1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Harvard University

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HARVARD UNIVERSITY, the oldest of American educational institutions, established at Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1636 the General Court of the colony voted £400 towards “a schoale or colledge,” which in the next year was ordered to be at “New Towne.” In memory of the English university where many (probably some seventy) of the leading men of the colony had been educated, the township was named Cambridge in 1638. In the same year John Harvard (1607-1638), a Puritan minister lately come to America, a bachelor and master of Emmanuel college, Cambridge, dying in Charlestown (Mass.), bequeathed to the wilderness seminary half his estate (£780) and some three hundred books; and the college, until then unorganized, was named Harvard College (1639) in his honour. Its history is unbroken from 1640, and its first commencement was held in 1642. The spirit of the founders is beautifully expressed in the words of a contemporary letter which are carved on the college gates: “After God had carried us safe to New-England, and wee had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our liveli-hood, rear'd convenient places for Gods worship, and setled the Civill Government; One of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance Learning, and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches, when our present Ministers shall lie in the Dust.” The college charter of 1650 dedicated it to “the advancement of all good literature, arts, and sciences,” and “the education of the English and Indian youth . . . in knowledge and godlynes.” The second building (1654) on the college grounds was called “the Indian College.” In it was set up the College press, which since 1638 had been in the president's house, and here, it is believed, was printed the translation of the Bible (1661-1663) by John Eliot into the language of the natives, with primer, catechisms, grammars, tracts, &c. A fair number of Indians were students, but only one, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, took a bachelor's degree (1665). By generous aid received from abroad for this special object, the college was greatly helped in its infancy.

The charter of 1650 has been in the main, and uninterruptedly since 1707, the fundamental source of authority in the administration of the university. It created a co-optating corporation consisting of the president, treasurer and five fellows, who formally initiate administrative measures, control the college funds, and appoint officers of instruction and government; subject, however, to confirmation by the Board of Overseers (established in 1642), which has a revisory power over all acts of the corporation. Circumstances gradually necessitated ordinary government by the resident teachers; and to-day the various faculties, elaborately organized, exercise immediate government and discipline over all the students, and individually or in the general university council consider questions of policy. The Board of Overseers was at first jointly representative of state and church. The former, as founder and patron, long regarded Harvard as a state institution, controlling or aiding it through the legislature and the overseers; but the controversies and embarrassments incident to legislative action proved prejudicial to the best interests of the college, and its organic connexion with the state was wholly severed in 1866. Financial aid and practical dependence had ceased some time earlier; indeed, from the very beginning, and with steadily increasing preponderance, Harvard has been sustained and fostered by private munificence rather than by public money. The last direct subsidy from the state determined in 1824, although state aid was afterwards given to the Agassiz museum, later united with the university. The church was naturally sponsor for the early college. The changing composition of its Board of Overseers marked its liberation first from clerical and later from political control; since 1865 the board has been chosen by the alumni (non-residents of Massachusetts being eligible since 1880), who therefore really control the university. When the state ceased to repress effectually the rife speculation characteristic of the first half of the seventeenth century, in religion as in politics, and in America as in England, the unity of Puritanism gave way to a variety of intense sectarianisms, and this, as also the incoming of Anglican churchmen, made the old faith of the college insecure. President Henry Dunster (c. 1612-1659), the first president, was censured by the magistrates and removed from office for questioning infant baptism. The conservatives, who clung to pristine and undiluted Calvinism, sought to intrench themselves in Harvard, especially in the Board of Overseers. The history of the college from about 1673 to 1725 was exceedingly troubled. Increase and Cotton Mather, forceful but bigoted, were the bulwarks of reaction and fomenters of discord. One episode in the struggle was the foundation and encouragement of Yale College by the reactionaries of New England as a truer “school of the prophets” (Cotton Mather being particularly zealous in its interests), after they had failed to secure control of the government of Harvard. It represented conservative secession. In 1792 the first layman was chosen to the corporation; in 1805 a Unitarian became professor of theology; in 1843 the board of overseers was opened to clergymen of all denominations; in 1886 attendance on prayers by the students ceased to be compulsory. Thus Harvard, in response to changing ideas and conditions, grew away from the ideas of its founders.

