yliopisto 1917–1990 (‘The University of Helsinki 1640-1990, part 3, The University of Helsinki 1917-1990’). Otava, Helsinki 1990.
  • Österman, Pia, Sivistyksen voima. Filosofeja, historioitsijoita, kulttuuri- ja kielitieteilijöitä – 150 vuotta humanisteja (‘The Power of Civilisation. Philosophers, Historians, Cultural Scholars and Linguists—150 Years of the Humanities’). Yliopistopaino, Helsinki 2002.
The conferment ceremony of 1919. Wreath carriers at the official residence of head of state Gustaf Mannerheim. Photo by Eric Sundström.
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