The Hampshire tree has been a symbol of the college since at least 1966--it appears on the covers of the very early editions of The Making of a College and the series of Planning Bulletins the college published between 1969 and 1971. From the evidence of a single memo (widely circulated at the time) it appears that the tree was drawn by first Hampshire President Franklin Patterson's son Eric. The memo, dated 1968, is addressed to Franklin Patterson by Humanities and Arts faculty member John Boettiger, and points out similarities between the Hampshire tree and early Mesopotamian representations of the tree of life.
When the first Hampshire students arrived in 1970, they saw a different similarity. The Hampshire tree was replaced by a marijuana leaf on the masthead of some of the first editions of Climax, the student newspaper. As the college endeavored to move away from its original, largely inadvertent image as a "hippie college", the tree fell out of favor as a symbol.
In 1994, just before the college's 25th anniversary, the administration introduced a new graphic identity centering on the now familiar "H" logo. Developed by an outside design firm, the goal was to create a new, recognizable logo for college stationery and publications. The change was highly controversial at the time, and drew protests from students, staff and alumni. The tree however was retained on the great seal of the college, though it was redesigned to fit into a circle, losing some of its roots in the process. All controversies tend to fade as time passes, and at present, the tree and the H seem to happily coexist as symbols of Hampshire College.