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HUD 3257

Cambridge Scientific Club. Records of the Cambridge Scientific Club : an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

©President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2016

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Harvard University Archives
Call No.: HUD 3257
Creator: Cambridge Scientific Club.
Title: Records of the Cambridge Scientific Club, 1842-1985, bulk dates 1846-1945.
Quantity: 1.2 cubic feet (2 document boxes, 43 photographs, 2 photograph albums)
Abstract: The Cambridge Scientific Club was founded on November 14, 1842 as a small informal dining club consisting chiefly of members of the Harvard University faculty who met to exchange ideas on a wide variety of topics including religion, music, the natural sciences, political economy, the law, ancient history, and the fine arts. The records are organized in four series: General information about the Cambridge Scientific Club, Records of meetings, Lecture given by Cornelius C. Felton to members of the Cambridge Scientific Club, and Photographs of Cambridge Scientific Club members.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2016 October 24.

Conditions on Use and Access:

The Records of the Cambridge Scientific Club are open for research.

Historical Essay

The Cambridge Scientific Club was founded on November 14, 1842 as a small informal dining club where members exchanged ideas on a wide variety of topics including, but not limited to, religion,music, the natural sciences,political economy, the law, ancient history, and the fine arts. Although not restricted to members of the Harvard community, the Club consisted chiefly of members of the Harvard faculty who despite having different fields of interest shared, according to President Charles W. Eliot, "a common object, namely service, a common love of research, and a common habit of thought."
The initial founders of the Club were Asa Gray,Joseph Lovering,Benjamin Peirce,Daniel Treadwell,James Walker, and Morrill Wyman. With the exception of Walker, all the founders of the Club were scientists and mathematicians, but many other professionals were also welcomed as members. Harvard Presidents Josiah Quincy and Edward Everett, historian Jared Sparks, lawyer Simon Greenleaf, philosopher Francis Bowen, and classicists Charles Beck and C.C. Felton all were early members of the Club. Members who were not Harvard faculty were school master Epes S. Dixwell, Rear Admiral Charles H. Davis, and lexicographer Joseph E. Worcester.
The first talk given at the Club was by inventor Daniel Treadwell on the Construction of cannon of large caliber in 1842. In 1846, presentations were given by Asa Gray on the expeditions of Captain John C. Freemont in the Oregon Territory, Joseph Lovering on electrical fishes,Benjamin Peirce on the discovery of Neptune, and Charles Beck on Roman slavery. On some occasions, the Club provided a forum for members to make initial presentations of new ideas that they would later develop professionally. In 1863, for instance, Louis Agassiz criticized Charles Darwin'stheory of evolution in Remarks in opposition to the transmutation of Species, a talk given to the Club. President Eliot regularly presented new ideas pertaining to Harvard University, such as the establishment of a pension system (1879), an elective studies program (1880), and a new curriculum for the Medical School (1886).
Lectures were usually followed by an elaborate dinner. Edward Everett in his diary (September 24, 1846) describes one of the early meals as "a supper at which men, not accustomed, probably, to take anything in the evening, sit down to a hearty meal of chicken, tongue, ham, pastry, Scotch Ale, and two or three kinds of wine." Shortly after, in March 1847, Everett resigned from the Club fearing that his partaking of such extravagant meals would not set a positive model for students and explained in his diary that "this is something of a cross, not very heavy, but this is the only relaxation I have in Cambridge from the monotony of my duties." Club members continued to enjoy hearty meals during the following years. On February 4, 1937, Samuel Eliot Morisonpresented the Club with boiled leg of mutton, white turnips, potato balls, lettuce salad, fruit, coffee, and a bottle of Burgundy, Musigny 1930. Not to be outdone, on December 8, 1938, Arthur Darby Nock offered the Club turtle soup, lobster newburg, fillets of venison, salad, pears in milk syrup, and his own selection of a premier wine, Chateau d'Yquem 1929.
The Club met seven or eight times during an academic year at the homes of the various members and always on the first and third Thursdays of the month, avoiding conflicts with the Cambridge Symphony concerts and the meetings of the Boston Thursday Evening Club. Business dress was required. According to William Lawrence,Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, in a letter to Edward K. Rand (March 19, 1924), Joseph Lovering was a driving factor in making sure the Club's dinners were held on the nights that did not conflict with the Symphony or the Evening Club because Lovering, who "enjoyed his food," wanted to share in all the events. Beginning in the early evening, the host entertained his guests or gave a presentation from his field of study for approximately an hour, following which, members dined. Afterward the topic of the presentation was discussed. Members often entertained at clubs rather than in their homes and since the membership was large enough, each member entertained only once every two years.
Joseph Lovering seems to have provided the Club with a nickname and song. He began the first entry of his meeting notes on September 25, 1856, with "The Scientific Club, alias mud fog." Although it is not clear if "mud fog" was commonly used as a nickname by Club members, William Lawrence, in his March 1924 letter to Edward K. Rand, William Lawrence explained that the title was "supposedly characteristic of the temper and the quality of the discussions." In the same letter, Lawrence also asserted that Lovering had an influence in associating the Club with a popular traditional folk song, One Fish Ball [sic The Lone Fish Ball]. According to Lawrence, the association began when the Parker Hotel, hosting a Club dinner, offered two fish balls and bread and butter for dinner. Lovering, noted for his frugality, ordered only one fish ball and received no bread. As in the song One Fish Ball, " The waiter roared it through the hall, we don't serve bread with one fish ball."
Record-keeping practices of the Cambridge Scientific Club
The meeting minutes of the Cambridge Scientific Club begin on November 14, 1842 with the entry "With Treadwell. Construction of cannon of large caliber. Present: Treadwell, Wyman, etc.," on a loose sheet of paper. There are no further meeting minutes of the Club until September 10, 1846. From then until December 10, 1891, Club minutes were taken informally by Joseph Lovering and Epse S. Dixwell. In 1892, Justin Winsor was appointed the first secretary of the Club and took regular minutes during his tenure. After Winsor's death in 1897, no minutes were taken until November 1903 when William W. Goodwin was elected secretary. Goodwin took the minutes of the Club until March 25, 1909. Record-keeping lapsed during John Trowbridge's and Edward C. Pickering's tenures as secretaries.
In response to a letter from President Charles W. Eliot, dated April 27, 1923, newly elected Club secretary, Edward K. Rand, attempted to reconstruct the Club's meeting minutes from 1909 to 1923, working from notes kept by Theodore W. Richard in his diary on most of the meetings of the Club from 1910 onward. Using the original draft of Richard's notes and various additions and corrections from other members, Rand was able to restore the Club's meeting minutes from March 25, 1909 to May 17, 1923. Edward K. Rand served as secretary until 1928, followed by Harlow Shapley (1928-1940) and Arthur Darby Nock (1940-1945).
Compiled from the Records of the Cambridge Scientific Club.
Notes on the history of the Club compiled by Nathan Pusey, 1969.
Meeting minutes, 1909 March 25 - 1923 May 17.

