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Harvard College's primary governing board, the Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College (known as the Harvard Corporation), was established by the Massachusetts General Court in 1650. The charter conferred on the Corporation the duties of managing the College, including appointing and removing administrators, faculty, and staff, creating orders and by-laws for the College, and managing finances, properties, and donations. The first recorded meeting of the Corporation was held on December 10, 1654. The early written records of Harvard's governing boards were bound at various times in the Harvard College Books. The system of recording Corporation meetings was standardized on April 12, 1827 when the President and Fellows established the position of Secretary of the Corporation.

From the description of Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1989. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 694357102

In 1642 the Massachusetts General Court established the Harvard College Board of Overseers; members of this board were initially responsible for overseeing all important affairs at the young College. Eight years later, through the Charter of 1650, the Court established the Harvard Corporation (also known as the President and Fellows of Harvard College) and transferred the Overseers' expansive duties to the Corporation. From 1650 onwards, the Overseers served as an advisory body with sanctionative powers over the Corporation, but with decreased managerial responsibilities. The Corporation, instead, became largely responsible for the management of the College, with duties including the appointment and removal of administrators, faculty, and staff; the creation of orders and by-laws for the College; the management of College finances, properties, and donations; and other decisions necessary to ensure Harvard's stability and longevity. The first recorded meeting of the Corporation was held on December 10, 1654; previous meetings were likely held but were not recorded. Since Corporation records from the 17th and 18th centuries are somewhat sporadic and unsystematic, there are many gaps and possibly omissions in the written records of the Corporation. The proceedings recorded in the College Books document the Corporation's role in the governance of the University and include information about the origin and development of the Corporation's exercise of executive power at Harvard, the Corporation's decision making process, the conduct of routine University business, and the evolution of Harvard from a small college into a modern university.

From the guide to the College Books, 1636-1827, (Harvard University Archives)

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Harvard College relied on government grants and tax allocations, town subscriptions, and private donations to fund the school. Donations were often made as bequests and recorded in donors’ wills. Bequests often defined how contributions could be used, including funding for Indian education and missionary work, and for theological study. Contributions took the form of money, land, books, and supplies. Between 1636 and 1805, Harvard received $178,919 in donations from individuals; between 1806 and 1900 it received $13,776,111.

While the College did not receive the same level of private contributions in its first two centuries that it would in later years, there were some individuals who gave generously. Two of the College's earliest bequests came from Boston merchant Henry Webb, who donated land, and English merchant and landowner Sir Matthew Holworthy, who bequeathed £1000.

From the guide to the Wills naming Harvard as a beneficiary, 1660-1931, (Harvard University Archives)

From the Latin meaning "be admitted," an admittatur served as a student's certificate of admission to Harvard College beginning in the 1650s. Following successful completion of an oral Latin and Greek examination from the President and at least two Tutors, prospective students presented a handwritten transcription of the College laws to the President and a Fellow for signature before joining their class. The College officers signed their names below the words, "Admittatur in Collegium Harvardinum."

The 1655 College laws defined the admittatur practice: "every Scholler sh[all] procure for himselfe a true Coppy of the Lawes wh[ich] being Signed with the Presidents and one of the Fellows hands shall be a testimony of his admission into the Colledge and also of the time thereof, which hee shall keepe with himselfe for his better guidance, whilest hee shall Continue a member of the Colledge." Students transcribed the College Laws prior to their examination and subsequent approval. As an example, Timothy Prout, who entered Harvard in 1737 as a member of the Class of 1741, dated his transcription of the Laws July 10, 1737, and the President signed the admittatur on October 5, 1737.

The practice of signing a student's transcription of the College laws was reiterated in the 1734 College laws, with the modification that it should be signed by the President and a "major part of Tutors." In the next significant revision of the College Laws in 1767, the admittatur requirement was substantially altered and instead of a manuscript copy of the laws, the President signed a printed certificate. The "Form of Admission," certified first by the College Steward, affirmed that the student's parents or guardians had both paid the specified sum and given a secured bond to the College Steward for their son's college expenses. The 1767 laws stated, "Every one that has been accepted on Examination shall, as soon as may be, exhibit to the President a Certificate from the Steward, that the foregoing Law has been compiled with; upon the receipt of which the President shall sign an Order for the Admission of such Persons."

The practices set forth in the Codes of 1734 and 1767, and later merged in the 1790 edition of the College laws stated: "Every one, who has been accepted, on examination, shall as soon as may be, exhibit to the President a certificate from the Steward that the foregoing law has been complied with; upon the receipt of which, the President shall deliver him a printed copy of the laws, to which shall be annexed an order for his admission to the privileges of the College." In the 1800s the President signed admittaturs in various formats, including a "Certificate of Admission" printed with a single-sheet Abstract of Laws and Regulations of the University in Cambridge, for the Information of Parents and Guardians of Students accepted on Examination.

From the guide to the Admittaturs, 1715-1867, (Harvard University Archives)

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, much of the fuel wood used in Boston was cut on farms in New Hampshire and Maine and transported to the city by coastal sloops (a type of smaller sailing vessel). Between 1793 and 1798, Harvard College maintained the sloop Cyrus to transport wood from the College's property in Maine, through Boston Harbor, and up the Charles River to Cambridge. The wood was both sold at market and used to supply the College.

In September 1792, the Harvard Corporation ordered College Treasurer Ebenezer Storer (1730-1807; Harvard AB 1747) to purchase a wood sloop jointly with William Winthrop for £350. William Winthrop (1753-1826; Harvard AB 1770) was the youngest son of Harvard Professor John Winthrop (1714-1779) and a wealthy Cambridge resident. He imported goods from a wharf on his property on the Charles River, and presumably the shared purchase offered both Winthrop and the Corporation a more affordable investment. On February 2, 1793, Winthrop and Treasurer Storer purchased the sloop Cyrus, a sailboat built in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1790. The vessel was captained by Captain Levi Drinkwater and managed by Treasurer Storer who maintained financial accounts related to the sloop's cargo and repairs, and Steward Caleb Gannett (1745-1818; Harvard AB 1763) who managed the College's supply of wood and and provided inventory figures for the Treasurer's accounts.

The sloop began making regular voyages to collect wood, and between May and December 1793 the vessel made eleven trips. The sloop offered Harvard a means to more effectively control their wood supply and potentially make a profit selling wood in the Boston area. On March 4, 1795, the Harvard Corporation purchased Winthrop's half of the sloop for $600. In December 1795, the sloop had begun leaking, and repairs were arranged by Captain Samuel Russell of North Yarmouth and completed in 1796. By 1798, the Corporation had decided to sell the sloop Cyrus, and Russell managed the sale of the vessel on March 7, 1798 to Samuel Drinkwater and Abel Sawyer of North Yarmouth for 212 cords of wood.

The College continued transporting wood into 19th century on the Cyrus's successor, the sloop Harvard. The sloop Harvard ran until 1827, when the College determined that purchasing wood locally was much less expensive than the costs associated with the sloop's voyages to Maine.

From the guide to the Records relating to Harvard's ownership of the sloop Cyrus, 1793-1798, (Harvard University Archives)

In 1770, Dr. Ezekiel Hersey (1709-1770) bequeathed £1,000 to Harvard College for the support of a Professor of Anatomy and Physic. However, it was twelve years before the Corporation acted on Hersey's bequest to establish a professorship. This delay was due to the insufficient funding of the initial endowment and the monetary inflation of the American Revolutionary War which eroded the College's finances. In 1782, the Corporation decided to establish the "Medical Institution of Harvard University" and appointed Benjamin Waterhouse as Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic (1783-1812), John Warren as Professor of Anatomy and Surgery (1782-1815), and Aaron Dexter as Professor of Chemistry and Materia Medica (1783-1816). These medical professorships were supported by a system of lecture fees rather than by a salary paid for by the Corporation.

In 1785, the Corporation voted to approve the use Ezekiel Hersey's legacy to support of the Professors of Anatomy and Surgery and the Theory and Practice of Physic, but due to insufficient funding the Board of Overseers rejected this proposal. Fortuitously for the future of the Harvard Medical School, two other members of the Hersey family later bequeathed legacies that doubled the size of the original Hersey bequest. In 1790, Dr. Hersey's widow, Sarah Derby, whose second husband was Richard Derby (1712-1783), a Salem ship owner, left £1,000 to the College to supplement Ezekiel's original bequest. As a result of this additional gift, the Corporation decided in 1791 to equally share the income of these Hersey bequests between a chair in Anatomy and Surgery and a chair in the Theory and Practice of Physic, giving the name of Hersey to both professorships. Two years later, in 1793, the College received £500 from the estate of Dr. Abner Hersey (1722-1787), Ezekiel's younger brother, to provide additional support for a Professor of Surgery and Physic.

From the guide to the Records relating to the founding of the Hersey Professorship of the Theory and Practice of Physic, 1771-1791., (Harvard University Archives)

In 1640, four years after the Massachusetts General Court established Harvard College, the colony granted the College the revenue from the Boston-Charlestown ferry to help support the institution. Between 1640 and 1785, the College managed the Charlestown ferry and periodically contended with ferrymen, bridge investors, and the General Court to protect its income.

The General Court had first authorized a ferry in 1630 to cross the mouth of the Charles River and provide the shortest route between Boston and Charlestown and Cambridge. Following difficulty finding a trustworthy ferryman, on October 7, 1640, the Massachusetts General Court ordered "The ferry between Boston & Charlestowne is granted to the colledge." The arrangement relieved the colony of having to manage the ferry, and the College negotiated annual rents from the ferrymen. In its first year, the annual rent was £40 and by 1709, it had risen to £72. In 1695, the Harvard Treasurer also added a "fine" for renewing the lease, and beginning in 1702, the ferrymen were required to give a bond on their rent secured by wealthier citizens in the area. The College relied on the ferry as one of its only consistent forms of income and often used the money to help pay Tutor salaries.

