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Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Early Faculty minutes, 1725-1806: an inventory

Harvard University Archives


Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: UAIII 5.5
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Title: Early Faculty minutes, 1725-1806
Date(s): 1725-1806
Quantity: 2.78 cubic feet (42 volumes, 1 microfilm box)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: This collection contains the official minutes of Harvard University Faculty meetings held from 1725 to 1806, as well as "waste books" (volumes containing notes taken at the meetings which were later edited and augmented to create the official minutes) and other unofficial minutes taken in 1760 and from 1771 to 1800. These early minutes predate the existence of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (established in 1890) and were taken at meetings of what was then simply called "the Faculty," which consisted of the Harvard College President, professors and tutors, and occasionally the Librarian, the Steward, and other invited parties with an interest in the subjects of discussion.

Processing Information:

These records, although always considered a single collection, were previously difficult to navigate due to confusing multiple call numbers, confusing arrangement, and minimal description. In 2010 they were reprocessed, and their arrangement and description were simplified. Re-processing involved a collection survey, the creation of series based on functional analysis, re-housing in appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid. The early records represented in this finding aid are a small portion of a larger collection of Faculty minutes, and minutes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will be reprocessed at a later date.
This finding aid was created by Laura Morris in June 2010.
Preservation and description of the Early Faculty minutes was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Researcher Access:

The Early Faculty minutes are open for research.

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Preferred Citation:

Harvard University. Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Early Faculty minutes, 1725-1806. UAIII 5.5, Harvard University Archives.

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In the Harvard University Archives