Harvard, her alumni, and her faculty have- been very closely connected with American letters, not only in the colonial period, when the Mathers, Samuel Sewall and Thomas Prince were important names, or in the revolutionary and early national epoch with the Adamses, Fisher Ames, Joseph Dennie and Robert Treat Paine, but especially in the second third of the 19th century, when the great New England movements of Unitarianism and Transcendentalism were led by Harvard graduates. In 1805 Henry Ware (1764-1845) was elected the first anti-Trinitarian to be Hollis professor of divinity, and this marked Harvard's close connexion with Unitarianism, in the later history of which Ware, his son Henry (1794-1843), and Andrews Norton (1786-1852), all Harvard alumni and professors, and Joseph Buckminster (1751-1812) and William Ellery Channing were leaders of the conservative Unitarians, and Joseph Stevens Buckminster (1784-1812), James Freeman Clarke, and Theodore Parker were liberal leaders. Of the “Transcendentalists,” Emerson, Francis Henry Hedge (1805- 1890), Clarke, Convers Francis (1795-1863), Parker, Thoreau and Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892) were Harvard graduates. Longfellow's professorship at Harvard identified him with it rather than with Bowdoin; Oliver Wendell Holmes was professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard in 1847-1882; and Lowell, a Harvard alumnus, was Longfellow's successor in 1855-1886 as Smith Professor of the French and Spanish languages and literatures. Ticknor and Charles Eliot Norton are other important names in American literary criticism. The historians Sparks, Bancroft, Hildreth, Palfrey, Prescott, Motley and Parkman were graduates of Harvard, as were Edward Everett, Charles Sumner and Wendell Phillips.

In organization and scope of effort Harvard has grown, especially after 1869, under the direction of President Charles W. Eliot, to be in the highest sense a university; but the “college” proper, whose end is the liberal culture of undergraduates, continues to be in many ways the centre of university life, as it is the embodiment of university traditions. The medical school (in Boston) dates from 1782, the law school from 1817, the divinity school[1] (though instruction in theology was of course given from the foundation of the college) from 1819, and the dental school (in Boston) from 1867. The Bussey Institution at Jamaica Plain was established in 1871 as an undergraduate school of agriculture, and reorganized in 1908 for advanced instruction and research in subjects relating to agriculture and horticulture. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences dates from 1872, the Graduate School of Applied Science (growing out of the Lawrence Scientific School) from 1906, and the Graduate School of Business Administration (which applies to commerce the professional methods used in post-graduate schools of medicine, law, &c.) from 1908. The Lawrence Scientific School, established in 1847, was practically abolished in 1907-1908, when its courses were divided between the College (which thereafter granted a degree of S.B.) and the Graduate School of Applied Science, which was established in 1906 and gives professional degrees in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, mining, metallurgy, architecture, landscape architecture, forestry, applied physics, applied chemistry, applied zoology and applied geology. A school of veterinary medicine, established in 1882, was discontinued in 1901. The university institutions comprise the botanic garden (1807) and the (Asa) Gray herbarium (1864); the Arnold arboretum (1872), at Jamaica Plain, for the study of arboriculture, forestry and dendrology; the university museum of natural history, founded in 1859 by Louis Agassiz as a museum of comparative zoology, enormously developed by his son, Alexander Agassiz, and transferred to the university in 1876, though under an independent faculty; the Peabody museum of American archaeology and ethnology, founded in 1866 by George Peabody; the William Hayes Fogg art museum (1895); the Semitic museum (1889); the Germanic Museum (1902), containing rich gifts from Kaiser Wilhelm II., the Swiss government, and individuals and societies of Germanic lands; the social museum (1906); and the astronomical observatory (1843; location 42° 22' 48" N. lat., 71° 8' W. long.), which since 1891 has maintained a station near Arequipa, Peru. A permanent summer engineering camp is maintained at Squam Lake, New Hampshire. In Petersham, Massachusetts, is the Harvard Forest, about 2000 acres of hilly wooded country with a stand in 1908 of 10,000,000 ft. B.M. of merchantable timber (mostly white pine); this forest was given to the university in 1907, and is an important part of the equipment of the division of forestry. The university library is the largest college library in the country, and from its slow and competent selection is of exceptional value. In 1908 it numbered, including the various special libraries, 803,800 bound volumes, about 496,600 pamphlets, and 27,450 maps. Some of its collections are of great value from associations or special richness, such as Thomas Carlyle's collection on Cromwell and Frederick the Great; the collection on folk-lore and medieval romances, supposed to be the largest in existence and including the material used by Bishop Percy in preparing his Reliques; and that on the Ottoman empire. The law library has been described by Professor A. V. Dicey of Oxford as “the most perfect collection of the legal records of the English people to be found in any part of the English-speaking world.” There are department libraries at the Arnold arboretum, the Gray herbarium, the Bussey Institution, the astronomical observatory, the dental school, the medical school, the law school, the divinity school, the Peabody museum, and the museum of comparative zoology. In 1878 the library published the first of a valuable series of Bibliographical Contributions. Other publications of the university (apart from annual reports of various departments) are: the Harvard Oriental Series (started 1891), Harvard Studies in Classical Philology (1890), Harvard Theological Review (1907), the Harvard Law Review (1889), Harvard Historical Studies (1897), Harvard Economic Studies (1906), Harvard Psychological Studies (1903), the Harvard Engineering Journal (1902), the Bulletin (1874) of the Bussey Institution, the Archaeological and Ethnological Papers (1888) of the Peabody museum, and the Bulletin (1863), Contributions and Memoirs (1865) of the museum of comparative zoology. The students' publications include the Crimson (1873), a daily newspaper; the Advocate (1831), a literary bi-weekly; the Lampoon (1876), a comic bi-weekly; and the Harvard Monthly (1885), a literary monthly. The Harvard Bulletin, a weekly, and the Harvard Graduates' Magazine (1892), a quarterly, are published chiefly for the alumni.