In managing the Charlestown ferry, the Harvard Corporation and College Treasurer encountered many complications. In its early years, the College struggled with income limited by the use of nearly worthless wampum shells to pay fares, and occasional requests from the ferrymen to reduce their rents due to decreased ferry use. In April 1752, for instance, the ferrymen requested the Corporation reduce their annual rent because ice on the Charles River prevented ferry passages during the previous winter, and a small pox epidemic in Boston had created a "two thirds deficiency of passengers." During the Revolutionary War, the ferry fell into the hands of the British troops and the ferry shed was damaged in the British evacuation of Boston; the Corporation petitioned the General Court in 1781 to help pay for the repairs.

The threat of bridges, though, represented the largest concern for the College. The need for income from the ferry put the College in direct opposition to investors interested in building bridges across the Charles. In the early 1660s, when the Cambridge Bridge between Old Cambridge and Brighton was built, fare income decreased and the ferrymen petitioned the General Court to reduce the annual rent owed to the College. Consequently, in the 1730s, the Corporation petitioned the General Court against proposals to build a bridge from Boston to Lechmere Point in Cambridge. The Corporation's June 26, 1738 petition argued that a bridge would decrease the ferry's revenue, while increasing visitors to Cambridge and consequently, "scholars will be in danger of being too much interrupted in their studies & hurt in their morals.”

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Harvard Corporation created committees to protect the College's financial interests and drafted multiple petitions in their efforts to protect the financial interests represented in the Charlestown ferry, and Corporation members Professor Eliphalet Pearson and Judge John Davis were often asked to represent the College before the General Court. In March 1785, despite active lobbying by Harvard, the General Court granted a charter for the Charles River Bridge to be built from Boston to Charlestown "in the place where the ferry was then kept." In compensation for divesting the College of the income from the ferry, the General Court ordered the bridge proprietors to pay the College £300 annually for forty years, when the bridge was to become the property of the State.

The success of the Charles River Bridge propelled the formation of the proprietors of the West Boston Bridge, led by Judge Francis Dana (Harvard AB 1762). Despite petitions from the Corporation, the West Boston Bridge was chartered by the General Court in 1792. In allowing for the West Boston Bridge, the state also extended the charter for the Charles River Bridge, and changed the College's annuity to £200 annually for seventy years. The West Boston Bridge (spanning from Beacon Hill to Cambridgeport) was opened in November 1793.

In 1828 and 1836, the General Court passed two acts creating a free bridge, which devastated the tolls collected by the Charles River Bridge. When the proprietors of the Charles River Bridge declared bankruptcy in 1828, Harvard's annuity ceased. Finally in 1846, the State granted the College $3,333.30 as a final payment on the Charlestown ferry grant first provided in 1640.

From the guide to the Records relating to Harvard's interest in the Charlestown ferry, 1646-1806, (Harvard University Archives)

The Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory was endowed at Harvard in 1771 by the will of Boston merchant Nicholas Boylston (1716-1771) with "the sum of one thousand five hundred pounds, lawful money." Boylston’s bequest was the first endowed chair devoted to the art of speaking and writing in British North America. On January 12, 1803, President Joseph Willard, Simeon Howard (Secretary of the Board of Overseers), and Eliphalet Pearson (Hancock Professor of Hebrew and other Oriental Languages) were appointed by the Harvard Corporation to establish the rules and regulations for the Boylston Professorship. On February 14, they were joined by Judge John Davis. The committee's report outlining the stipulations of the Boylston Professorship was accepted by the Corporation on April 30, 1804; the Board of Overseers gave its approval on July 26. On June 24, 1805, the Corporation elected future United States president John Quincy Adams as the first Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory.

Although pleased with the news of his appointment, Adams, currently representing Massachusetts in the United States Senate, had reservations about some of the provisions in the Professorship statutes. Adams informed the Corporation on August 6, 1805 that he could not accept the Boylston Professorship unless specific statutes were amended. He explained that as a member of the United States Senate he could not possibly meet the requirement of residing full-time in Cambridge during the school year. Adams also expressed his dissatisfaction over the requirement that the Boylston Professor make a declaration of religious faith. Adams questioned the College's authority to impose such a test or declaration.

On September 2, 1805, the Corporation voted to amend the residency requirement of the Boylston statutes to accommodate Adams's senatorial duties. The Corporation also voted to insert a less objectionable declaration of faith into the statutes to make it more acceptable to Adams and voted to provide a substitute professor when the Boylston Professor was away. Despite these amendments, Adams raised further objections. In a letter to the Corporation on October 11, 1805, Adams criticized the provision for the appointment of a substitute professor claiming that such an appointment would be inconsistent with the original intention of the Professorship and lead to some "unpleasant differences between the two teachers." Determined to secure Adams's services, the Corporation on May 21, 1806, appointed another committee to draft further alterations to the statutes. These alterations finally satisfied Adams and allowed him to teach on a part-time basis and to determine which Boylston duties he would fulfill, without a substitute professor.

Adams's lectures as the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory began on July 11, 1806. By August 12, 1808, Adams had completed thirty-six lectures. Adams repeated the first twenty-four of his lectures in the new academic year, but after he was appointed minister to Russia in July 1809 by President James Madison, Adams resigned his professorship. In August, the Corporation appointed the Reverend Joseph McKean as the new Boylston Professor. When McKean's selection was accepted by the Corporation, the Boylston statutes were revised again to require that the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory reside at Cambridge near the College to perform all the duties of his office.

From the guide to the Records relating to the founding of the Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory, 1772-1809., (Harvard University Archives)

Harvard College was founded by the Massachusetts General Court, and the Charter of 1650 established the Harvard Corporation as the primary governing body of the College. The Charter exempted Harvard from paying taxes on real estate worth up to five hundred pounds per annum. In the late 1790s, the Harvard Corporation petitioned the state legislature for an increase in the monetary amount of their tax-exemption. The Corporation's petition incited protest from the town of Cambridge which argued that the exemptions placed a burden on the town by unfairly limiting their tax revenue.

In addition to the exemption provided by the Charter of 1650 (and reinforced by the Massachusetts State Constitution of 1780), annual tax legislation provided further exemptions to the College and its officers. In 1746, Harvard Tutor Judah Monis and Professor John Winthrop successfully petitioned the General Court for an exemption on their town and property taxes as College officers. In subsequent years, the annual tax law of the General Court included a clause stating that, "The President, Fellows, Professors, Tutors, Librarian, and Students of Harvard College, who have their usual resident there, and settled Ministers of the Gospel, and Grammar School Masters, are not to be assessed for their polls or estates...and also all persons who have management or improvement of the estate of Harvard College are not to be assessed for the same." Similar tax exemptions were allowed for the officers of Williams and Bowdoin Colleges.

Following the Revolutionary War, inflation and the depreciating value of money in Massachusetts made it difficult for Harvard to maintain livable salaries for its faculty. In an effort to secure accommodations for College officers as might be needed in financial emergencies, the Corporation purchased houses and land in Cambridge in the 1790s. Some Cambridge residents complained that the College's real estate tax exemptions would result in a loss of income from the property purchased by the Corporation. A Committee of the Town of Cambridge was formed and began negotiating with the College over the types of building that should be included in the calculation of their £500 exemption. On July 15, 1797, the Harvard Corporation presented a petition to the Massachusetts General Court requesting the amount of their tax-exempt real estate be expanded. The Corporation and the Cambridge Committee met on June 20, 1798 to discuss the issue, but failed to agree on a satisfactory compromise.

In early January 1799, the Corporation again began pressing the General Court to address their petition, and in the same month, the Cambridge Committee submitted their own petition to the General Court requesting that future tax acts should not by "doubt in construction" or "operation" exempt the estate of the College or its officers from "paying a just & equitable proportion of Town and Parish Charges." The annual tax act, approved on February 28, 1799 (Chapter 75), acknowledged the issue by including a clause that if within the year, the town of Cambridge could prove that the Harvard Corporation's real estate holdings "afforded a net income of more than five hundred pounds" the related taxes would be paid out of the public Treasury.

The Corporation, Harvard professors, and the town of Cambridge offered petitions and related documentation to General Court committees during their legislative session in 1799. On June 10, 1799, with a bill pending before the General Court, the Corporation appointed a Committee comprised of Corporation members Judge John Lowell (1743-1802; Harvard AB 1760) and Judge Oliver Wendell (1733-1818; Harvard AB 1753) to appear as needed before the General Court and to do all they could to help pass the legislation "as may be most for the advantage of the College." The Corporation also voted to appoint Professor Pearson as the agent for the Committee, and instructed him to appear with them and "furnish such documents, on the subject, as he may now have in his possession, or may further procure."

The General Court did not respond to the Corporation's request for an increased exemption allowance in 1799, but it also did not change the tax exemption for College officers; the annual tax act approved on February 24, 1800 included the traditional exemption clause. Disagreement between the Corporation and local towns over the College's tax exemptions continued into the 19th century and was impacted by court decisions and state tax legislation. Notable among the court decisions, in 1828, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in the case of Nahum Hardy vs. Inhabitants of Waltham (7 Pick. 108), that based on the Charter of 1650 all lands "first acquired by the college before their annual income amounted to 500l., would never be liable to taxation."

Eliphalet Pearson (1752-1826) was Harvard's second Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages from 1786 until 1806, the College's interim President from 1804 to 1806, and a member of the Harvard Corporation.

Pearson received an AB from Harvard in 1773 and an AM in 1777. In 1778 he was appointed the first preceptor of Phillips Academy, and he continued in that position for eight years. In 1786 he returned to Harvard, where he became Hancock Professor of Hebrew and other Oriental Languages.

In addition to his duties as a professor, Pearson contributed to Harvard committees and occasionally represented the school before the state's General Court. In 1800 he was elected a fellow of the Harvard Corporation, and was active in College affairs. After the death of Harvard President Joseph Willard on September 24, 1804, Pearson became interim President, and soon became enmeshed in argument with other Corporation members over the proper religious leaning of candidates for the next Hollis Professor of Divinity. When Pearson's candidate was not chosen as the Hollis Professor, and he himself was rejected as a candidate for the Harvard Presidency, he resigned from the Corporation and as professor on March 8, 1806, and returned to Andover. Pearson died on September 12, 1826.

