Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Harvard College

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HARVARD COLLEGE, the earliest institution of learning in the United States and on the continent of North America. The record gives its origin thus. The English colonists on Massachusetts Bay, settling at what is now Boston in 1630, began a plantation the next year three miles up Charles River, which they called “New Towne.” The colony court of September 1636 “agreed to give £400,” which exactly doubled the public tax for the year, “towards a schoole or collidge, whereof £200 to be paid the next yeare, and £200 when the work is finished, and the next court to appoint wheare and what building.” In November 1637 “the Colledge is ordered to be at New Towne,” the name of which had been changed to Cambridge, and a committee was appointed “to take order” for it. In March 1638-39 “it is ordered that the colledge agreed upon formerly to bee built at Cambridge shalbee called Harvard Colledge.” The reason was that the Rev. John Harvard, B.A. 1632, and M.A. 1635, of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, dying in Charlestown, Massachusetts, September 14, 1638, by will left half his estate, about £800, and his library, to the wilderness seminary. The college charter of 1650 declared the object to be “the education of the English and Indian youth of this country in knowledge and godlynes.” The first brick edifice on the college grounds, having rooms for twenty of the aborigines, was called “the Indian college.” In it was printed the apostle Eliot's translation of the Bible into the language of the natives, with primers, grammars, tracts, &c. Several of the natives were members of the college; only one graduated from it. By generous aid received from abroad for this special object, the college was greatly helped in its infancy.

Thus from the beginning private munificence rather than the public treasury fostered and sustained the college, and with steadily increasing preponderance all through its history have its supplies and endowments come from the generosity of individuals. Grants from the colony, province, and State, of small sums for salaries and incidental purposes, made annually or at intervals, wholly ceased more than sixty years ago. With scarce an exception all the present invested funds of the college and of its professional schools, amounting to $3,615,538.87, with the halls, library, and apparatus, are the benefactions of its friends.

The charter constitutes as a corporation a president, treasurer, and five fellows, who initiate all measures concerning the college, hold its funds, and have the nomination for filling vacancies in their own body, as also of all the officers for instruction and for the internal government of the institution in all its departments, subject, however, to the advice and approval and final action of a board of overseers. The State, claiming as founder and patron, till quite recently regarded the college as a State institution, over which it should exercise a direct control through the legislature and the executive, by its authority in the membership and the election of the whole or a part of the board of overseers. Various modifications made from time to time in the composition or method of choice of the members of this board not relieving the controversies and embarrassments incident to legislative action, which proved prejudicial to the best interests of the college, its organic connexion with the State by this tie was severed by statute in 1866. The board of overseers as now constituted is composed of thirty of the alumni, besides the president and the treasurer, elected by the ballots of the alumni on commencement day at the college, in sections of five, serving a term of six years. With its complement of professional schools of law, medicine, theology, science, and many special departments of the latter, more than any other institution in America, and with but a few gaps yet to be filled in its completeness of method and equipment to bring it to comparison with foreign institutions of learning, Harvard College may claim to be in the most comprehensive sense of the term a university, a title which is, indeed, assumed, and generally applied to it. Recent changes in the course of study in the college have allowed a wide range for elective studies to undergraduates, the proportions being, one-fourth obligatory, three-fourths elective. In the professional schools most of the studies are obligatory. The number of bound volumes in the library and schools is 232,200. The number of halls owned and occupied for college uses is twenty-nine of brick or stone, including ten for students chambers. The whole number of professors, instructors, &c., in all departments, is 135; of librarians, proctors, and other officers in the service of the college, 28. The number of the alumni of the college proper about 9600; the number in all departments about 14,000.