Historical Note

These minutes were taken at Faculty meetings held between 1725 and 1806 and document the points of concern, discussions, and decisions of those assembled. These early minutes, a subset of a larger collection of Faculty minutes extending into the late twentieth century, were created between 1725 and 1806 and document the meetings of what was then simply called the Harvard Faculty. This group consisted of the President of Harvard College, the professors and tutors, and occasionally the Librarian, the Steward, and other invited parties with an interest in the subjects of discussion. In 1890, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University was founded, and the meetings from 1890 to the present day (not represented in this finding aid) record the discussions and decisions of that body.
Faculty meetings have been held, since their inception, to discuss educational and administrative concerns. The earliest meetings, from 1725 into the early nineteenth century, were often focused on student disciplinary concerns and routine administrative matters, including the maintenance of the College buildings, the care of the library, the purchase of supplies, leaves of absence (often granted so that a student could visit family members who were ill), policy decisions, rooming assignments, permissions to be out of Commons (i.e. to dine elsewhere), student illnesses, the admission of new students, including those transferring from other institutions, the assignment of student waiters, and other rules, regulations, and pressing matters. The minutes provide information about students which was not always recorded elsewhere, including requests to leave the College for weeks or months at a time to "keep school" in one of many local grammar schools; many students kept school out of financial necessity, to earn sufficient income to pay the costs of attending Harvard. In addition to information specific to Harvard's institutional and cultural history, the minutes often reflect events occurring in the world beyond the College and are rich in historical information. They provide a unique view – spanning centuries – of various social, cultural, political, and economic changes and concerns that affected the lives of New England citizens.
Many entries in the Faculty minutes relate to matters of public health. While smallpox and the measles posed particular threats to the colonists throughout the eighteenth century, there were also numerous instances of "the itch," cutaneous disorders, jaundice, chicken pox, nervous headaches, eye troubles, rheumatism, and "polypus" in the nose among the students and faculty. One student was allowed to go home because of his "vapoury disposition" in 1766, and on August 30 of the same year a student whose eyes had been damaged by looking at a solar eclipse was given leave to recover at home. As the Faculty minutes reveal, students were often granted leave to travel hundreds of miles for smallpox inoculation, and in 1776 and 1778 the Faculty deemed it necessary to restrict students' visits to friends staying at the Sewall's Point hospital following inoculation, prompted by a public outcry over the possibility of their transmitting the disease to the larger Cambridge community. John Wadsworth, Tutor and Fellow at Harvard, died of smallpox in July 1777. Some minutes describe medication prescribed for a range of ailments; students were given anti-hysterics, brimstone, and emetics, and they were sometimes given leave to ride horses, visit the springs at Saratoga, and even travel to Europe in attempts to recover their health.
Minutes kept during colonial times contain numerous references to the British presence in the colonies and occasionally to events in England. On May 24, 1729, a Harvard student was expelled after his conviction as "accessory to the breaking open his Majesties Goal [jail] in Charlestown" during which two prisoners - one of them his brother - were freed. On March 10, 1745, a sophomore was "bound out in the Expedition against the French at Louisbourg" and forfeited his college chamber. At a Faculty meeting on October 2, 1761, students requested and were granted permission to hold a day of rejoicing and liberty and "firing off their squibs and crackers & at night for a Bonfire & illuminating the College" in honor of King George's coronation. The minutes from multiple years include entries about students' celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day. Events precipitating the American Revolution are also evident through the Faculty minutes, including a March 1, 1775 incident in which a group of students drinking India Tea at breakfast caused an uproar. The Faculty noted that those students agreed to stop drinking tea as "the use of it is disagreeable to the people of this country in general." There are also many entries related to the complications encountered when Harvard was relocated to Concord, Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War, including the students' frustration that the "apparatus" of the College was largely inaccessible during that time. Following the war's conclusion, the Faculty discussed on several occasions whether or not to readmit students who had been absent during the conflict. Those who had served in the Continental Army or otherwise in the interests of America were readmitted, but at least one student, Stickney, was refused readmission because he had been found guilty by a General Court of abuses against the American Congress and the General Court. The Faculty describe him as abusive towards "others who are & have been exerting themselves to save the country from misery & ruin." In November 1777, a student was given leave to travel to New York to visit his brother, then a prisoner of the British, and attempt to negotiate his exchange. Minutes from May 1783 describe celebrations of King George's recognition of American independence; although some students misbehaved, they were punished less severely than they would have been otherwise, "as it was a season of public rejoicing & festivity when every heart was expanded with joy on account of the happiest event to which North-America was ever a witness." Also of historical interest is the decision, made on July 18, 1798, to remove an oration in French from the Commencement program for fear that the audience would insult the speaker, as anti-French sentiment was high due to the Quasi-War with France. There are also entries in the minutes pertaining to the death of George Washington and ceremonies held in his honor.