Joseph Willard (1738-1804) was a Congregational minister, a scholar of ancient Greek, astronomy, and mathematics, and the twelfth president of Harvard College, serving from 1781 to 1804.

Willard received an AB from Harvard in 1765 and an AM in 1768. In 1772, Willard became the minister of the First Church of Beverly, Mass. and served there until 1781 when he was appointed President of Harvard. Although considered somewhat austere and autocratic by students, Willard earned their respect and that of the faculty for his conscientious attention to administrative matters. Under Willard’s leadership the University’s reputation flourished; entrance requirements were raised, instruction was updated with the introduction of new courses and texts, daily sermons were discontinued, additions to Harvard Hall were built, and the Harvard Medical School was established. Moreover, the University’s financial stability improved with several substantial gifts. Willard fell ill in 1798 and spent the next several years in semi-retirement. He died in 1804.

From the guide to the Records of the Corporation relating to College tax exemptions, [1797]-1799, (Harvard University Archives)

At a special meeting of the Corporation on February 6, 1850, the President and Fellows voted that "the President cause to be examined and arranged all the manuscript papers relating to the College, whether records, letters, or other papers now in Gore Hall or other buildings of the University, and procure such as are worthy of preservation to be substantially bound." James W. Harris, an assistant in the Library who also served as an assistant to President Jared Sparks, was assigned the task of arranging and indexing the papers.

Historical and administrative records dating back as early as the mid 1600s were gathered together and arranged in chronological order in bound volumes which were then placed in the Library. After 1850, historical records continued to be collected and arranged on an intermittent basis. Papers that were accidentally overlooked, or newly discovered or received, were added later as supplements.

Each volume of the College Papers contains an index which refers to page numbers. In the late nineteenth century, Keeper of the Archives William Garrott Brown numbered each of the documents in the first five volumes which he used to assemble a calendar, or descriptive inventory. As part of the current project, the processing archivist numbered all documents in the remaining six volumes.

Some documents dated between January 1 and March 25 before 1752 have been cited with the double date convention, e.g., March 13, 1638/9. This convention was used in England and the North American colonies between 1582 and 1752. The first date refers to the year according to the Julian calendar, which began on March 25, while the second refers to the year according to the Gregorian calendar, which began on January 1.

From the guide to the Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831., (Harvard University Archives)

The following is an organizational, functional, and legal history of the President and Fellows of Harvard College, which is also known as the Harvard Corporation. It is only a summary and is intended to serve as a general outline. Numerous sources on the history and development of Harvard University and the role of the Corporation are easily accessible and readily available to the general public. The bibliography at the end of this finding aid offers a listing of some of these resources. Researchers should also consult Harvard's on-line integrated library system (HOLLIS) , Harvard's Online Archival Search Information System (OASIS) , and the Harvard/Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf for web access to primary and secondary historical sources. Please contact Reference Staff for more assistance.

The Harvard Corporation, whose legal name is "President and Fellows of Harvard College," is one of Harvard's two governing boards, the other being the Board of Overseers. The Corporation is the smaller of the two governing boards, consisting of the President and Treasurer of the University and five Fellows. It is a self-perpetuating body, subject to the consent of the Board of Overseers. Members of the Corporation serve without term limits, and Fellows serve without pay. Although both Governing Boards share responsibility for the overall governance of the University, the Corporation has final executive authority within the University and is responsible for decisions on major academic, financial, and policy matters.

In 1637, the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony appointed a Board of Overseers to administer the funds levied the previous year for the establishment of a college. The Board, which was formally established by the Act of 1642, oversaw College affairs until 1650. The Charter of 1650, granted by the General Court at the request of Harvard's first president, Henry Dunster, recognized the College as a Corporation consisting of the President, Treasurer, and five Fellows, defined the relation of the Corporation to the Board of Overseers, and placed executive authority for College affairs in the hands of the Corporation.

Although the Charter defined the relations of the Corporation to the Board of Overseers, it did not clearly delineate the powers between the two governing boards, and in 1657, the Board of Overseers petitioned the General Court for a clarification. The Appendix of 1657, added by the General Court to the Charter of 1650, made clear that the Corporation was expected to act as the superior governing board with responsibility for decisions regarding the order and work of the College. However, no Corporation vote, except in emergency cases, was to be considered valid without the consent of the Overseers.

In 1686, the Council for New England superseded the Massachusetts Bay Charter under which the Colony of Massachusetts had been governed. One result of the ensuing struggle between the Crown and provincial government for control of the colonial legislature was that the Charter of 1650, which had been granted under the authority of the colony and not the king, was considered null and void. From 1686 to 1692, the Corporation was in abeyance. From 1686 to 1707, the Board of Overseers was also in a suspended state. Increase Mather, who had been named Harvard's sixth President in 1685, served as head of the College, with the title Rector from 1686 to 1692. From 1692 to 1701, Mather once again led the College with the title President.

Beginning in 1692, a number of interim charters were proposed, and governance of the College shifted between the President and Corporation. In 1707, the Charter of 1650 was restored, thereby reinstating the Board of Overseers and returning University governance to Harvard's two governing boards. The restoration of the Charter made clear that the Corporation held final executive authority within the University. In 1780, the Corporation's authority was confirmed by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

It is important to note that although the Corporation acts as the superior governing board with executive authority over all matters related to College affairs, beginning with the presidency of Charles William Eliot the Corporation has delegated much of its authority with respect to education, discipline, operations, and financial administration to Harvard's faculties and administrators.

In 1870, the Corporation created the position of Dean of the College Faculty to relieve the President from the burden of many formal administrative tasks involved in running College operations. The Dean of the College Faculty presided at meetings of the Faculty in the absence of the President, took charge of records concerning admission, matriculation, scholarships, attendance and petitions, and acted as a liaison between the President and Faculty.

Between 1889 and 1891, Harvard underwent an administrative reorganization, which led to the dissolution of the separate faculties of Harvard College and the Lawrence Scientific School and the creation of the single Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), which had charge of the College, the Scientific School, and the new Graduate School of Harvard University. The FAS voted to delegate to the Administrative Boards of the three departments in its charge all ordinary administrative, disciplinary, and guidance responsibilities.

In 1906, the President and Fellows established the Resident Executive Board to relieve Corporation meetings of a mass of administrative details. The Board, which was subject to the authority of the Corporation, was responsible for the management and supervision of buildings and grounds, the College's physical plant, assignment of rooms, and the setting of college dormitory and laboratory fees.

In the early 1950s, Harvard once again underwent an administrative reorganization, as the Corporation, on the recommendation of the FAS, voted to decentralize the College's administration to better address the academic, social, mental, and financial problems of an oversized student body and to improve administrative operating procedures.

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, the Corporation delegated authority to a number of special committees to investigate, consider, and make recommendations on a wide variety of subjects, including retirement allowances, tenure, University governance, and shareholder responsibility.

After Derek Bok assumed the presidency of Harvard in 1971, he instituted a major reorganization of the University's central administration in order to improve the lines of communication among Faculty, administrators, students, alumni, and Harvard's neighboring communities. The office of Administrative Vice President was replaced by three new officers, the Vice President for Financial Affairs, the Vice President for Government and Community Relations, and the Vice President for Administration. The Office of the Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development was added the following year.

A significant transfer of power occurred in 1982, when the Harvard Corporation delegated general authority over appointments to the Joint Committee on Appointments of the Governing Boards of Harvard University. Established following the recommendations of the Overseers' Special Committee to Study the Appointments Process at Harvard University, the Joint Committee consists of two Fellows and two Overseers, is chaired by the President, and meets monthly during the academic year. The Committee has general authority over all academic ladder appointments and upper-level administrative appointments. In addition, the Committee acts on behalf of the University in grievance matters that involve the Central Administration, functions as a rules committee analyzing and approving appointment policy changes in the Faculties and Central Administration, and hears all requests for exceptions to University statutes regarding appointments.

As the Corporation continues to devote more of its time to long-range and strategic planning and University-wide policy issues, more responsibility has been placed with Harvard's faculties and administrators for oversight of their operations. Along with responsibility goes accountability. The President and Fellows of Harvard College are informed of routine academic, physical plant, administrative, financial, and operational matters through regular oral and written reports presented to the Corporation at its bimonthly meetings by the Harvard Management Company, the University's Vice Presidents, Deans, Directors, and the Board of Overseers.

As of this writing, in 2004, the Corporation still exercises the powers granted by the Charter of 1650 to promote the academic mission of the University. The 1978 Report from the Committee on the Structure and Function of the Board of Overseers (the Gilbert Committee) concerning Harvard's Governmental Structure summed up Corporation responsibilities as follows, "All the property of every department of the University stands in the name of the President and Fellows. Every Faculty is subject to their authority. All degrees are voted by the Corporation and, in the first instance, all appointments are made by them or their designees. All general changes in requirements and procedures anywhere in the University are carried out under the authority of the Corporation." * Additionally, only the Corporation can choose its own successors with the consent of the Overseers, receive gifts on behalf of the University, invest and dispose the University's funds in the purchase of real and personal property, and sue and be sued in the name of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. In all these acts, the individual members of the Corporation--the President, Treasurer, and five Fellows--act together as one anonymous and unanimous board when rendering executive decisions, orders, and votes. In regard to most of the matters before the Corporation, the President and Fellows require no further approval of their actions. However, in order to be considered valid, Corporation votes require the consent of the Board of Overseers.

Harvard University. Board of Overseers. Committee on the Structure and Function of the Board of Overseers. Report from the Committee on the Structure and Function of the Board of Overseers (the Gilbert Committee) concerning Harvard's Governmental Structure. (Cambridge, Mass. : President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1978. P. 3.)

