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HUV 569

Photographic views of Adams House, 1931-1961: an inventory

Harvard University Archives

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Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HUV 569
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Title: Photographic views of Adams House, 1931-1961
Date(s): 1932-1961
Quantity: 0.1 cubic feet
Quantity: 19 photographs
Abstract: Adams House, named after John Adams and the Adams family, is part of Harvard University's House system and is a dormitory made up of five buildings: Apthorp House, Claverly Hall, Randolph Hall, Russell Hall, and Westmorly Court. Apthorp Hall was built in 1760 and Russell Hall in 1931, whereas the other three were built around 1900 as part of a group of privately operated dormitories called the Gold Coast. Harvard acquired the buildings between 1916 and 1920 and adapted them into Adams House in 1930. The Photographic views of Adams House provide a visual record of one of the houses in Harvard University's House system, its grounds, and surrounding area from 1931 to 1961. The 19 images in this collection are all gelatin silver photograph prints, and were contributed by the Harvard Film Service and the Harvard Alumni Bulletin.

Acquisition information:

These images were acquired by the Harvard University Archives from the late nineteenth century through the late twentieth century.

Processing Information:

This finding aid was created by Amanda Shermanin March 2016. Dates enclosed in brackets were supplied by the archivist.
Description of the Photographic views of Adams House, 1931-1961, was supported by the Harvard Library's Hidden Collection initiative.

Researcher Access:

Open for research.

Preferred Citation:

Photographic views of Adams House, 1931-1961. HUV 569, Harvard University Archives.

