Harvard’s Illustrious History
Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest higher education institute in the United States. Few people truly prefer a forensic analysis of history, but Harvard’s is so integral to understand because when you become a student here, you become a part of that history. It is rich and ripe with amazing stories and powerful individuals that to truly appreciate it means fully understanding it. Let’s try and make this a bit more interesting, though, shall we?
During its infancy, the school trained Clergymen, although it was never officially affiliated with any religious organization. Over time the curriculum became more secular and by the mid-1800’s, the school was a completely secular organization.
The famous Harvard shield that is displayed above was nearly lost for all time, but was resurrected by former president Josiah Quincy in September of 1836 when he found the sketch after digging through old Harvard archives. The design depicts a shield with three books with the Latin word “Veritas”, which means “truth.” The sketch dates back to an overseers’ meeting in 1644. It had been filed away and forgotten for nearly 200 years. The shield became the official symbol of the University upon adoption by the Harvard Corporation in 1843.
As you can see, excellence is always brought forth at Harvard.
Crimson was established as the school’s official color in a vote by the Harvard Corporation in 1910. The color was first associated with Harvard back in the 1850s when Harvard Crew members Charles Eliot and Benjamin Crowninshield gave crimson scarves to their teammates so people in the crowd could differentiate them from the other teams. Eliot went on to serve as Harvard’s president from 1869-1909.
In 1607, Harvard’s namesake was baptized at St. Saviour’s Church in London, which was before the first settlements in the New World were established. John Harvard earned his M.A. from Cambridge University in England in 1653 and ten years later, the first college in the American Colonies was approved, and guess what? Yes, it would later to be known as Harvard.
America’s Oldest Institution of Higher Learning
The “Great and General Court of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England” approved a £400 investment to establish the first institution of higher learning in America. Early in 1638, the Board of Overseers bought the college’s first piece of land that included a home and one-acre of land from Goodman Peyntree. It was located on the southern edge of what was known as “Cow-Yard Row” but soon became distinguished as “College Yard.” This tract of land became the nucleus of what is now known as Harvard Yard and remains at the southern end of the Old Yard (this is the area west of Thayer, University, and Weld halls).
The college was located in what was originally known as Newtowne, but which was later renamed ‘Cambridge,’ after Cambridge University in Great Britain.
In 1625, a plague ravaged John Harvard’s family, leaving just him, his mother, and one brother. As a result, he bequeathed half of his estate and his 400-volume library to the college. Harvard served as a teacher and assistant preacher at the college as well. He died of tuberculosis on September 14, 1638, and was buried at Charlestown Phipps Street Cemetery. Harvard was childless and had a burning desire to advance learning and not leave behind a group of illiterate ministers. It was those reasons that prompted him to bequeath half of his estate to New College. However, Harvard is often mistaken as the founder of Harvard College. A common mistake, but still one you should be careful not to make. Harvard students would end up building a monument at his gravesite later that year.
A statue of John Harvard that resides in the Harvard Yard is not a likeness of him because of a lack of contemporary pictures that denoted his appearance. There are several other edifices named after John Harvard throughout the campus, including the Harvard Bridge, which connects Cambridge to Boston, the Harvard Yard, which serves as the heart of the school’s campus, and the John Harvard Library located on campus.
In 1640, Henry Dunster was named the first Harvard President, and he was a Puritan clergyman who adhered to a strict religious doctrine similar to modern day Baptist teachings. Dunster had emigrated to Boston in 1640 after Nathaniel Eaton was dismissed as head of the newly formed Harvard College. Dunster was officially named Eaton’s successor on August 27, 1640, becoming the first “president” of the school.
Dunster modeled the curriculum and educational system after the English school Cambridge University, and you will find many similarities between the two schools as a result. Dunster created and taught all of the courses himself to the first graduating class of nine students. Dunster was widely regarded as a highly intelligent man and great leader. He was also responsible for creating the first chartered corporation in American history that still governs Harvard University to this day. Dunster House, a residential house on Harvard’s campus, bears his name.
Harvard’s First Class
Harvard’s first class of nine students graduated in 1642 and in 1650, it was granted its charter. John Sassamon, a Massachuset Indian, became the first known Native American to study at Harvard in 1653. A disciple of Indian Bible translator John Eliot, Sassamon later became a scribe and interpreter to Wampanoag Chief Metacom (a.k.a. Metacomet, Pometacom, King Philip). In 1675, Sassamon was murdered as an English informant, touching off King Philip’s War, New England’s most devastating conflict between Natives and newcomers. Once again, Harvard was in the middle of history in the making.