  • 1636: Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony levied funds for the establishment of a college in Newtown. The General Court passed the legislative act that founded Harvard College: "The Court agreed to give 400 L towards a schoale or colledge, whearof 200 L to bee paid the next yeare, and 200 L when the worke is finished, and the next Court to appoint wheare and what building." (Massachusetts Bay Records, I. 183).
  • 1637: By vote of the General Court, "The Colldg is ordered to bee at Newetowne." General Court appointed first Board of Overseers for the College. Board consisted of the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Deputy Governor, selected Reverends, and citizens. The Board was not permanently organized until 1642.
  • 1638: Name of Newtown changed to Cambridge. The town of Cambridge granted to "the professor," Master Nathaniel Eaton, three parcels of land, two of which became part of the college yard, and of the grounds immediately to the north. The College opened to students.
  • 1642 - 1686 : The General Court gave the Board of Overseers the following permanent organization: Governor, Deputy Governor, and all magistrates (assistants) of the Colony, the ordained ministers of Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown, Boston, Roxbury and Dorchester, and the President of the College.
  • 1650: General Court granted the Charter under which Harvard still operates today. The President and Treasurer and five Fellows were incorporated as the President and Fellows of Harvard College, also known as the Corporation. The Charter defined the relation of the Corporation to the already established Board of Overseers. Since 1650, the function of the Board of Overseers has been to review the actions of the Corporation.
  • 1656: An Act of the General Court empowered the Corporation, according to their discretion, to punish and fine students in their care who commit misdemeanors.
  • 1657: In response to a request from the Board of Overseers for clarification of the delineation of the powers distributed between the Corporation and the Board, the General Court added an Appendix to the Charter of 1650. The Appendix made clear that the Corporation was expected to act as the superior governing board with responsibility for decisions regarding the order and work of the College. However, no Corporation vote, except in emergency cases, was to be considered valid without the consent of the Overseers. The Appendix added that emergency acts implemented by the Corporation could later be invalidated by the Board of Overseers. Overseers were not to introduce matters of action. Their primary concern should be the welfare of the College. The Appendix also required sufficient notice, except once again in emergency cases, for meetings of the Overseers called by the Corporation or by the Board itself.
  • 1685 - 1701 : Increase Mather served as President of Harvard College. From 1686 to 1692, Mather served as head of the College, with the title Rector.
  • 1686 - 1692 : Corporation in abeyance. In 1686, the Council for New England superseded the Massachusetts Bay Charter under which the Colony of Massachusetts had been governed. The Charter of 1650, which had been granted under the authority of the Colony, was now considered null and void since it had not been granted by the King.
  • 1686 - 1707 : Board of Overseers fell into abeyance. Under the Charters of 1692 and 1697 and the arrangement of 1700, the Corporation was the sole governing board.
  • 1692 - 1697 : The Charter of 1692 placed the government of the College under the President and an expanded Corporation. Charter disallowed by the King because it did not reserve visitation power to the Crown, which would have allowed the Crown to have a say in the government of the College.
  • 1697 - 1699 : Charter of 1697 gave the power of visitation to both the Royal Governor and the Council for New England. Charter was disallowed by the King because of shared visitation power between a representative of the crown and an elected representative body.
  • 1699: Charter of 1699 rejected by the Crown because of a requirement that only those who practiced orthodox Congregationalism could serve as President or Fellow of Harvard College.
  • 1700 - 1707 : The College operated under a draft charter passed by the General Court, which gave responsibility for the government of the College to the de facto College Corporation. This Charter required the President of the College to live in Cambridge. Mather refused, and in 1701 he was forced to resign his post.
  • 1701 - 1707 : Samuel Willard served as Vice-President of Harvard College. In actuality, he served as de facto President of the College. However, since he lived outside of Cambridge, and in order to meet the General Court technicality which had helped to remove Mather from office, Willard led the school under the title of Vice-President.
  • 1707: Charter of 1650 restored and the Board of Overseers restored as organized under the Act of 1642. The Councilors of the Province (and after 1775 of the State) took the place of the Magistrates of the Colony. Only ministers of Congregational churches were admitted to the clerical places on the Board. The Corporation began to exert its lawful authority that had previously been exercised by the Overseers during the seventeenth century.
  • 1720 - 1723 : Controversy over the meaning of and privileges associated with the term "Fellow" in the Charter of 1650.
  • 1780: Authority of Corporation confirmed through the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Constitution confirmed the Act of 1642 and defined the membership of the Board of Overseers under that Act as consisting of "the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Council, and Senate of this Commonwealth [together with] the ministers of the Congregational Churches in the towns of Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown, Boston, Roxbury, and Dorchester." The President of the College continued to be an ex-officio member. The term "Congregational" included the Unitarian Church.
  • 1810: In early 1810, the Massachusetts Legislature under Federalist control, voted to reorganize and redefine the requirements for membership on the Board of Overseers. The move was politically motivated to weaken the power of Republican legislators. The Act, which was accepted by the University, removed the State Senate (except its President) from the Board of Overseers, added the Speaker of the House, confined the number of clerical members to fifteen, and added fifteen laymen, who were to be elected by the existing Board for life, unless disqualified by non-residence in Massachusetts, or removed by the Board for neglect of duties. In addition, ministers of Congregational churches anywhere in Massachusetts were now eligible for the clerical positions on the Board.
  • 1811: In Massachusetts state elections, the Republicans regained control back from the Federalists over all three branches of the Legislature.
  • 1812: The Legislature under Republican control, repealed the Act of 1810, returning the full State Senate to membership on the Board of Overseers. The Harvard Corporation, which was sympathetic to the Federalist cause, denied the validity of the Act of 1812. The Republican victory was short-lived, however, as the spring 1812 elections saw the Federalists win the Governor's office.
  • 1814: Federalists were majority party in the Massachusetts State Senate. Legislature voted to repeal Act of 1812 and re-enact the Act of 1810 after a major alteration--the State Senate would continue to serve on the Board of Overseers as ex-officio members. The Act of 1814 was accepted by both the Corporation and Board of Overseers.
  • 1825: Publication of the new Statutes and Laws of the University in Cambridge which embodied numerous reforms of the Harvard College code. Failed attempt by the Faculty to obtain a seat on the Corporation.
  • 1834: The Board of Overseers requested that Harvard President Josiah Quincy prepare and publish a collection of all the Massachusetts constitutional articles and legislative enactments relative to the Board of Overseers and the Corporation, as well as all of the rules and regulations of the Overseers. It was published in the President's Annual Report for 1835.
  • 1850: The Corporation voted to require that all College Papers be identified, collected, mounted, bound, and arranged chronologically.
  • 1851: An Act of the Massachusetts Legislature, which was accepted by the University, reorganized the membership of the Board of Overseers as follows: the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Senate President, House Speaker, Secretary of the Board of Education, and the President and Treasurer of Harvard University would all serve as ex-officio members. Thirty other persons were to be chosen by joint ballot of the Massachusetts Senate and House in annual classes of five each, each class to hold office for six years. The distinction between clerical and lay members no longer existed. This Act went into effect in 1852.
  • 1865: The Massachusetts Legislature voted to give certain Harvard alumni the right to elect the members of the Board of Overseers. The Act, which was accepted by the University and went into effect in 1866, abolished all ex-officio members of the Board except the President of the University. The six classes of Overseers created by the Act of 1851 were henceforth to be elected from residents of Massachusetts by graduates of the University who had either the A.B., A.M., or an honorary degree. In order to vote, Massachusetts resident alumni had to be present at the College on Commencement Day.
  • 1870: The Corporation created the position of Dean of the College Faculty to relieve the President from the burden of many formal administrative tasks involved in running College operations. The Dean of the College Faculty presided at meetings of the Faculty in the absence of the President, took charge of records concerning admission, matriculation, scholarships, attendance and petitions, and acted as a liaison between the President and Faculty. In 1890, as part of the administrative reorganization of the University, the Office of the Dean of the College Faculty was superseded by the new Office of the Dean of Harvard College.
  • 1880: An Act of Massachusetts Legislature made non-residents of Massachusetts eligible for election to the Board of Overseers.
  • 1901: Following the recommendation of the Board of Overseers, the Corporation created the new permanent office of Secretary to the President in order to provide the President of the University with some relief from an ever-increasing administrative workload.
  • 1902: An Act of the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the University to alter the franchise for Overseer.
  • 1905: The title of Secretary to the President changed to Secretary to the Corporation.
  • 1906: The President and Fellows established the Resident Executive Board to relieve Corporation meetings of a mass of administrative details. The Board, which was subject to the authority of the Corporation, was responsible for the management and supervision of buildings and grounds, the College's physical plant, assignment of rooms, and the setting of college dormitory and laboratory fees. Membership on the Board consisted of the President, Comptroller, Bursar, Inspector of Grounds and Buildings, Assistant Dean of Harvard College, Regent, and Secretary to the Corporation.
  • 1915: The Governing Boards of Harvard University, with the authority granted to it by the State in 1902, extended the right to vote for Overseers to holders of any Harvard degree.
  • 1921: An Act of the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the Governing Boards to adopt new rules and regulations for voting for Overseers. The right to vote in Overseers' election was extended, by means of a mail ballot, far beyond the relatively few alumni actually present at Harvard on Commencement Day.
  • 1970: The University Committee on Governance was created as part of University's ongoing efforts to address issues which led to the seizure of University Hall. The Committee's mandate was to review Harvard's institutional needs, as well as the organization and functions of the Governing Boards and the President's Office.
  • 1978: The Committee on the Structure and Function of the Board of Overseers (Gilbert Committee) published a report reaffirming and describing the structure and respective roles of both the Corporation and the Overseers. The University first established definite guidelines for investment in companies with operations in South Africa.
  • 1979: The Board of Overseers' Executive Committee appointed the Special Committee to Study the Appointments Process in Harvard University to reconsider the function of the Governing Boards in the review of appointments. The Committee was known as the Doermann Committee, after its chairman Humphrey Doermann.
  • 1982: The Harvard Corporation began to devote more of its time to planning and strategic issues and less to working on operating problems, sending a clear signal to the Doermann Committee that the Corporation, like the Board of Overseers, wanted a streamlined appointments review process. Doermann Committee issued their report, finding the Governing Boards' involvement to be too superficial, the quality and amount of support documentation submitted by the Faculties to be insufficient, and the delay in confirming appointments too long. The Committee recommended a revision of the appointment process, the most significant of which was the creation of a joint Corporation-Overseer committee to review appointments. The Overseers' Executive Committee established the Joint Committee on Appointments of the Governing Boards of Harvard University.
  • 1985: Following the model of the Joint Committee on Appointments, the Board of Overseers and Corporation established a Joint Committee on Inspection. The University began to apply a policy of selective divestment based upon careful review of each portfolio company's record on South Africa.
  • 1988: The Joint Study Committee of the Governing Boards of Harvard University on the University's Role as an Investor in Relation to South Africa is established.
  • 1992: The Board of Overseers voted to establish a committee to review the procedures by which the Board renders its "counsel and consent" with respect to the Corporation's election of its own members, meaning the President, Fellows, and Treasurer. The committee was directed to review the Board's "counsel and consent" role and consider possible modifications to these functions, including any necessary amendments to the Board's Bylaws.