Scope of the Collection

The Records of the Cambridge Scientific Club document its founding, organization, and administrative activities. The records contain lists, notes, outlines, correspondence, postcards, invitations, schedules, news clippings, a single lecture, and photographs of Club members. The bulk of the records consist of meeting minutes that provide brief and summary descriptions of the talks and discussions that occurred at the Club's gatherings by leading and prominent members of the Harvard University faculty. Among the subjects discussed at the Club's meetings were topics related to religion, music, the natural sciences, political economy, the law, ancient history, and the fine arts. Although the records cover the years 1842 to 1985, the collection contains a limited quantity of records created after 1945, consisting of membership lists and a single election membership ballot. Researchers should note that there is only a single record for the Club from November 14, 1842 in this collection.

Series Descriptions and Folder Lists

Acquisition Information :

The Records of the Cambridge Scientific Club were acquired through donation. Whenever possible the archivist noted the terms of acquisition in the descriptions and item lists.
The acquisitions are as follows:

Processing Information:

The Records were first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1990. In July 2008, Dominic P. Grandinetti re-processed the collection. Re-processing included integrating and reorganizing the collection, re-housing materials in the appropriate containers, placing documents into acid-free folders, establishing series arrangement, and preparing this inventory.
Call numbers were simplified and reassigned. A list of obsolete call numbers is included in this finding aid.

Obsolete Call Numbers

The following list provides a map to call numbers that were made obsolete by the archivist during the 2008 re-processing. All the materials for the Records of the Cambridge Scientific Club now fall under the single call number HUD 3257.