Harvard Colege, 1636 – 1869: A Timeline


             Harvard College Time Line – 1630 – 1869


1630 English Puritans take up residence in Boston and surrounding area; establish themselves as Massachusetts Bay Colony; organize General Court to provide political leadership. Early immigrants included dozens of Cambridge and Oxford graduates and a surplus of would-be ministers.
1636 October 28 — Massachusetts General Court authorizes Ł400 “towards a school or college”. Among leaders in push for college was Governor John Winthrop and Newtown minister, Thomas Shepard, both concerned with the anti-authoritarian “antinomian” views of  Anne Hutchinson and her admirers.
1637 General Court created 12-person Board of Overseers from among its  elected magistrates and local ministers to oversee the college now to be located in Cambridge
1638 September 14 — Bequest of Rev. John Harvard of  Ł800 and his library for the proposed college; General Court names college after him. Newtown renamed Cambridge.
1638 Instruction begins in Cambridge under Master Nathaniel Eaton
1639 September — Eaton dismissed for mistreating students; classes suspended
1640 August — Rev. Henry Dunster (1609-59) appointed 1st president of Harvard College. Graduate of Magdalene College, Cambridge University
General Court provided College  Ł40 per annum from fees from Charlestown ferry
1642 First commencement; nine graduates awarded ABs
Reconstituted Board of Overseers under 1642 Charter reflecting the public character of the College
1643 Fund-raising effort in England among Puritans produces promotional pamphlet, New Englands First Fruits
1650 May 31 — General Court and Governor create a charter to incorporate Harvard College; the Corporation consisted of President, Treasurer and five Fellows, all expected eventually to be resident instructors
1654 May — President Dunster resigned over his rejection of  the efficacy of infant baptism.
Rev. Charles Chauncy (1592-1672) becomes Harvard’s 2nd president; graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge University.
1657 Corporation’s powers enhanced vis-à-vis Overseers; Fellows include non-instructors; commencement of external control of the college, which is contrary to Oxbridge pattern.
1672 Corporation assumes daily control of College; only two of the five Fellows are resident instructors
Rev. Leonard Hoar (1630-75) becomes Harvard’s 3rd president (1672-75); first Harvard graduate as president. Unsuccessful.
1675 Rev. Urian Oakes (1631-81) becomes Harvard’s 4th president (1675-80); another Harvard graduate. Unsuccessful
1682 Rev. John Rogers (1630-84) becomes Harvard’s 5th president (1682-85); also a Harvard graduate
1684 The 1650 Harvard College Charter voided by English authorities and resident governor  Edmund Andros
1685 Rev. Increase Mather (1639-1723) becomes Harvard’s 6th president; resides in England until 1692 as Massachusetts agent; Harvard graduate
1690 Cotton Mather elected Fellow of the Harvard Corporation. Joins his father. Their influence challenged by tutor John Leverett and Corporation treasurer William Brattle
1688 First Anglican church, King’s Chapel,  opens in Boston. Promoted by royal authorities, including Edmund Andros.
1692 Mather-produced royal charter abolishes Board of Overseers as move to solidify ecclesiastical control of college in a 10-member Corporation
1692 Salem beset with stories of witchcraft, which both Increase and Cotton Mather initially give credence to. Tutor John Leverett and Corporation treasurer Thomas Brattle opposed to Mathers on this issue.
1696 William Brattle becomes minister of the Cambridge Church; relaxed some of the sterner features of Congregationalism favored by the Mathers.
1697 General Court issues new charter, asserting some public oversight in restoring Board of Overseers. Represents a repudiation of the Mather regime.
1698 Thomas Brattle organizes Brattle Square Church in Boston, with Benjamin Colman as minister.  Stood in opposition to Matherian Calvinist orthodoxy.
1701 Mather resigns after residency in Cambridge made a condition of the presidency by the General Court
1701 Rev. Samuel Willard (16xx-17xx) becomes Harvard’s 7th president (1701-07); Harvard graduate
1701 Ten Connecticut ministers (9 Harvard graduates) move to establish a “Collegiate School” in Connecticut. Cotton Mather advising them.
1707 Governor  Joseph Dudley reinstitutes1650 charter over objections of the Mathers; assures magistrates’ role in governance along with the self-perpetuating Corporation Fellows
1707 John Leverett (1662-1724) becomes Harvard’s 8th president (1707-24); Harvard graduate; Ist lay president; reflects Corporation Fellows’ move  away from the Congregational orthodoxy of the Mathers, who retain influence among the Board of Overseers..
1716 Tutor Nicholas Sever protests resident instructors not being named to Corporation as vacancy occurs; petitions Overseers to secure resident instructors membership and to limit external governance
1718 January – Cotton Mather soliciting funds from East India nabob Elihu Yale to give college a permanent home in New Haven.
1719 Substantial benefaction to Harvard from the English Baptist Thomas Hollis
1720 Massachusetts Hall built. Still in active service as President’s Office.
1721 Hollis professorship in divinity established. Edward Wigglesworth appointed. Also Hollis professorship of Mathematics. First appointee in donor’s gift.
1725 Nicholas Sever elected to Corporation as Fellow; issue of faculty claims to Corporation membership goes into abeyance