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Historical Note

Adams House, named after John Adams and the Adams family, is part of Harvard University's House system and is a dormitory made up of five buildings: Apthorp House, Claverly Hall, Randolph Hall, Russell Hall, and Westmorly Court. Apthorp Hall was built in 1760 and Russell Hall in 1931, whereas the other three were built around 1900 as part of a group of privately operated dormitories called the Gold Coast. Harvard acquired the buildings between 1916 and 1920 and adapted them into Adams House in 1930. For years, Adams House had a reputation as a safe haven for lesbian and gay students, as well as attracting artistic, literary, and counter-cultural students during the 1960s to 1990s when students were able to submit House preferences during placement. When Harvard moved to a system of random placement in the 1990s, the atmosphere of the House changed and became a mix of many interests. Though the House has changed, the students still observe several traditions that have developed over eighty-five years, most notably Drag Night.
The Apthorp House, now the residence of the Faculty Dean of Adams House, a senior faculty member who presides over the House, was built in 1760 by Reverend East Apthorp, the first rector of Christ Church, the first Anglican church in Cambridge. However, Reverend Apthorp was forced to flee his home in 1764 when rumors spread that the Church of England was planning to appoint a bishop in the colonies and that Reverend Apthorp was the top candidate. This sparked controversy in Cambridge because Congregationalists were apprehensive about the Anglican Church's motives. Reverend Apthorp's brothers sold the house to the next owner, John Borland, who was also forced to flee at the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775 due to his Loyalist leanings. After Borland fled, General Israel Putnam of the Continental Army planned the Battle of Bunker Hill while staying in the house, and in 1777, the British General John Burgoyne was held prisoner there after his surrender at the Battle of Saratoga. Apthorp House passed through the hands of several owners in the nineteenth century until Harvard professor Archibald Cary Coolidge and his brothers, descendants of one of Reverend Apthorp's sisters, acquired it in 1901. They converted it into a Gold Coast dormitory, a series of privately-owned luxury dormitories that solely housed wealthy Harvard undergraduates. Three other Adams House buildings were also Gold Coast dormitories: Claverly Hall, Randolph Hall, and Westmorly Court.
The Adams House buildings that had once been Gold Coast dormitories were all acquired by Harvard in the World War I era. Apthorp House and Randolph House, built in 1897, were both acquired in exchange for College House in 1916. Claverly Court was built in 1892 and was considered the beginning of the Gold Coast dormitories, and it was acquired in 1920. Westmorly Court was built in 1898 and acquired in 1920. Russell Hall, the successor of a derelict Gold Coast dormitory of the same name, was rebuilt in 1937. The construction of Russell Hall and renovations of the other Adams House buildings, which had all been used roughly by the dormitory residents, were funded by the gift of Edward Harkness, a Yale alumnus who struck a deal to build dormitories at Harvard after he became frustrated with his alma mater when it delayed a similar deal for too long.
The House system was established in 1930 with the goal of supplementing the students' education with intellectually, culturally, and socially stimulating living environments, as well as creating a sense of community among students. The Houses accommodate between 350 and 500 students, and at the end of their first year, students are assigned to a House, and they live there through the end of their undergraduate career. Each House typically has a dining hall, common rooms, a library, and recreational spaces. Adams House was created as one of the original Harvard Houses by combining Apthorp House, Randolph Hall, Claverly Hall, Westmorly Court, and the rebuilt Russell Hall. Adams House was named by James Phinney Baxter, first House Master (now Faculty Dean), in honor of John Adams and the Adams family, who contributed much to the United States as a new nation. The House seal was derived from John Quincy Adams's seal ring, with a gold background to symbolize the Gold Coast and five oak branches to symbolize the Adams House buildings. The House motto, "Alteri Seculo," comes from the Tusculan Disputations by Cicero, from a segment meaning, "He who plants tree labors for the benefit of future generations."
The Adams House buildings contain living quarters for students, a dining hall, common rooms, a library, seminar rooms, theatres, and art studios, as well as tunnels connecting the buildings to each other. Also notable are the Gold Room, the gold-plated entrance hall to Adams House, the Pool Theatre, a swimming pool converted into a theatre in the 1990s, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite and Historical Collections, a suite of rooms restored to appear as they did when President Roosevelt lived in Westmorly Court from 1900 to 1904. The architectural styles of Adams House differ from the otherwise uniformly Georgian revival styles of the other original Houses. Because the buildings were built at different times by different architects, Adams House has an eclectic combination of styles, such as a Moorish main staircase in the Gold Room, an English library and dining hall, Flemish exterior details, and Florentine, Italian, and Spanish Renaissance details in the common rooms.
After eighty-five years of existence, residents at Adams House have developed a number of traditions, which are still followed as of this writing. Such traditions include the Faculty Dean's teas on Friday afternoons, the Halloween Masquerade, a black tie reading of Winnie the Pooh at the annual Winter Feast, and the Winter Waltz. One noteworthy tradition is Drag Night. The tradition, which involves students attending an event that includes performances and dancing in clothing typically attributed to the opposite gender, began in 1980 as a show of solidarity amidst concerns for the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.
Notable Adams House residents include President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Buckminster Fuller, William Burroughs, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., Henry Kissinger, Bernard Law, Martin Feldstein, William Weld, Fred Gwynne, Peter Sellars, John Lithgow, and Donal Logue.

References

Arrangement

The photographic views of Adams House has a legacy arrangement reflecting over 100 years of interfiling individual photographs of the structure from many sources into one collection. The images are arranged into two folders, with the photographs loosely arranged in chronological order.This collection is part of the Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Views, in which Archives staff compiled images, whether acquired individually or removed from larger collections, and arranged them in categories based on locations, buildings, or landscape features for ease of reference.

Scope and Content

The Photographic views of Adams House provide a visual record of one of the houses in Harvard University's House system, its grounds, and surrounding area from 1931 to 1961. All images are gelatin silver photograph prints. The 19 images in this collection were contributed by the Harvard Film Service and the Harvard Alumni Bulletin. Exterior photographs show Adams House and its grounds from a variety of angles, some showing Randolph Hall, Westmorly Court, and the courtyard. Interior photographs show the Adams House library, the swimming pool, and the lower common room. Students appear in several photographs, watching a musical performance, studying in the library, wearing fencing gear, and presenting the 1961 House Master of Adams House, Zeph Stewart, with a gift of a Thanksgiving turkey.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2016 April 13.

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