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COLLECTION Identifier: Arch GA 18.5

Wallace Brett Donham papers


The Wallace Brett Donham papers contains materials between 1933 to 1955 concerning Dean Donham's career at the Harvard Bussiness School.


  • 1933-1955


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. HBS Archives collections require a secondary registration form, please contact for more information.


0.5 linear feet (1 box)

This collection contains materials related to Wallace Brett Donham’s role as dean of the Harvard Business School (HBS) from 1933-1955. The materials include transcripts of talks and speeches Donham gave. There are also administrative records planning Donham’s 20-year celebration, retirement, and correspondence. The correspondence features letters from colleagues, alumni, business contacts, and friends upon Donham’s retirement from his deanship in 1942. Newspaper clippings and photographs of Donham are among the correspondence. Lastly, there is biographical material, a typed interview, and an overview of Donham's life.

Biographical / Historical

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.

Physical Location


Processing Information

Processed: May 2019 By: Elise Riley

Baker Library
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Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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