Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898


"An Instrument of Good Will"

At 75, the Harvard College Fund spins a web of friendships.


Joseph Hamlen was shocked. He was new at the game and had yet to learn that when you raise money for Harvard, there are days when you score and days when you have your head handed to you.

Hamlen, of the class of 1904, had left his Arkansas timber business in the fall of 1925 to become the salaried chairman of the nascent Harvard Fund. One of his first tasks was to prepare an announcement of the fund's existence, and he had called on President A. Lawrence Lowell to ask for a statement of support. Lowell refused him, explaining bluntly that he was against the new undertaking. The fund was "wrongly conceived," said Lowell, "and will do more harm than good, for it will serve the alumni with an excuse to contribute smaller sums than they might likely give for a specific purpose."

Hamlen was stunned, but not speechless. "I took the floor," he later wrote, "and told him in vigorous language that I had been drawn back to Cambridge almost under false pretenses, and that, not being able to go on with the fund under such circumstances, I should have to return immediately to my business in the South." Lowell, added Hamlen, "tried to pacify me by saying that his not liking the idea ought not to make any difference as to its success. He had told the Corporation at the time the members endorsed it that he was opposed to it, but he was going along with the others to make the vote unanimous--a requisite under the rules of that body."

When other members of the Harvard Fund Council took up the cause, the imperious Lowell gave in. Hamlen rejected the president's first two drafts as too tepid, but reluctantly settled for the third. The new fund issued its first annual giving appeal in the spring of 1926; a year later it could report 3,261 donors--just over 8 percent of the University's 40,000 alumni--and $123,544.53 in contributions. Not sensational, but a start.