In 1692, Increase Mather was awarded the school’s first Doctor of Divinity degree. Mather was a prominent figure in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was a puritan minister who was highly involved in the infamous Salem witch trials. Mather was admitted to Harvard in 1651 and earned his BA in 1656. He was named acting Harvard president in 1685 and became the official president in June of 1692. He held the position until 1701.
Future president John Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755. Adams was admitted to Harvard at the tender age of 16. His father expected him to become a minister, but Adams was not sure that path was one he wanted to follow. After receiving his A.B. degree in 1755, he became a teacher. A few years later he decided to study law. He graduated from Harvard with an A.M in 1758.
Harvard Medical School
In 1776, eight Harvard alumni were among those to sign the Declaration of Independence.
The Harvard Medical School opened in 1783. It is the third oldest medical school in the United States after being founded by Dr. John Warren. The first class of two Harvard Medical students graduated in 1788 and to highlight how some programs start, the very first lectures given during the first years of the school’s existence were held in the basement of Harvard Hall. Now the school has state of the art facilities and learning centers.
Another future president, John Quincy Adams, graduated in 1787. He is just one of many former United States Presidents that attended Harvard. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1787, and earned an A.M. from Harvard in 1790.
The world famous Harvard Law School was established in 1817. Harvard Law School is widely regarded as the most prestigious law school in the world today, along with Yale Law School. Harvard Law has produced several world leaders including Barack Obama and Rutherford B. Hayes. It is the oldest continuously operating law school in the country. A majority of Supreme Court justices are graduates of Harvard Law School.
In 1845, future president Rutherford B. Hayes graduated from Harvard Law. Hayes was elected the 19th president of the United States after graduating from Harvard Law with an LL.B.
The first Harvard/Yale football game was played in 1875, with Harvard being victorious, of course. Known as “The Game,” the football rivalry between Harvard and Yale is the second oldest in the nation. The first meeting took place in New Haven, Connecticut at Hamilton Field. Harvard won the game 4-0. The scoring was much different back then, though. The Game is very important to students and faculty at both schools to this day. Neither team partakes in post-season bowl games so The Game is often regarded as the two teams’ bowl game.
The Harvard Annex opened with 27 female students in 1879. It was a private program for women taught by world-renowned Harvard faculty. Ada Comstock, a national leader in women’s high education was the first president. The Harvard Annex would later become known as Radcliffe College.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt graduated from Harvard in 1904. FDR received an A.B. degree in 1904 and later went on to receive a LL.D in 1929. He was responsible for setting into place radical legislation during the Great Depression known as The New Deal that is considered a major reason why America came out of the Great Depression stronger.
The Graduate School of Business opened in 1908. Harvard Business School began with just 59 students, and it is known for innovating the Case Method of business instruction that is now used by virtually all business schools in the country. HBS is located across the river from the main campus. It is commonly ranked #1 or #2 every year on most academic ranking lists.
In 1940, John F. Kennedy graduated from Harvard. Kennedy enrolled in 1936 and earned his degree in Political Philosophy. He also was a member of the varsity swim team. He was known for his partying ways his first two years before buckling down. His historical significance is known the world over.
Helen Keller became the first woman to receive an honorary Harvard degree in 1955 and was also the first deaf or blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She graduated from Radcliffe College and went on to become a world famous speaker, activist, and author.
Of some more controversial moves by Harvard, Fidel Castro was named a guest speaker for the Harvard Law School forum in 1959. He spoke to students and staff, and the speech went as planned with some student protests.
In 1969, student protestors took over University Hall. The protests drew national attention as the world watched the events unfolded on live television. Students were upset that the Harvard Administration did not do enough to distance itself from the Vietnam War and decided to take over University Hall. Police ended up raiding the building at dawn, but students protested and boycotted classes for weeks afterward. It was a quite an exciting time in Harvard’s illustrious history.
George W. Bush graduated from Harvard Business School in 1975 with an MBA. He became the 43rd President of the United States and holds the distinction of being the only U.S. President to hold an MBA.
In 1991, Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School and is the current President of the United States. After graduating from Harvard he practiced law in Chicago and also taught at the University of Chicago Law School. While at Harvard, he was the first African American to become president of the Harvard Law Review.
Harvard launched its Financial Aid Initiative in 2004, which was designed to lower the economic barriers to attending Harvard. Since 2006, families who are accepted to Harvard with a household income of less than $60,000 are not required to pay any out of pocket expense to contribute to their education. The threshold will be raised to $65,000 in 2012.
Harvard celebrated its 375th anniversary in 2011 with a variety of events for students and alumni. The university had a large celebration on October 14, 2011 highlighted by a performance of The Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra with celebrated violinist and Harvard Alum class of 1976, Yo-Yo Ma.