Harvard Magazine
Main Menu · Search ·Current Issue ·Contact ·Archives ·Centennial ·Letters to the Editor ·FAQs

Historic photographs courtesy Harvard University Archives
D. W. Butterfield's rendering of Harvard Square, 1890, shows the Law School complex to the left, Memorial Hall and tower looming over Harvard Yard, and Wadsworth House at lower right. Photograph by Michael Quan

Boylston Hall was being renovated. Entering undergraduates faced new requirements for proficiency in quantitative subjects. In the classroom, the "pure lecture" progressively gave way to more involving methods of instruction. With the engineering faculties bursting out of their facilities, a new building, funded by a wealthy donor, neared construction. The Medical School overhauled its first- and second-year curricula. "Retiring allowances" helped encourage the "life-tenure corps" of professors to relinquish their posts so their ranks could be replenished. The librarian lamented that books were dangerously exposed to fire and newspapers decayed in a damp basement "cave."

Though these familiar-sounding news items could well have come from recent issues of Harvard Magazine, they in fact appear in President Charles William Eliot's report for the 1898-1899 academic year. Lest this suggest that the University remains frozen in time, elsewhere his report and those of deans and others now seem strange and remote. The veterinary faculty, for example, advocated adding a course in "dog practice" to the curriculum. The Bussey Institution, Harvard's School of Agriculture and Horticulture, had "struck root," its dean thought, "and has acquired strength enough to maintain vigorous and continuous growth which shall ensure the production in due course of abundant harvests"--despite the inconvenience of lacking space to house a cow skeleton to be used for instructional purposes. The Medical School did not yet require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. Its library augmented by the acquisition of 36 books that year--bringing the total to 2,240 volumes--the school's research focused on prevalent diseases such as tuberculosis, scarlet fever, and diphtheria.
BILLS OF FARE. Memorial Hall, the central refectory, featured waiters and white linens. Randall Hall, a newly opened dining association, offered lower-cost options, including apricot pie at any meal (5 cents), six oyster choices (15 to 25 cents), and mutton chops plain, breaded with tomato sauce, with French peas, or with mushrooms (20 to 35 cents). Eschew the à la carte delicacies in favor of the "combination meals"--14 cents for breakfast or lunch, 16 cents for dinner--and the student could feed himself, Eliot sagely calculated, for $3.08 weekly. Dining Services no longer quotes apricot pie, but the renovated Memorial Hall has reverted to its original function. Salad bars are de rigueur--Karin Alexander '02 samples the offerings--as are "vegan bean burritos" alongside the burgers and hot dogs, plus hummus, tofu, yogurt, bagels and, on request, kosher tuna, lactose-free and rice milk, and sunflower seeds. At breakfast, the pies have yielded to Pop Tarts and "lofat" muffins. MICHAEL QUAN

Observing from the dean's report that "three quarters of the members" of the graduate school "devote themselves to languages and the moral sciences as against one quarter who pursue mathematics and the physical and natural sciences," Eliot found that proportion "entirely in accord with the experience of Harvard College for a generation." (See the College Pump for sample questions from examinations of the period.)

The Harvard University Catalogue for 1898-1899 reveals other curiosities about the state of contemporary knowledge and learning. The Arts and Sciences faculty offered four courses on Church history--and three on American history. Within the Lawrence Scientific School, Engineering 10a, "Chipping, Filing, and Fitting," instructed students on the use of hand tools; 10b, "Blacksmithing," moved to the realm of application. Pre-DNA and -relativity, there were as many undergraduate courses in geology, mineralogy, and mining as the total offerings in the life sciences, chemistry, and physics. One can only wonder about the possible audiences then and now for the series of "Lectures on the Soldier's and Sailor's Life." Academic departments being in their infancy, Harvard's "officers of instruction and government" were listed not by discipline or alphabetically but--apart from Eliot himself--"on the basis of collegiate seniority."

Summarizing the work of the College Observatory, Eliot noted in passing, "On November 28, 1898, Mrs. Williamina Paton Fleming was appointed Curator of Astronomical Photographs....It is believed that Mrs. Fleming is the first woman who has held an official position in Harvard University." Less celestially, he pointed to the Psychological Laboratory's "interesting" experiments on "the sensations, feelings, memories, instincts, and habits of well-cared-for, normal turtles, newts, frogs, and fishes."
PERFECT SEASONS. Harvard footballers acquitted themselves splendidly in an 11-win 1898 campaign, outscoring opponents 257 points to 19 and successively defeating Williams, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Amherst, West Point, Newtowne A.C., Chicago A.C., Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Brown, and Yale. The 1997 squad ran up 301 points--the most by a Crimson team since 1894--on their way to a 9-1 record and their first unbeaten, untied Ivy League competition. (The league was formally organized in 1956.) But the crowd at The Game was only 26,264, the smallest since the war-affected 1942 contest. The College now fields 41 men's and women's varsity teams--including powerful hockey, soccer, and squash programs--and 32 club sports, from badminton to martial arts. HARVARD UNIVERSITY SPORTS INFORMATION OFFICE