From the guide to the Records of the Harvard Corporation, 1650-1992 (bulk), ca.1636-1992 (inclusive)., (Harvard University Archives)

In the eighteenth century, Harvard received financial contributions from the Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America, an English organization chartered for the purpose of converting the New England Indians to Christianity. The Company sponsored missionaries in New England from 1649 until the Revolutionary War. It did so by sending revenues from its investments to its Commissioners for Indian Affairs in New England, many of them Boston merchants, who in turn paid the missionaries or otherwise dispersed the funds as directed. Among the funds directed to Harvard College by the Company were bequests from two British men, Robert Boyle and Daniel Williams. These funds were administered by the Harvard Corporation and used to support the missionary work of several individuals, including Oliver Peabody (1698-1752) and Stephen Badger (1726-1803) at Natick, Massachusetts; Stephen West (1735-1819) and John Sergeant (1710-1749) at Stockbridge, Massachusetts; Sergeant’s son, John Sergeant, Jr. (1747-1824), at Stockbridge, Massachusetts and later New Stockbridge, New York; Samuel Kirkland (1741-1808) at Oneida, New York; Experience Mayhew (1673-1758) and Frederick Baylies (1774-1836) among the Chappaquiddick Indians in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts; Gideon Hawley (1727-1807) at Mashpee, Massachusetts; and Joseph Badger (1757-1846) among the Wyandot Indians at Sandusky, Ohio. Although financial donations ceased at the time of the American Revolution, the funds’ unexpended surpluses were used into the nineteenth century.

Many missionaries also received financial support from another organization, the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. This Society, founded in 1709, contributed to the missionary work of John Sergeant, Jr. and Samuel Kirkland and, like Harvard, received copies of their missionary journals in return. Its funds were locally administered by the London Board of Correspondents in Boston.

From the guide to the Records of Grants for Work among the Indians, 1720-1812, (Harvard University Archives)

The Harvard laws, first compiled in 1642, and revised periodically thereafter, defined appropriate student conduct and detailed the requirements for admitted students; later laws included regulations for the library, the steward and butler, and governors and officers of the College. Many of the College Laws focused on student behavior, religion, and academics, and attempted to confine students within the College Yard. The early laws were written in both English and Latin and recorded in Harvard’s College Book, but additional manuscript copies were made for use by the President, and also copied by students. The earliest published laws appeared in "Rules, and Precepts that are observed in the Colledge" in the 1643 tract, New Englands First Fruits.

The Harvard College Charter of 1650 assigned the authority to make “orders & Bylawes for the better ordering & carying on the worke of the Colledge as they shall thinck fitt” to the Harvard Corporation. The 1655 College laws, enacted during President Charles Chauncy’s tenure, and known as the Chaunceian Code, were the first laws created by the Corporation. The 1655 code expanded on early laws to include rules on admission, student life, absences, expenses, academic courses, and punishments.

Through the end of the 17th century, both the Overseers and Corporation added rules and amendments to the College Laws. Notable revisions and additions included the 1667 establishment by the Overseers of rules pertaining to the Library and the Library keeper, the Dudley Code of 1686 (recorded in College Book IV), and the Mather Code of 1692 (extant only in Cotton Mather's Magnalia).

As early as 1719, the Corporation began discussing a large-scale review of the College Laws, and in 1734 a new code was approved. The 1734 code encompassed eight chapters and addressed all aspects of student life: I. About admission into the College; II. Concerning a religious, virtuous life; III. Concerning scholastical exercises; IV. Concerning penal laws; V. Concerning the scholar’s commons; VI. About academical degrees; VII. About the Steward, Cook, and Butler; and VIII. Concerning miscellaneous matters.

The 1734 code declared that, “every candidate for Admission shall procure and keep by him a true Copy of the College Laws respecting his Duty and Priviledges, which being signed by the President and Major Part of the Tutors shall be his Admission into College.” Through the 1767 revision of the College Laws, this signed copy of the Laws was known as the “Admittatur." In 1767, the “Admittatur” evolved into a certificate approved by the Steward and signed by the President indicating that the student was aware of his responsibility to pay his College debts.

Many 18th century Harvard freshmen not only copied the College Laws, but also heard the College Customs read aloud to them by a Sophomore soon after they began college. The College Customs were a set of nineteen rules reflecting the social hierarchy of the different undergraduate classes, including the wearing of hats and errand-running by freshmen for upperclassmen. While the original date of the Customs is unknown, the Corporation's acknowledgment of them extended into the late 1700s. Only in 1786 did the Corporation vote to prohibit freshmen errands.

In 1765, Harvard administrators began planning an expansive revision of the College laws, and in 1767, a ten-chapter code was distributed that expanded on the rules related to the Library as well as to the officers of the College. On May 14, 1790, the Corporation voted, for the first time, to publish a printed edition of the College Laws. The laws of the 18th century remained in effect until June 1825, when the Corporation and Overseers published a new code with one hundred and fifty-three laws in thirteen chapters.

From the guide to the Laws and statutes of Harvard, 1655-1989, (Harvard University Archives)

After Harvard College was established in 1636 by a legislative act of the Massachusetts General Court, a location for the institution needed to be established. On November 15, 1637, the College was "ordered to bee at Newetowne" and five days later the General Court appointed the first Board of Overseers, including Governor Winthrop, Deputy-Governor Dudley, four other magistrates and six ministers. By the end of 1637, the Overseers had acquired an acre and an eighth of land in Newetowne, an area encompassing modern-day Cambridge, which later became Harvard Yard. In recognition of the English University where most of the Overseers and many leading colonists had been educated, on May 2, 1638 the name of Newetowne was changed to Cambridge.

On October 28, 1636, the Massachusetts General Court voted £400 to fund construction of the first building in the colonies designed for collegiate education. The structure was to be built adjacent to the William Peyntree house (near the current site of Grays Hall), and construction began in 1638. Later that year, on September 14, 1638, John Harvard died, and bequeathed half of his estate, including his library of over 400 books to the College. In gratitude for Harvard's legacy, on March 13, 1639, the Massachusetts General Court officially named the institution and its first building, Harvard College. References to the "Yard" first appear in 1639 during construction of the first building "in the Colledge Yard" in expenditures for "fencing the yard with pale six feet and one half high." The wooden building was completed in 1642, and hosted Harvard's first Commencement in September later that year. The first floor east wing was used for prayers, meals, and all college exercises while the west wing contained the kitchen, storerooms, and the buttery. The second floor consisted of student chambers and the library. In later years, the building became known as "Old College" after newer buildings were acquired and built. The building was modeled after English universities, but its construction was severely affected by the harsh New England weather; within five years the roof, walls, and foundation began to decay. By 1677, the building was no longer habitable.

Despite ongoing construction of its first building, the College opened to students in the house of William Peyntree in the summer of 1638. This house later became the home of Harvard's first president, Henry Dunster, from 1640 to 1641. In 1644, a new structure, the President's Lodge, was built on the foundations of Peyntree House, and served as the residence for Harvard presidents Dunster, Charles Chauncy, and Leonard Hoar, before a new President's residence was built (on the present site of Massachusetts Hall) in 1680. In 1651, the College purchased William Goffe's house, lot, and cow-yard to ease overcrowding in Old College. Known as Goffe College, this structure "conteyned five Chambers, 18 Studyes, a Kitchen Cellar and 3 Garretts" and housed students until 1674. Funds to purchase Goffe College were obtained from the sale of "Brazil wood" given to the College in 1650 by residents of the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Goffe College completed a rectangle of College buildings with a 180 foot frontage on Braintree Street (now Massachusetts Avenue). It is unclear if Goffe College was destroyed by fire or was demolished before 1677 when Old Harvard Hall opened for student occupancy.

In 1752, under the leadership of Reverend Thomas Shepard, the First Parish in Cambridge completed construction of its fourth meetinghouse, adjacent to the southwest corner of Harvard Yard. The second and third meetinghouses, built in 1650 and 1706 respectively, and the fourth meetinghouse occupied the area on which Lehman Hall currently stands. This land did not become Harvard property until 1833. Harvard students and faculty worshiped with the First Parish congregation from 1638 until 1814, when a separate University Church was constructed in University Hall.

Harvard's first quadrangle comprised the President's Lodge, Old College, Goffe College, and the Indian College, Harvard's first brick building which accommodated 20 students and the printing press. Constructed circa 1653 (across from the southern end of present Matthews Hall), the Indian College was completed in 1656 "for the Convenienyce of six hopefull Indian youthes." Construction was funded by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England which granted Harvard funds for the training of Indians as missionaries. The printing press was moved to a lower room of the Indian College from the President's Lodge in 1655. The printing press, which was the first in the colonies, had been acquired by President Dunster in 1646. In 1659, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent a new printing press to Harvard to print puritan tracts which were prohibited in England. Between 1660 and 1663, over 1,200 pages of John Eliot's Indian Bible were printed at the Indian College; the press also produced almanacs, law books, broadsides, catechisms, psalm books, and sermons. The press was later given to the College in 1670. Since few Indian students attended the College after 1665, the Indian College was then likely used in preference to the dilapidated and deteriorating portions of Old College. When the Indian College was demolished in 1698, the bricks were used for the construction of Stoughton College, completed in 1699.

