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Donham, Wallace Brett



  • Existence: 1877-1954

Wallace Brett Donham was born on October 26, 1877 in Rockland, Mass. Son of a dentist, Donham lived at home and commuted daily to Cambridge while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in government at Harvard College. He graduated in 1898 and went on to Harvard Law School. After passing the bar in 1901, Donham began working for the legal department at Old Colony Trust Company. He gradually moved to administrative work and in 1906 was elected vice president of Old Colony Trust Company. In 1917-1919 he was appointed Receiver of the Bay State Street Railway Company which served large industries in the east of Massachusetts.

Lawrence Lowell, then president of Harvard College, asked Donham to serve as the second dean for the Business School in 1919. Lowell was Donham’s mentor back when Donham was an undergraduate and Lowell taught government. So close was their relationship that Lowell paid for Donham to attend law school. During his deanship, Donham implemented the case study method for teaching business administration, emphasized the human side of business, and insisted on an objective study of economics. The Business School grew from a small program with no dedicated location to a fully embodied professional institution. He received an honorary Doctorate of Law from Harvard University in 1939.

After retiring as dean in 1942, Donham continued to teach at Harvard having started a human relations course for undergraduates. Further he held a seminar in human relations at Colgate University for two years in 1948. During his professional life he wrote two books, “Business Adrift” and “Business Looks at the Unforeseen” as well as numerous articles and essays emphasizing the role of business administrators in society. Wallace Brett Donham died on November 29, 1954 in Cambridge, MA.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Wallace Brett Donham cases and teaching files

Collection Identifier: Arch GA 18.41
Overview: The Wallace Brett Donham cases and teaching files span 1921 to 1949 and holds lecture notes and cases for first year students at the Harvard Business School.

Wallace Brett Donham papers

Collection Identifier: Arch GA 18.5
Overview: The Wallace Brett Donham papers contains materials between 1933 to 1955 concerning Dean Donham's career at the Harvard Bussiness School.

Edmund P. Learned papers

Collection Identifier: Arch GA 47
Overview: Writings, speeches, correspondence and consulting records of Harvard Business School Professor Edmund P. Learned.

Elton Mayo papers

Collection Identifier: Arch GA 54
Overview: Psychologist Elton Mayo was a professor and Head of the Department of Industrial Research at Harvard Business School. Types of materials included in this collection are professional and personal correspondence, research and teaching materials from HBS and abroad, writings and speeches.