Turning from matters academic, the president--no fan of sports--deplored the "more and more thousands of hideous wooden seats in high banks...built every year on Soldier's Field." The catalog counseled that tuition, room, board, furniture, fuel, and sundries would cost College students $358 for those at the "low" end of "annual expenditure"; high livers, with good private rooms and lots of fancy food and drink, could triple the tab to $1,035. Even allowing for a century's inflation, given today's College bill of $31,132 before considerable expenses--for course books, CDs, computer software, and intercontinental travel--those surely were the days.


In 1898, the graduate school enrolled 336 students (198 of them, or 59 percent, from Harvard College)--42.5 percent of whom had been born in New England, and 31.5 percent in "other Northern States east of the Mississippi River." The remaining quarter of the students came from the American West (9 percent), Canada (7.5 percent), foreign countries (5 percent), and the American South (4.5 percent).

In the fall of 1997, six schools (business, dental, design, government, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and public health) derived 25 percent or more of their degree students from other nations. Across the University, 2,782 international students were pursuing Harvard degrees.

University matriculants that year included 10,034 men (54 percent) and 8,563 women (45 percent). Women outnumbered men in the dental, divinity, education, public health, and extension schools. Forty-two percent of the students were classified ethnically as white/non-Hispanic, 12 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander, 7 percent as black/non-Hispanic, 5 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Native American, 18 percent unknown/other, and 15 percent international.
DEGREE DAYS. At Commencement in 1898, Harvard conferred 895 degrees, including 406 A.B.s, 39 B.S.s (a recent introduction), 107 A.M.s, 26 Ph.D.s, 138 LL.B.s, 125 M.D.s, and 36 D.M.D.s. Reflecting the Divinity School's minimal enrollment at the end of the century, the other graduates could turn to a paltry three new bachelors of divinity to look after their souls. A century later, the University awarded 6,236 degrees plus 320 certificates, including 1,563 at the bachelor's rank, 433 Ph.D.s, 538 J.D.s, 165 M.D.s, 63 dental doctorates, and 175 diverse divinity degrees. In the "newer"--twentieth-century--schools and disciplines, Harvard recognized the success of 859 M.B.A.s, 641 graduates in education, 544 in government, 356 in public health, and 200 in the Design School's architecture, landscape, and urban design and planning programs.


From shortly after the Civil War until 1916, Harvard College tuition was $150 per year. Except for medical and dental studies ($200), the graduate and the professional schools charged the same fee. If tuition rose at the same rate as the most widely known gauge of inflation, the Consumer Price Index--which it emphatically does not, because the CPI measures very different components--the $150 bill of 1898 would be only a few thousand dollars today.

In fact, for the 1997-1998 academic year, the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences billed $20,600 for tuition (excluding all fees and room and board charges). For the record--take the figures as an indication of relative educational costs, a prediction of graduates' potential income, or a commentary on prevailing values--Harvard's other schools assessed the following tuition bills: business, $25,000; design, $21,252; divinity, $13,480; education, $19,476; government, $20,720; law, $22,800; medicine and dentistry, $25,200; and public health, $20,890.


In 1898, Harvard enrolled 3,901 degree candidates, including 2,266 undergraduates (1,851 in the College, 415 in the Lawrence Scientific School), a third of a thousand arts and sciences graduate students, 551 would-be lawyers, 560 doctors-to-be, 139 aspiring dentists, and about two dozen earnest apprentices each in the divinity, agricultural, and veterinary programs. Separately, Radcliffe had another 411 students.

HOUSES OF KNOWLEDGE. Harvard's libraries, then centered in Gore Hall (above, left), totaled 956,377 volumes and pamphlets in 1898, nearly 80 percent held in the College Library. Other significant collections included the law school's (56,538 items) and those of the museum of zoology and school of divinity (37,718 and 36,157, respectively). Accessions during the academic year numbered 24,453, as the College and departmental libraries spent $20,000 for acquisitions. A century later--excluding 8-million-plus microfilms, several million manuscripts, several million ephemera in the Theatre Collection and Houghton Library, 5-million-plus visual items, 51,000 sound recordings, and more than 500,000 maps--the libraries held 13,617,133 volumes and pamphlets. Accessions totaled 266,866 items, acquired at a cost of $17,547,000. Widener (above, right) is the heart of the library system. KRIS SNIBBE

A century later, the relative growth of the graduate and professional schools was readily apparent. Adjusting for the zealous scholars who were pursuing joint degrees, 18,597 students were enrolled in the University's degree programs in the fall of 1997. Of these, 6,630--35 percent--were in the de facto coeducational College. Graduate arts and sciences students numbered nearly 3,000. In declining order, law, education, and business followed, with enrollments exceeding 1,000 apiece. The dental, design, divinity, government, medical, and public health schools each had fewer than 1,000 degree candidates. And in a sign of changing lifestyles, the extension school counted 944 students studying for degrees in pursuit of new careers or unfulfilled old dreams.