Bordering Harvard on Braintree Street in the 17th century was a house built in 1631 for Rev. Thomas Hooker, the first minister at Newetowne. Hooker left the area in 1636, leading his congregation to Connecticut where they became the First Church of Hartford. Thomas Shepard and Jonathan Mitchell, the first and second ministers of the First Church in Cambridge; and John Leverett, president of Harvard, also lived in this house. The house later became known as "the Wigglesworth House" (presently the site of Wigglesworth Hall) which was occupied by Wigglesworth family members from 1726 to 1794, including Edward Wigglesworth, the first Hollis Professor of Divinity, and his son, Edward Wigglesworth, the second Hollis Professor of Divinity. The house was sold to the College by the Wigglesworth family in 1794. The house was demolished in 1843.

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century several College buildings were constructed facing westward toward Cambridge Common. Old Harvard Hall, built in 1677 and funded by individual subscriptions collected by country clergy and other individuals, housed a dining hall, student rooms, and the college library. Old Harvard Hall was built on the previous site of Harvard College, or "Old College." Stoughton College, the first college building funded by an individual donor, Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton, opened in 1699 as a student residence. Stoughton College was built at a right angle to Old Harvard Hall and the new President's Lodge, forming a new quadrangle. During the Revolutionary War, Stoughton College quartered 240 American soldiers whose harsh wear on the building rendered it unhabitable after the War. Stoughton College stood vacant for several years until it was demolished in 1781. Harvard acquired the Spencer Orchard in 1697 north of Old Harvard Hall, which was allotted for student recreation use in 1712.

By the end of the seventeenth century, Harvard had acquired the western third of the present Yard, extending to Kirkland Street. In 1718, the Massachusetts General Court authorized £3,500 for the construction of Massachusetts Hall as a dormitory for students. Massachusetts Hall is the College's oldest surviving building, and is currently the second-oldest academic building in the United States after the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary. When Massachusetts Hall opened as a student residence in 1720, it contained 32 chambers, each with two smaller studies. During the Revolutionary War, Massachusetts Hall housed over 600 Continental Army soldiers. In the 19th century Massachusetts Hall was renovated to have recitation rooms on its first floor, and later renovated to house lecture rooms and offices. Massachusetts Hall's roof was damaged by fire in 1924, resulting in a large-scale renovation of the building which included its return to being a student dormitory. In 1939, Massachusetts Hall was renovated again into its current arrangement to accommodate the relocation of the President's Office; the lower floors were transformed into offices, leaving its fourth floor as a student dormitory.

Wadsworth House, Harvard's second oldest surviving building, was constructed in 1727 as a residence for President Benjamin Wadsworth. Nine Harvard presidents, including Wadsworth, Edward Holyoke, Samuel Locke, Samuel Langdon, Joseph Willard, Samuel Webber, John Thornton Kirkland, Josiah Quincy, and Edward Everett, lived in Wadsworth House between 1727 and 1846. In 1775, Wadsworth House was the temporary headquarters of Generals George Washington and Charles Lee.

Holden Chapel, built in 1744, is the third oldest Harvard building presently standing. The structure was likely designed in London, with the plans brought to America by Thomas Hutchinson who obtained initial funding of £400 for its construction from the widow of Samuel Holden, a prominent English Dissenter, part of whose estate had been left to charity "such as the promoting of true Religion." Morning and evening prayers were held in Holden Chapel from 1744 until 1766 when a new chapel was built in Harvard Hall. Holden Chapel was later used for religious services from 1769 to 1772 while the Massachusetts General Court utilized the chapel in Harvard Hall. During the Revolutionary War, Holden Chapel served as barracks for 160 Continental Army soldiers. It was used by John Warren for the instruction of students in medicine after the establishment of Harvard Medical School in 1783.

Hollis Hall, a student dormitory, was built in 1763 at the request of the Corporation who thought that students living with private families were "less orderly and well regulated than those" living on campus. As a result of overcrowding on campus in 1761, ninety Harvard students were lodging with nearby families. The College then requested funds from the Province to build a new dormitory, and the Massachusetts General Court appropriated £2,500 for construction and appointed a joint committee to oversee the project. When dedicated in January 1764, Hollis Hall was named in honor of Thomas Hollis and the Hollis family of London, an English family who had given generously to the College. During the Revolutionary War, Hollis housed likely 600 Continental soldiers.

On January 24, 1764, only a few days after the opening of Hollis Hall, Old Harvard Hall, including most of the College library's 5,000 volumes, was destroyed by fire. The building had been occupied at the time of the fire by the Massachusetts General Court, which was meeting at Harvard due to a smallpox epidemic in Boston. The General Court of Massachusetts took responsibility for the blaze, and funded the construction of the new Harvard Hall, which was completed in 1766. The new building contained a library, installed in the upper west chamber; the Philosophy School consisting of Professor John Winthrop's lecture room and laboratory; two small lecture rooms housing the Hebrew School and later, in 1769, the "Musaeum"; and the college hall which was used for student dining, commencement dinners and class day dances. Harvard Hall's west end housed the "New Chapel," replacing Holden Chapel. The College kitchen remained in the basement while the buttery was relocated to Massachusetts Hall. Books and furnishings for this building were contributed by John Hancock, the province of New Hampshire, and several donors from the largest fund-raining campaign the College had sponsored until that time.

In 1800, the College appropriated $300 from the treasury toward the construction of a wooden bath to be built on the Charles River for Harvard students due to several drownings while bathing in the River. The College partnered with the Humane Society of Cambridge and several private individuals to design and fund the project. Thomas Brattle oversaw the construction of this wooden cage-like structure in the River which was completed in January 1801. Later that year, Harvard assessed its students a fee of ten cents per quarter toward the maintenance of the bath and the refunding of the money which had been allotted from the treasury for the project.

Stoughton Hall, partially built with funds from public lottery, opened as a student dormitory in 1805, replacing Stoughton College, which was located on another site in the Yard. Stoughton Hall carries on the name of the alumnus to give a building to Harvard, Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton. Similar to Stoughton, Holworthy Hall was built with proceeds from a public lottery in 1812. The structure was named in honor of English merchant and landowner Sir Matthew Holworthy, who bequeathed £1,000 to the College in 1678. Holworthy Hall was designed by engineer Loammi Baldwin, and was the first dormitory at Harvard to be lighted by gas.

Constructed of Chelmsford granite and designed by architect Charles Bulfinch (Harvard Class of 1781), University Hall, Harvard's first stone building, was completed in 1815. Construction was funded by a grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and was overseen by Loammi Baldwin. Bulfinch, whose son Thomas was a member of the Class of 1814, provided his services as an architect to the College in exchange for his son's tuition payments. Bulfinch chose granite for University Hall to set it apart from the older, brick buildings surrounding it in Harvard Yard. Upon its cornerstone laying on July 1, 1813, President John Thornton Kirkland explained that the new building would provide a larger chapel for religious and public occasions, and more convenient rooms for the College Commons. When complete, commons were located on the first floor, and were divided into four rooms with folding doors, one for each class. Kitchens were located in the basement. The second and third floors contained recitation rooms and the President's Office. The Chapel was located on the second floor in the center of the building, though religious services were relocated to the newly-constructed Appleton Chapel in 1858. The chapel was divided into two floors with four rooms in 1867; the attic was then used as an examination room. In 1842, the commons were discontinued on the first floor rooms, and a portico with stone pillars on the western facade was removed to give more light to the basement story, part of which included the Faculty Room. Due to the increased size of the Faculty, a Faculty Room was restored in the space previously occupied by the chapel in 1896. This room contained portraits and busts of the University's presidents, professors, and benefactors, and continues to be used as a function space after its most recent remodeling in 2001. University Hall currently houses the administrative offices of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

From the guide to the Records of early Harvard buildings, 1710-1969, (Harvard University Archives)

The awarding of diplomas for the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts at Harvard College was established in the 1640s. At Harvard, the Bachelor of Arts (AB, Artium Baccalaureus in Latin) was awarded on the completion of the undergraduate course of study. The Master of Arts (AM, Magister Artium in Latin) was awarded three years after the completion of a Bachelor of Arts. Until 1813, students were not given diplomas upon graduation. Instead, student names were recorded in the Harvard Triennial Catalogue, as the official record of their degrees. If a student wanted a diploma he had to request it from the College for a small fee. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, students purchased their own parchments in assorted sizes and paid a professional calligrapher to design and engross their diplomas. Written in Latin, many of the diplomas were adorned with blue ribbons and lead boxes that contained a wax imprint of the College seal. No two diplomas were the same; standardized and engraved diplomas were not introduced at Harvard until 1813. In 1752, the College issued the first general diploma to students after an outbreak of small pox prevented commencement exercises from taking place. Instead of issuing individual diplomas for every graduate, the College listed the name of every recipient of a degree for that year in a general diploma. General diplomas were issued during times of drought, economic depression, and war until the end of the eighteenth century.

In 1692, Harvard awarded its first honorary degrees for academic accomplishment to Increase Mather (Doctor of Divinity), John Leverett (Bachelor of Divinity), and William Brattle (Bachelor of Divinity). The first Master of Arts honorary degree was conferred on Thomas Wells in 1703. During the early eighteenth century Harvard awarded a number of courtesy honorary degrees to alumni of other universities. In 1732, John Winthrop, a scientist, was granted the first honorary Doctor of Laws degree. In 1753, Benjamin Franklin became the first to receive an honorary degree (Master of Arts) in recognition of significant accomplishments and a distinguished career, rather than for academic achievements. The first Doctor of Laws was conferred in 1732; the first Doctor of Divinity in 1692.

