Harvard University possesses the title of America’s oldest learning institution, founded in 1636. At its inception, this university’s name was “New College,” and its purpose was mainly to educate clergy. In 1639, the school’s name became Harvard University, so named for the Rev. John Harvard. Harvard bequeathed half of his estate and his entire library to the school upon his death. This significant bequest led the school to honor him by taking his name.
During the colonial era, Harvard utilized a curriculum that focused on rote learning by repeated drilling. This style of learning conformed to the typical teaching styles of this period. The university kept a small faculty, but the professors had illustrious reputations as some of the most learned men of this era. In 1782, Harvard added medical studies to the school’s programs. Some buildings still standing on the university grounds originated in the 18th century. Massachusetts Hall was built in 1720, and Wadsworth House was built in 1726. The original buildings from the 17th century did not survive; however, the school marks their locations with brass markers.
Harvard University added additional programs during the 19th century, namely law in 1816 and divinity in 1817. Harvard celebrated its bicentennial birthday during the 19th century. On the school’s 200th birthday, then-President Josiah Quincy publicly displayed the school’s new shield with the motto “Veritas” for the first time. The school adopted this shield officially in 1843. Quincy was Harvard’s 15th president, and he kept this office between the years of 1829 and 1845. The school’s teaching methods evolved during this era also. Harvard began offering more classes and a greater variety, allowing students more freedom to choose their classes. Lectures replaced the recitation teaching style as well.
In 1910, Harvard officially adopted crimson as the school color. This color choice originated in the mid-1800s when two students on the rowing team provided crimson scarves to everyone on the team to enable the crowd to pick them out more easily. The idea of school colors was in its infancy then, and the school did not officially vote on this designation until more than a half-century later.
Harvard presidents during the 20th century sought to center its focus on applied learning. President A. Lawrence Lowell worked tirelessly on a new system of “concentration and distribution.” This system was designed to help students choose their fields of study more efficiently to enable them to learn and progress more effectively in their courses of study. Lowell also prioritized scholarships and honor programs. During the 20th century, Harvard University also offered more financial aid opportunities to students, increasing the diversity of the student population.
The 21st century has seen additional changes and adjustments for Harvard University. Harvard is prioritizing study abroad programs, offering a variety of opportunities for students to learn in foreign countries. The school has also instituted a revised program of general education that seeks to connect classroom curricula with real-world situations that students will encounter after graduation. During the 21st century, Harvard University has continued its outreach to excelling students of varying financial means to ensure that the school remains diverse. Currently, Harvard University enrolls 17,000 students in regular enrollment and another 30,000 students in non-degree courses.
Here are some helpful links with more information:
- History of Harvard University: The university itself presents comprehensive information about its prestigious history.
- History of Women at Harvard: The history of female enrollment at Harvard traces back to the founding of Radcliffe College.
- Harvard Athletic Firsts: Harvard has enjoyed an active sports history, and it claims many athletic firsts in its historical records.
- The Colorful History of Crimson at Harvard: The use of crimson, the signature color of Harvard University, sports an engaging history.
- Samuel Eliot Morison on the Harvard Houses: Learn about Harvard’s residential housing system in this article.
- Harvard Fun Facts: View a picture of Harvard University and read basic facts about Harvard on this website.
- Concentration and Distribution: Read an excerpt from The Crimson, originally published in 1919, that outlines the new system of concentration and distribution.
- Carter G. Woodson Biography: This Web page provides information about Carter G. Woodson, one of the first black doctoral graduates of Harvard University.
- The Harvard Regiment at Gettysburg: Learn about the Harvard graduates that made up the 20th Volunteer Infantry Regiment and their contributions to the Civil War.
- The 20th Massachusetts Bibliography: Read letters and other historical information about the Harvard Regiment and their actions during the Civil War.