In 1908-1909 there were 743 officers of instruction and administration (including those for Radcliffe) and 5250 students (1059 in 1869), the latter including 2238 in the college, 1641 in the graduate and professional schools, and 1332 in the summer school. Radcliffe College, for women, had 449 additional students. The whole number of degrees conferred up to 1905 was 31,805 (doctors of science and of philosophy by examination, 408; masters of arts and of science by examination, 1759). The conditions of the time when Harvard was a theological seminary for boys, governed like a higher boarding school, have left traces still discernible in the organization and discipline, though no longer in the aims of the college. The average age of students at entrance, only 14 years so late as 1820, had risen by 1890 to 19 years, making possible the transition to the present regime of almost entire liberty of life and studies without detriment, but with positive improvement, to the morals of the student body. A strong development toward the university ideal marked the opening of the 19th century, especially in the widening of courses, the betterment of instruction, and the suggestions of quickening ideas of university freedom, whose realization, along with others, has come since 1870. The elimination of the last vestiges of sectarianism and churchly discipline, a lessening of parietal oversight, a lopping off of various outgrown colonial customs, a complete reconstruction of professional standards and methods, the development of a great graduate school in arts and sciences based on and organically connected with the undergraduate college, a great improvement in the college standard of scholarship, the allowance of almost absolute freedom to students in the shaping of their college course (the “elective” system), and very remarkable material prosperity marked the administration (1869-1909) of President Eliot. In the readjustment in the curricula of American colleges of the elements of professional training and liberal culture Harvard has been bold in experiment and innovation. With Johns Hopkins University she has led the movement that has transformed university education, and her influence upon secondary education in America has been incomparably greater than that of any other university. Her entrance requirements to the college and to the schools of medicine, law, dentistry and divinity have been higher than those of any other American university. A bachelor's degree is requisite for entrance to the professional schools (except that of dentistry), and the master's degree (since 1872) is given to students only for graduate work in residence, and rarely to other persons as an honorary degree. In scholarship and in growth of academic freedom Germany has given the quickening impulse. This influence began with George Ticknor and Edward Everett, who were trained in Germany, and was continued by a number of eminent German scholars, some driven into exile for their liberalism, who became professors in the second half of the 19th century, and above all by the many members of the faculty still later trained in German universities. The ideas of recognizing special students and introducing the elective system were suggested in 1824, attaining establishment even for freshmen by 1885, the movement characterizing particularly the years 1865-1885. The basis of the elective system (as in force in 1910) is freedom in choice of studies within liberal limits; and, as regards admission to college[2] (completely established 1891), the idea that the admission is of minds for the quality of their training and not for their knowledge of particular subjects, and that any subject may be acceptable for such training if followed with requisite devotion and under proper methods. Except for one course in English in the Freshman year, and one course in French or German for those who do not on entrance present both of these languages, no study is prescribed, but the student is compelled to select a certain number of courses in some one department or field of learning, and to distribute the remainder among other departments, the object being to secure a systematic education, based on the principle of knowing a little of everything and something well.