From the guide to the Diplomas, 1676-1799, (Harvard University Archives)

Harvard College's primary governing board, the Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College (known as the Harvard Corporation), was established by the Massachusetts General Court in 1650. As the Corporation evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries, its responsibilities for managing Harvard's academic, financial, and policy matters expanded with the growth of the College. Harvard's record-keeping practices also reflected this change as the early unsystematic notes of Corporation meetings and orders evolved into formal minutes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Massachusetts General Court designated the Board of Overseers in 1642 to oversee the affairs of Harvard College. Eight years later the General Court granted the Charter of 1650 to the College, establishing the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Where the 1642 legislation had given expansive duties to the Board of Overseers, the Charter of 1650, and its Appendix of 1657, redefined the responsibilities of the Overseers as an advisory body with sanctionative powers over the Corporation. The charter transferred the duties of managing the College, including appointing and removing administrators, faculty, and staff, creating orders and by-laws for the College, and managing finances, properties, and donations to the Corporation. The first recorded meeting of the Corporation was held on December 10, 1654.

The early written records of Harvard's governing boards were bound at various times into a long and narrow journal known as College Book 1. Corporation and Overseers proceedings were entered unsystematically alongside financial statements and miscellaneous records. During President Chauncy's administration (1654-1672) the proceedings of the Corporation began to be copied more regularly by various members of the Corporation including Treasurer John Richards, President Leonard Hoar, and an unidentified Fellow. When College Book 1 was bound together, likely by President Hoar in the 1670s, the proceedings were included as a quire. The varied purposes of the different quires bound into the volume, along with the early scarcity of paper, contribute to the disorganized nature of College Book 1.

A second set of 17th century records was compiled by Thomas Danforth, Treasurer of the College from 1654-1668 and Steward from 1682-1683, likely in 1687. Known as College Book 3, Danforth brought together a chronicle of Harvard's history by copying official documents, donation records, inventories, College laws, and minutes of the Overseers and Corporation (including those he found in College Book I). In the 18th century, Presidents John Leverett and Benjamin Wadsworth added copies of graduate lists and College Laws to College Book 3.

Regular recording of the Corporation meetings began in College Book 4 which includes minutes from July 23, 1686 to September 5, 1750. College Book 4 was precipitated by the English Court of Chancery's October 1684 judgment that voided the Royal Charter of the Massachusetts colony, and seemed to render the College Charter of 1650, and the Corporation and Board of Overseers defunct. In May 1686, Joseph Dudley (Harvard AB 1665) received a commission as the President of the Council of New England, and on July 23, 1686, Dudley and the Council met in Boston to create a provisional College governing board led by Increase Mather as Rector of the College, and John Leverett and William Brattle as Tutors. The "Rector and Tutors" mirrored in purpose if not name the Corporation's "President and Fellows," and the agreements of President Dudley and the Council creating the new governing board comprise the first entry in College Book 4. In June 1692, a new act of incorporation for Harvard College was passed in the Massachusetts Legislature and signed by the Governor. The Charter of 1692 merged the functions of the Board of Overseers and the Corporation into one corporation consisting of the President, Treasurer, and eight Fellows. As the newly established corporation expanded it became unwieldy and met less frequently, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (known until 1825 as the "Immediate Government") assumed more responsibility in managing the College's daily operations and addressing student disciplinary issues.

On December 6, 1707 the Massachusetts General Court restored the Charter of 1650, and reestablished the Board of Overseers and the President and Fellows of the College. The changes in name and composition of the Harvard Corporation between 1686 and 1707 were documented in the proceedings recorded in College Book 4. College Book 4 was continued through the September 17, 1750 Corporation meeting, and College Books 7-10 continued the record through March 31, 1827.

Within the series of ten volumes known as the College Books, three did not include Corporation minutes: College Book 2 contained records of the Board of Overseers and was destroyed in the Harvard Hall Fire of 1764, College Book 5 contains Treasurer's records and is now included in the Records of the Treasurer of Harvard University, and College Book 6 contains records related to donations to the College by Thomas Hollis.

The system of recording Corporation meetings was standardized on April 12, 1827 when the President and Fellows established the position of Secretary of the Corporation. The Corporation charged the Secretary to "keep a record of the doings of the board, shall have charge of the records...and be authorized to procure four copies of the records in well-bound books, and furnish the President with a duplicate of the same." In the 19th century, the Corporation ordered formal copies of the Corporation minutes made from the relevant entries in the College Books and Corporation Waste-Books to create a uniform set of minutes beginning with the first recorded Corporation meeting in 1654.

From the guide to the Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1989, (Harvard University Archives)

On October 28, 1636, the Massachusetts General Court allocated £400 “towards a schoale or colledge.” The General Court's vote founded Harvard College, initially known as "New College," and the money collected from that decision, known as the “Countrys Gifte,” represented the first donation to the College. The history of donations at Harvard in the 17th and 18th centuries, beginning with that initial grant, incorporates both the generosity of donors and the challenges of collecting funds in a colony lacking an established financial structure.

When the first students arrived at Harvard in 1638 there was no modern banking system in Massachusetts; the Colony often relied on payment in kind to collect taxes. Even at Harvard, most parents paid tuition in crops they grew themselves. Donations were often deposited in the Colony’s treasury and then paid out to the College piecemeal.

Harvard's first substantial gift from a private citizen was received from John Harvard's bequest in 1638. Harvard arrived in Massachusetts from England in 1637, and upon his death a year later on September 14, 1638, he left all of his books and half of his estate to what was then known as “New College.” In March of the next year, the General Court renamed the institution "Harvard College" in gratitude. But translating half of an estate into funds proved to be difficult for the College. Wills often reflected assets held as property, as well as unrecovered loans at the time of a benefactor's death. Procuring income from land sales, especially in England, as well as debt recovery, was complicated. The 1658 will of British lawyer John Doddridge laid out a yearly allotment to the College, but after 1687 Harvard stopped receiving the annual installments. The College worked unsuccessfully until 1785 to recover the money.

Through the first two centuries of Harvard's existence, the institution relied on grants from the government. When Massachusetts itself faced financial difficulties in 1641, the General Court authorized three local ministers, Hugh Peter, Thomas Weld, and William Hibbens, to travel to England to raise money for the colony and the College. Notably, the mission produced the first endowed scholarship when, in 1643, Weld secured a £100 donation from Lady Anne Mowlson of London that stipulated the interest on the initial donation should be used to support needy students.

The established wealth of England was an appealing place for Harvard to seek financial support. An estimated 13% of the total gifts to Harvard came from England between 1636 and 1710; the percentage was 17.4% between 1711 and 1805. Individual donors gave gifts of money, land, books, and supplies. Some donations included conditions that often limited the use of funds to scholarships or professorships; Harvard alumnus Paul Dudley stipulated in 1750 that his bequest should support an annual sermon that came to be known as the "Dudleian Lecture," and is still given to this day.

Between 1636 and 1805, Harvard received $178,919 in donations from individuals; between 1806 and 1900 the College received $13,776,111. While the College did not receive the same level of private contributions in its first two decades that it would in later years, there were some individuals who gave generously to Harvard. Major 18th century benefactors included Governor of Connecticut Edward Hopkins (1600-1657), Boston merchant Thomas Hancock (1703-1764), his nephew John Hancock (1737-1793; Harvard AB 1754), and Massachusetts Chief Justice and acting Governor William Stoughton (1631-1701; Harvard AB 1650) who financed the first Stoughton Hall. Significant gifts were also made after a 1764 fire destroyed Harvard Hall. But the most significant benefactor of the 1700s was London merchant, Thomas Hollis (1659-1731), who is estimated to have given the College £6000 in money and books.

In its early decades the College relied on government grants (including the General Court's allocation of the Charlestown Ferry rents), the "college corn" paid in kind by families within the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven colonies, and private donations to support the College. Without the underlying support of a religious sect or a wealthy patron, the process of building a substantial endowment required many years.

From the guide to the Records of gifts and donations, 1643-1955, (Harvard University Archives)

The Harvard College seal was first created in the 17th century as a legal symbol of authentication to validate official documents created by the University's governing bodies. Between the earliest depiction of the College seal in 1643 and the more recent 1935 manifestation, there have been multiple designs of the seal, and while all have incorporated a shield emblazoned with three books, the use of inscriptions including Harvard's current motto "Veritas," and embellishments such as chevrons, open and closed books, book latches, hatching, and shield shape have varied over the years.

The emblem of a shield emblazoned with three books is known as the Harvard arms. The books (both open and closed) emblazoned on the shield reflect those found on the arms of European academic institutions including the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Trinity College, and the Collège de Sorbonne in Paris. The inspiration for the three mottoes found on various College seals is unknown, though Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison has noted that "Veritas" (translated as "Truth" and first used in 1643) and "Christo et Ecclesiæ" (translated as "for Christ and the Church" and first used in 1692) can be found in the works of English Protestant divine William Ames (1576-1633). A third motto, "In Christi Gloriam" translates as "For the glory of Christ" and was first used on the seal of 1650. While the Harvard arms may be used by members of the University as a decorative device, the College seal itself (with the arms and specific inscriptions) is intended only for official use by the Harvard Corporation.

The term "seal" is often applied to both the instrument used to create an impression, and the impression itself. More specifically, the impression-making instrument is known as a "die" or "matrix." The die, typically made of metal, contains the seal's design engraved in reverse. The die's engraving can either be pressed into paper to create an embossed design or pressed into wax to create a wax seal. The wax seal was often used in closing documents to ensure privacy and validate the document. The varying designs for the Harvard seal are partially explained by evolving aesthetic preferences, but the seal also changed in 1650 and 1692 because new College governing bodies were established, and by extension a new seal was desired. As well, the limited skill level of 17th century New England craftsmen often produced rudimentary designs. One explanation for the lack of the word "Veritas" in the only extant impression from the 1643 seal is that it would have been too difficult for a colonial craftsman to engrave the letters. By contrast, the high quality of the 1650 seal suggests it was created in England.