The variety of student "disorders," a broad term the Faculty used to refer to both minor and significant breaches of College and community laws and morals, is extensive and heavily documented in these minutes. Students were convicted of, and punished for, behaviors that now seem relatively harmless as well as acts which were indisputably malicious. In October 1731, two students cut off the ears, mane and tail of Tutor Henry Flynt's horse. In September 1751, students - including John Hancock - were convicted of "making drunk a Negro-man-servant, belonging to Mr. Sprague" to a degree that endangered his life. Throughout the eighteenth century, disciplinary actions were prompted by students' interactions with prostitutes, often referred to as "lewd women" and "women of bad fame," who lived in nearby taverns and were even, on at least one occasion, caught visiting students' chambers. Students were commonly punished for swearing and profanity; drinking in taverns; making "loud," "indecent," and "tumultuous" noises and rioting; unexcused absences; breaking windows; having duels with other students; building bonfires without permission; stealing wood and wine, among a range of other material goods, from each other; setting off fireworks; pranks – including putting snakes in others' chambers and spreading broken glass across beds; buying and selling books, which was forbidden by the College laws; throwing stones; hanging effigies of classmates on an elm tree outside of Holden Chapel; setting fire to a load of seaweed accidentally overturned (September 25, 1780); stealing College Bibles; throwing watermelon peels at professors as they taught; wearing coats "of illegal colors"; spilling ink on library books that then needed to be "scraped and sprinkled"; and a range of other offenses. The minutes contain detailed entries about the so-called Butter Rebellion of 1766, in which the students protested being served "bad butter." A committee of three was formed to "examine the condition of the Steward's butter & condemn what they thot not proper to be offerd to the Scholars," and the Steward was found guilty of serving rancid butter at Commons although he knew it had spoiled.
Although not widespread in the minutes, there are at least two entries related to slavery. In addition to the above-mentioned "Negro-man-servant" of Mr. Sprague, the March 21, 1740 Faculty minutes note the decision to forbid the students from associating with Titus, a "Molattoe slave of the late Revd Presdt [Benjamin] Wadsworth." For unspecified reasons, Titus was prohibited from entering the campus, and the Steward was forbidden from sending him on errands or as a messenger. The Faculty minutes also provide a record of Harvard College employees whose lives are possibly undocumented elsewhere. These employees include the women who served as sweepers and those who provided room and board for students living off campus, often described as widows or spinsters. There are multiple entries about students' permission to "diet" in the home of Madame Winthrop, possibly referring to Hannah Winthrop, widow of Hollis Professor John Winthrop, who is known to have provided room and board for several students. The meetings also describe decisions related to College carpenters, masons, glaziers, wood cutters, bell ringers, cleaners of College buildings and outhouses, dishwashers, and others who provided needed services. The minutes often include their names and describe the wages paid for their services; they also note regulations made allowing the sweepers to divide leftover food among themselves.
The minutes include information about the costs of goods and services. Of note are entries from September 1778 related to the insufficient supply of flour needed to make bread for the College. Realizing that his supply of flour was dwindling, and given the high price and scarcity of flour in Massachusetts, the Steward recommended that the Faculty dispatch a student, Paine, to Connecticut in order to purchase one hundred eighty bushels of wheat, "or as much as [would] make three tons of flour, middlings included." Also of note is the shifting currency in which Harvard billed students; in the years just after the American Revolution, it was suggested that payments, previously made in pounds sterling, be made in Spanish milled dollars or Continental bills. In some instances, it was suggested that students pay in silver and gold; the volatility of the American currency in its early years is evident in many votes of the Faculty.
In addition, the Faculty minutes also contain entries describing funerals, presidential inaugurations, and other ceremonies conducted at Harvard; lists of speakers and their assignments at Exhibitions and Commencement exercises; tallies of tardiness and unexcused absences listed by individual students' names; notes regarding the payment of the Sheriff and constables to maintain the peace during Commencement; detailed descriptions of decisions to rusticate, expel, suspend, or otherwise punish students, as well as transcriptions of the students' confessions and, occasionally, their petitions to return; lists of chambers and their occupants; notes about excused absences and Commons obligations; votes on library privileges; lists of incoming freshmen, which include their full names, home towns, dates of birth, and sometimes annotations (including several which note students' deaths by drowning and many about rustications and suspensions); notes about books and curricula; the appointment of the Butler's freshman and the Holden freshmen each year; demotions to the bottom of the class (a common punishment); and a variety of other matters.


Records within each series are arranged chronologically. Occasionally minutes within a volume are not in precise chronological order, as addenda were sometimes made subsequent to the initial entry about a given matter, to explain further developments or decisions. There is also some overlap in the date ranges of several of the volumes.

Scope and Content

This collection contains the official minutes of Harvard University Faculty meetings held from 1725 to 1806, as well as "waste books" (volumes containing notes taken at the meetings, which were later edited and augmented to create the official minutes) and other unofficial minutes taken in 1760 and from 1771 to 1800. It should be noted that these early minutes predate the existence of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and were taken at meetings of what was then simply called "the Faculty," which consisted of the Harvard College President, its professors and tutors, and occasionally the Librarian, the Steward, and other invited parties with an interest in the subjects of discussion. Meetings from 1890 onwards (which are not included in this finding aid) were of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University, a body which exists to the present day. The early Faculty minutes reveal the expansive range of concerns discussed and decisions made at these meetings, ranging from relatively simple administrative tasks to complex decisions.


This document last updated 2014 February 24.

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