The material equipment of Harvard is very rich. In 1909 it included invested funds of $22,716,760 ($2,257,990 in 1869) and lands and buildings valued at $12,000,000 at least. In 1908-1909 an income of more than $130,000 was distributed in scholarships, fellowships, prizes and other aids to students. The yearly income available for immediate use from all sources in 1899-1904 averaged $1,074,229, of which $452,760 yearly represented gifts. The total gifts, for funds and for current use, in the same years aggregated $6,152,988. The income in 1907-1908 was $1,846,976; $241,924 was given for immediate use, and $449,822 was given for capital. The medical school is well endowed and is housed in buildings (1906) on Longwood Avenue, Boston; the gifts for its buildings and endowments made in 1901-1902 aggregate $5,000,000. Among the university buildings are two dining-halls accommodating some 2500 students, a theatre for public ceremonies, a chapel, a home for religious societies, a club-home (the Harvard Union) for graduates and undergraduates, an infirmary, gymnasium, boat houses and large playgrounds, with a concrete stadium capable of seating 27,000 spectators. Massachusetts Hall (1720) is the oldest building. University Hall (1815), the administration building, dignified, of excellent proportions and simple lines, is a good example of the work of Charles Bulfinch. Memorial Hall (1874), an ambitious building of cathedral suggestion, commemorates the Harvard men who fell in the Civil War, and near it is an ideal statue (1884) of John Harvard by Daniel C. French. The medical and dental schools are in Boston, and the Bussey Institution and Arnold Arboretum are at Jamaica Plain.

Radcliffe College, essentially a part of Harvard, dates from the beginning of systematic instruction of women by members of the Harvard faculty in 1879, the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women being formally organized in 1882. The present name was adopted in 1894 in honour of Ann Radcliffe, Lady Mowlson (ob. c. 1661), widow of Sir Thomas Mowlson, alderman and (1634) lord mayor of London, who in 1643 founded the first scholarship in Harvard College. From 1894 also dates the present official connexion of Radcliffe with Harvard. The requirements for admission and for degrees are the same as in Harvard (whose president countersigns all diplomas), and the president and fellows of Harvard control absolutely the administration of the college, although it has for immediate administration a separate government. Instruction is given by members of the university teaching force, who repeat in Radcliffe many of the Harvard courses. Many advanced courses in Harvard, and to a certain extent laboratory facilities, are directly accessible to Radcliffe students, and they have unrestricted access to the library.

The presidents of Harvard have been: Henry Dunster (1640-1654); Charles Chauncy (1654-1672); Leonard Hoar (1672-1675); Urian Oakes (1675-1681); John Rogers (1682-1684); Increase Mather (1685-1701); Charles Morton (vice-president) (1697-1698); Samuel Willard (1700-1707); John Leverett (1708-1724); Benjamin Wadsworth (1725-1737); Edward Holyoke (1737-1769); Samuel Locke (1770-1773); Samuel Langdon (1774-1780); Joseph Willard (1781-1804); Samuel Webber (1806-1810); John Thornton Kirkland (1810-1828); Josiah Quincy (1829-1845); Edward Everett (1846-1849); Jared Sparks (1849-1853); James Walker (1853-1860); Cornelius Conway Felton (1860-1862); Thomas Hill (1862-1868); Charles William Eliot (1869-1909); Abbott Lawrence Lowell (appointed 1909).

Authorities. — Benjamin Peirce, A History of Harvard University 1636-1775 (Boston, 1883); Josiah Quincy, A History of Harvard University (2 vols., Boston, 1840); Samuel A. Eliot, Harvard College and its Benefactors (Boston, 1848); H. C. Shelley, John Harvard and his Times (Boston, 1907); The Harvard Book (2 vols., Cambridge, 1874); G. Birkbeck Hill, Harvard College, by an Oxonian (New York, 1894); William R. Thayer, “History and Customs of Harvard University,” in Universities and their Sons, vol. i. (Boston, 1898); Official Guide to Harvard, and the various other publications of the university; also the Harvard Graduates' Magazine (1892 sqq.).


  1. Affiliated with the university, but autonomous and independent, is the Andover Theological Seminary, which in 1908 removed from Andover to Cambridge.
  2. The requirements for admission as changed in 1908 are based on the “unit system”; satisfactory marks must be got in subjects aggregating 26 units, the unit being a measure of preparatory study. Of these 26 units, English (4 units), algebra (2), plane geometry (2), some science or sciences (2), history (2; either Greek and Roman, or American and English), a modern language (2; French and German) are prescribed; prospective candidates for the degree of A.B. are required to take examinations for 4 additional units in Greek or Latin, and for the other 8 points have large range of choice; and candidates for the degree of S.B. must take additional examinations in French or German (2 units) and have a similar freedom of choice in making up the remaining 10 units.