Harvard's first governing body, the Harvard Board of Overseers, was established by the Massachusetts General Court in 1642. On December 27, 1643, the Overseers approved a sketch of a College seal that depicted a triangular shield emblazoned with three open books. The upper two books contained the letters VE and RI, and the lower book contained the letters TAS, spelling VERITAS. The pen-and-ink drawing of the shield was recorded with the Overseers' meeting minutes for December 27th on page 27 of College Book 1 (Harvard's earliest book of records). In the late 17th century, Harvard Treasurer Thomas Danforth transcribed early College records into College Book 3 and embossed page 6 with an impression of the College seal, presumably based on the original 1643 design. The seal includes a square shield emblazoned with three open books, the upper two separated from one lower book by a chevron. There is no motto, but the seal includes an inscription on the border: "SIGILLVM:COLL[EG•]HARVARDIN•CANTAB•NOVANG•" (which translates literally as "Seal College Harvard Camb[ridge] New Eng[land]").

The Charter of 1650, signed on May 31, 1650 by the Governor of Massachusetts, established the Harvard Corporation (comprised of the President, five Fellows, and a Treasurer) and transferred to them in “perpetual succession,” the duties of managing the College. In recognition of this new governing body, the Charter authorized Harvard's President and three Fellows, "when they shall thinck fitt to make and appoint a Common Seale for the use of the said Corporation." The heavily decorated Charter itself has a shield design incorporated into the upper-left section of its ornate border. The pear-shaped shield holds three closed books separated by a chevron, with no motto or inscription.

The seal of 1650, also known as the In Christi Gloriam seal, depicts a square shield emblazoned with three open books separated by a chevron. The seal has the motto: IN CHRISTI GLORIAM and the border inscription: "SIGILL:COL:HARVARD:CANTAB:NOV:ANGL:1650:".

In the 1680s, the Charter of 1650 was deemed defunct and was replaced in 1692 with a new charter and a new Corporation. The Charter of 1692 called for "one common seal to be used in all Causes and Occasions," and a die was cut for it by John Coney, a Boston silversmith, in 1693. The design consists of a square shield emblazoned with three open books separated by a chevron. The seal is engraved on the inner border with the motto: "CHRISTO ET ECCLESIÆ" and the outer border has the inscription: "SIGILLVM: ACADEMIÆ: HARVARDINÆ: IN: NOV: ANG:".

In 1708, the Charter of 1650 was reinstated, and diplomas from the 18th century reveal that the seals of 1650 and 1692 were used interchangeably through 1779, when the 1692 seal was used exclusively. In 1812, two new dies with the design of the 1692 seal were created by Boston engraver Thomas Wightman.

On December 12, 1765, the Corporation adopted new library laws that required a bookplate with "a print of the College Seal" be added to every book owned by the College. The first College bookplate and the Detur prize bookplate were engraved by Boston silversmith and engraver Nathaniel Hurd and based on the 1650 seal, though the plates included the "Christo et Ecclesiæ" motto of the 1692 seal.

In the 1830s, President Josiah Quincy discovered the "Veritas" college arms design in College Book I, and recreated the design on a banner for the 1836 bicentennial celebration. On December 30, 1843, following the suggestion of College Treasurer Samuel A. Eliot, the Corporation voted to reestablish the 1643 Veritas arms as the "common seal of Harvard College." While the various die cuts of the Quincy design have minor differences, they all show the lower book with its back upward inscribed with the "TAS" letters. An initial impression of the seal was cut with the inscription: "ACADEMIÆ HARVARDINÆ IN NOV. ANG. SIG. 1638" but was soon substituted with a second impression with the inscription: "ACADEMIÆ HARVARDINÆ SIGILLVM. 1638".

Following President Quincy's retirement, his successor, Edward Everett, rejected the new seal. In correspondence with Treasurer Eliot in October and November 1846, President Everett explained his preference for the 1692 seal and stated that his "great objection to the change" was Quincy's removal of the motto "Christo et Ecclesiæ" (Christ and the Church), which Everett termed "the disuse of the ancient, venerable, & sacred legend under which the college has so long flourished." Eliot responded on October 10, 1846 that, "It is not true that the College was originally instituted as a theological school ... The church, in the idea of [Increase] Mather, was the reverend board of teaching & especially ruling Elders, & to any such church as that I know the College was never dedicated, & it should not, therefore profess to be." Eliot and Everett's debate, preserved in correspondence bound in Volume XIV of the College Papers, second series (UAI 5.125), culminated on July 31, 1847 in the Corporation's vote to return to the "Christo et Ecclesiæ" seal.

On February 21, 1878, Harvard graduate Oliver Wendell Holmes (Harvard AB 1829) wrote two poems for the annual dinner of the Harvard Club of New York that referenced the College seal. The first was entitled "'Christo et Ecclesiæ,' 1700. " The second, entitled "1643 'Veritas' 1878," began "TRUTH: So the frontlet's older legend ran, / On the brief record's opening page displayed" and ended "Stretch thy white hand to that forbidden bough, / And let thine earliest symbol be thy last." The poems were published in 1880 in a volume of Holmes's poetry, The iron gate : and other poems, and generated disagreement among alumni over the College's motto. In response, the Corporation, on June 8, 1885, adopted a new design for the seal based on Quincy's 1843 seal that incorporated both the motto "Veritas" and "Christo et Ecclesiæ." The new seal was created by William Sumner Appleton (Harvard AB 1860) and includes a triangular shield emblazoned with three open books showing the motto "Veritas." The shield is bordered by the motto CHRISTO ET ECCLESIÆ and the outer border bears the inscription: SIGILLVM ACADEMIÆ HARVARDINÆ IN NOV. ANG.

Between 1885 and 1911, the Appleton design was used primarily to depict the Harvard arm, but beginning in 1912, the College began using simpler designs as well. In the 1930s, as part of the planning leading up to the 1936 Tercentenary Celebration of Harvard's founding, the Corporation established the Committee on Seals, Arms, and Diplomas to help regulate the emblems associated with Harvard. In May 1935 the Corporation published a report defining the proper usage of the seal (the Corporation's legal symbol of authentication) and the arms (a decorative emblem). That same month, on May 20, 1935 the Corporation voted to incorporate the Harvard arms designed by Pierre la Rose (Harvard AB 1895) into the official seal of the University. The la Rose design was based on the Appleton seal but straightened the top of the shield, removed the hatching, stippling, and shading from the background, redesigned the books, and simplified the seal's outer border. La Rose's design was first used in 1935 on Commencement diplomas, and continues to the present as the College seal.

The College seal appeared in the design of Harvard bookplates from the 18th and 19th centuries, and on official documents such as land deeds and indentures. Wax seals were used on general diplomas until 1827, when the seal was engraved directly onto the diploma plate. Between 1912 and 1932, a wax pendant seal was attached to Harvard's honorary degree diplomas. The Harvard seal, along with College Book 1, the Charter of 1650, and the ceremonial keys, comprise the insignia of office of the President of Harvard University. During the installation of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust in 2007, dies of the Quincy seal of 1843 and the Appleton seal of 1885 were ceremonially displayed as part of the insignia.

The Harvard arms that form the fundamental design of the College seal have been used as decorative adornment on many Harvard buildings, and have inspired the arms used by Harvard schools, departments, and residential houses. Throughout the 20th century and to the present, designs that include the word "Veritas" across three open books emblazoned on a shield in combinations of black, gold, white, and crimson colors have been used as the emblem of the University and related departments, organizations, and publications.

From the guide to the Seals, 1650-[1926], (Harvard University Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf The Harvard Corporation. Corporation records: waste-books.1717-1827. Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Harvard College Papers, 1st series, 1636-1825, 1831 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Abraham Aaron Roback papers, 1909-1965. Houghton Library
creatorOf Records relating to the founding of the Boylston Professorship of Rhetoric and Oratory, 1772-1809. Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Records of Grants for Work among the Indians, 1720-1812 Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf College Books, 1636-1827 Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Records relating to Harvard's interest in the Charlestown ferry, 1646-1806 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Oliver Wendell Holmes letters from various correspondents, 1820-1894 Houghton Library
creatorOf Records of land and property owned by Harvard University, 1643-1835 Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Diplomas, 1676-1799 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966. William Ernest Hocking Papers, 1860-1979 Houghton Library
creatorOf Records relating to Harvard's ownership of the sloop Cyrus, 1793-1798 Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Laws and statutes of Harvard, 1655-1989 Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Records relating to the founding of the Hersey Professorship of the Theory and Practice of Physic, 1771-1791. Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Admittaturs, 1715-1867 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Jared Sparks collection of American manuscripts, 1582-1843 Houghton Library
creatorOf Records of early Harvard buildings, 1710-1969 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Levin, Harry. Harry Levin Papers. 1920-1995. Houghton Library
creatorOf Seals, 1650-[1926] Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Records of gifts and donations, 1643-1955 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Ralph Waldo Emerson letters from various correspondents, ca. 1814-1882. Houghton Library
referencedIn Clarke, James Freeman, 1810-1888. Additional correspondence, 1787-1886 Houghton Library
creatorOf Harvard University. Corporation. Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1989. Harvard University, Archives
creatorOf Wills naming Harvard as a beneficiary, 1660-1931 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Henry Lee Higginson papers relating to the gift of Soldiers Field, Harvard University, 1890. Houghton Library
creatorOf Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1989 Harvard University Archives.
creatorOf Records of the Corporation relating to College tax exemptions, [1797]-1799 Harvard University Archives.
Role Title Holding Repository
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correspondedWith Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966 person
associatedWith Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 1809-1894 person
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correspondedWith Levin, Harry, 1912-1994 person
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correspondedWith Roback, A. A. (Abraham Aaron), 1890-1965 person
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Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
New England
Cost and standard of living--17th century
Surveying--Pictorial works
College buildings--18th century
Devaluation of currency--18th century
Indians of North America--Missions--History--Sources
Universities and colleges--Law and legislation
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material culture
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Universities and colleges--Administration

Corporate Body

Active 1643

Active 1989

Related Descriptions

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