1725 Rev. Benjamin Wadsworth (1670-1737) becomes Harvard’s 9th president (1725-37) upon death of John Leverett; Harvard graduate
1727 Timothy Cutler, new rector of King’s Chapel and missionary for the Anglican cause, claims seat on Harvard Board of Overseers. Rejected.
1737 Rev. Edward Holyoke (1689-1769) becomes Harvard’s 10th president (1737-69); Harvard graduate; 32-year presidency longest to date
1738 John Winthrop elected Hollis Professor of Mathematics
1740 September – The 26-year-old Rev. George Whitefield  preaching throughout New England. To Harvard on September 24. In his Journal: “Tutors neglect to pray with, and examine the hearts of, their pupils… Bad books are become fashionable amongst them.” Tutor Henry Flnyt unimpressed; Overseers applaud Whitefield’s efforts.
1740 December – Reports of a religious revival among 30 or so Harvard students attributed to Whitefield’s efforts.
1744 President, professors and Tutors, “testimony against the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield and his Conduct.” Wigglesworth takes lead in repudiating Whitefield’s criticism of the state of the college. Charles Chauncy also critical of Whitefield and the evangelicals in general in”Seasonable Thoughts on the State of religion in New England (1743)”
1762 Harvard Corporation and Overseers oppose plan to establish a college in Hampshire County
1766 Estate of Boston merchant Thomas Hancock used to establish Hancock professorship in oriental languages.
1769 Edward Holyoke died, after a 32-year presidency, age 65.
1770 Rev. Samuel Locke (1732-78) becomes Harvard’s 11th president (1770-73); Harvard graduate
1772 Practice of ranking students by the eminence of their families abandoned in favor of an alphabetical listing.
1774 Rev. Samuel Langdon (1723-97) becomes Harvard’s 12th president (1774-80); Harvard graduate
1775 April – College buildings made headquarters for forces gathering in Cambridge under George Washington. College removed to Concord. About 16% of living Harvard graduates sided with Britain as Loyalists.
1778 May – College back in operations in Cambridge
1779 Massachusetts Constitution protective of Harvard’s earlier rights and privileges.
1781 Rev. Joseph Willard (1738-1804) becomes Harvard’s 13th president (1781-1804); Harvard graduate
1782 Harvard Medical School founded in Cambridge; moved to Boston in 1810
1790 About a quarter of the graduating class entered the ministry.
1791 Williams College opens in western Massachusetts; Harvard does not object.
1804 Hollis professorship of divinity goes to a Unitarian, the rev. Henry Ware.
1806 Rev. Samuel Weber (1759-1810) becomes Harvard 14th president (1806-10); Harvard graduate and first Unitarian
1810 Rev. John Thornton Kirkland  (1770-1840) becomes Harvard’s 15th president; Harvard graduate, Unitarian and Federalist.
1814 Federalist on the General Court provide annual grant of $10,000 to both Harvard and Williams for 10 years.
1815 Harvard sends Edward Everett and George Ticknor  to Europe as professors-elect to obtain advanced training in Greek and Spanish; Joined by Harvard Latin tutor, Joseph G. Cogswell
1817 Harvard establishes a law school with a 3-year curriculum. First graduates in 1820.
1818 Harvard enrollments approach 300, making it the largest college in America. Included substantial numbers from outside New England.
1823 Amherst College opens with Massachusetts charter; state subsidy of Harvard and Williams College ends.
1826 Harvard’s shaky finances become responsibility of new treasurer, Nathaniel Bowditch.
1827 Kirkland resigns presidency after falling out with Bowditch.
1829 Ex-Federalist congressman (1806-1813) and Boston Mayor (1821-28), Josiah Quincy (1772-1864)  elected the 15th president of Harvard. Initially aligns his presidency with the classics-centered views expressed in Yale’s 1828 Report.
1834 Spring – Quincy confronted with student disturbances led by sophomores challenging the authority of a young tutor; the entire class dismissed for a year and its ringleaders threatened with criminal prosecution. Resistance spreads to other classes and among some overseers and at least one faculty member. Overseer John Quincy Adams defends Quincy’s actions.
  August – Commencement proceeds without disruption with 37 of the 54-member senior class participating. The “1834 Rebellion” the last of its kind in Cambridge.
1836 Quincy begins to open up the curriculum with more modern languages and more mathematics, as pushed by Hollis Professor of Mathematics Benjamin Peirce. Also came to support elective (voluntary) studies as means of inducing serious student application and faculty specialization..
1841 Quincy informed his overseers that “Harvard College aspires to the title of an University.”
1843 All Harvard courses beyond the freshman year were optional.
1845 Upon Quincy’s retirement, Edward Everett becomes Harvard’s 16th president (1845-1853). Undercuts  Quincy’s elective system by making sophomores adhere to a fixed set of courses.
1853 Jared Sparks (#17/ 1853-1862) further undercuts what left of the elective system by making juniors adhere to a fixed set of courses.t
1862 James Walker (#18/ 1862-1868) tried to revive elective system but thwarted.
1863 Instructor Charles William Eliot beaten out for Rumford professorship by New Yorker Wolcott Gibbs, takes up position at MIT.
1869 Charles William Eliot elected Harvard’s 19th president; would preside for 40 years over its full flowering as a university.


Last updated: January 15, 2014

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