For all its expansive growth under Charles W. Eliot, Harvard remained set in its provincial ways as the nineteenth century ended. The President and Fellows, Harvard's senior governing board, consisted of Eliot and Bostonians Henry Pickering Walcott, Henry Lee Higginson, Francis Cabot Lowell, Arthur Tracy Cabot, and Charles Francis Adams 2nd, treasurer. The remaining Fellow, Samuel Hoar, represented the remoter precincts: he lived in Concord. Of the 30 elected members of the Board of Overseers, 21 gave Boston, Cambridge, or suburban addresses. One of them came from Worcester, four (including Teddy Roosevelt) from New York, and, on the far-flung fringe, two from Philadelphia, one from Baltimore, and one from Chicago.

The current Fellows, in addition to President Neil L. Rudenstine, include two women (Judith Richards Hope, a Washington lawyer, and Hanna H. Gray, historian and president emerita of the University of Chicago), and businessmen D. Ronald Daniel (treasurer), James R. Houghton, Richard A. Smith, and Robert G. Stone Jr.--three from New York and one from suburban Boston. The 30 current Overseers--who meet less frequently and are less travel-constrained--come from as far away as California (where fully one-fifth of them now reside) and Alaska.


THE PROFESSORATE. The Harvard University of 1898 could proudly demonstrate its educational eminence by detailing its pedagogical staff: 92 professors, 5 associates, 37 assistants, 15 lecturers, 1 tutor, 135 instructors, 126 demonstrators and assistants--411 faculty members in all--plus 5 preachers, 18 curators and librarians, and 32 proctors and other academic officers. The archetype of the species was Charles T. Copeland, A.B. 1882, who rose from instructor to Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory. "The lads flocked to him," wrote Samuel Eliot Morison of "Copey," caricatured above, "and no Harvard instructor has ever accumulated so devoted a following as his."

Now there are far more mentors to choose from. Harvard's faculty ranks in 1997 numbered 814 professors, 210 associates, 318 assistants, and 828 instructors and lecturers. An additional 7,787 full- and part-time faculty members were based in the affiliated teaching hospitals. Reflecting the broadening of disciplines and changes in classroom methods, Michael J. Aziz, Ph. D. '84, McKay professor of materials science, is shown here using a "ripple tank" to demonstrate the propagation of water waves, permitting students to visualize and understand how light travels and even "bends" around corners. HARVARD CELBEBRITES(1901); KRIS SNIBBE

So intimate was the university community of 1898, despite Eliot's three decades of relentless expansion, that the "Map of Cambridge in the Vicinity of Harvard College" printed in the official catalog indicated the president's house and those of most senior faculty members and indexed them by number. (Indeed, in providing home addresses the catalog noted, "The residence is in Cambridge, unless otherwise stated.")

The map, produced by the Scientific School's engineering department, seems oddly empty today. In the Yard, there is no Widener Library, no Memorial Church. Buildings then new have vanished without a trace--Hunt Hall, for example, which opened in 1895 to house the Fogg Art Museum and was razed in 1973 to make way for Canaday Hall (see "Freshman plus 10"). On the north bank of the Charles, the map shows only Weld Boat Club (see "The Welds of Harvard Yard") and a coal wharf--no River Houses. To the south, little appears beyond another wharf plus the "Locker Building" and Carey Athletic Building; the Stadium (1903) and the Business School campus (1926) are as yet unenvisioned. In Boston, however, one school was already thinking ahead: Eliot reports that, given the need for new physiology, histology, and pathology laboratories, "A portion of the Medical Faculty advocates the prompt sale of the land and building on Boylston Street and the transfer of the entire School to cheaper land farther from the centre of the city." That vision would eventually be realized as the Longwood campus, dedicated in 1906.

Today, the University uses 18.8 million square feet of buildings--dormitories, offices, classrooms, laboratories, libraries, museums and more--in Cambridge, Boston (where future growth may focus on acreage recently acquired in Allston, near the Business School), central Massachusetts (the Harvard Forest), and as far away as Villa I Tatti, near Florence, Italy.

The panorama below of the Yard and Square was taken in late September from the tenth floor of Holyoke Center. Much has changed--note Widener, the Memorial Church steeple, and William James Hall--but the yellow Wadsworth House is still in place, and Harvard is still, greenery and all, recognizably Harvard.

Main Menu · Search ·Current Issue ·Contact ·Archives ·Centennial ·Letters to the Editor ·FAQs
Harvard Magazine