Records of the President of Harvard University, Charles W. Eliot,
Charles William Eliot (1834-1926) was President of Harvard University from March 12, 1869 to May 19, 1909. He transformed Harvard from a regional institution to a world-class university. The Records consist of official records produced by his administration. The largest part of these papers, consisting of correspondence and writings, document important aspects of Eliot’s administration and shed light on his leadership and accomplishments.
- Harvard University. President’s Office (Organization)
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Extent90 cubic feet (205 document boxes, 40 portfolio boxes, 2 card file boxes, 3 microfilm reels, 1 oversized folder)
The Records of the President of Harvard University, Charles W. Eliot, consist of official records produced by Eliot and his administration. They date principally from 1869 to his retirement in 1909. The largest part of these papers, consisting of correspondence and writings, document important aspects of Eliot’s administration and shed light on his leadership and accomplishments. These papers illustrate Eliot’s roles as a salesman, lobbyist, educator, philosopher, cheerleader, and chief executive of Harvard University for forty years. Material related to Eliot’s personal life will not be found in these papers, nor will Eliot’s earlier writings (1848-1868). Both of these form part of the Papers of Charles William Eliot (UAI 15.894).
Charles W. Eliot (1834-1926) was President of Harvard University from March 12, 1869 to May 19, 1909. A strong administrator and creative educator, Eliot’s presidency was marked by several major innovations that transformed Harvard University from a regional institution to a university of international stature and helped broaden and invigorate American education.
Among these major innovations were:
- The re-organization of the Harvard Medical School and its placement on a firmer financial foundation
- The re-making of the Law School and the introduction of the "case system" of instruction
- The re-building of the Divinity School with a Faculty containing members of several denominations
- The establishment of religious services on a voluntary basis under a board of preachers representing several denominations
- The establishment of a requirement of a previous degree for admission to all the professional schools
- The administration of the University as a group of departments, including undergraduate and graduate schools of medicine, law, and arts and sciences
- The perfecting of an elective system by which students were allowed to choose from a wide range of subjects, enlarging liberal arts study
- Increases in the endowment and in the number of students
- The improvement in the scholarly merit of the men appointed to teach at the University
- The improvement of student life and services
Eliot’s two main contributions to the development of higher education in the United States were his promotion of an elective system of courses and the improvement in professional education. He wrote extensively about the elective system, convinced that giving students a choice in their studies would improve mental discipline and training. By 1885, Harvard students had complete choice in the selection of their studies. In addition, through tireless effort, by the time of Eliot’s retirement, Harvard had earned a reputation for vigorous academic scholarship and rigor in its professional schools.
During Eliot’s forty-year tenure as President of Harvard University, Eliot fought for those reforms and changes that he thought were needed to improve Harvard and nourish the intellectual curiosity of its students. From expanding the size of the faculty, seeking prospective students throughout the nation, raising admission standards, improving educational opportunities for women, reforming the college statutes, attracting money for new dormitories and college buildings, promoting faculty research, or improving faculty salaries, Eliot touched every aspect of Harvard administration as President, helping to transform a small liberal arts college into a major university.
C. W. Eliot Biographical Sources
- Cotton, Edward H. The Life of Charles W. Eliot. Boston: Small, Maynard, and Company 1926.
- Dunbar, C.F.
President Eliot's Administration, 1869-1894.The Harvard Graduates Magazine 17, no. 67 (March, 1909) : 407-430.
- James, Henry. Charles W. Eliot, President of Harvard University, 1869-1909. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1930.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot, ed.
The Development of Harvard University, since the Inauguration of President Eliot, 1869-1929.Vol. VI. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1930.
- Perry, Ralph Barton.
Charles W. Eliot. In Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. VI. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933.
- Taussig, F.W.
President Eliot's Administration, 1894-1909.The Harvard Graduates Magazine 17, no. 67 (March, 1909) : 375-390.
Biographical / Historical
- The Harvard Corporation elects Eliot as President of Harvard University, March 12
- Eliot's inauguration occurs on October 19
- Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is founded
- Arnold Arboretum is established
- Great fire of Boston, President Eliot personally rescues University financial records and equities
- Department of Fine Arts is established
- Harvard offers United States' first courses in architecture
- Memorial Hall is completed
- Construction of Hemenway Gymnasium, heralded as the world's finest, begins
- The Harvard Annex, later the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, later Radcliffe College, opens with 27 female students
- Sever Hall built
- Austin Hall built
- School of Veterinary Medicine founded
- Elective system extended to freshman year at Harvard
- Jefferson Physical Laboratory completed
- Fay Mansion on Cambridge Common is purchased for the Annex
- Two Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary celebrated with more than 2,500 alumni and friends, U.S. President Cleveland attends
- President Eliot's elective system of courses is fully implemented
- Harvard ends compulsory prayers, is the first American institution to do so
- Graduate School made a distinct branch of the University
- Faculty of Arts and Sciences established as umbrella for Harvard College, Lawrence Scientific School and the Graduate School
- Semitic Museum founded
- Eliot secures the Corporation's endorsement for his plan of shortening and enriching the school course, adding natural history, laboratory physics, algebra, geometry, and the classic and modern languages
- Instruction begins in American archaeology, ethnology, and anthropology
- Radcliffe College incorporated; holds its first commencement
- Harvard faculties commemorate Eliot's twenty-fifth anniversary as President
- Fogg Museum completed
- Gym built for Radcliffe College
- First course offered in landscape architecture and city planning
- Harvard Union established
- Stillman Infirmary and first Radcliffe dormitory, Bertram Hall completed
- School of Veterinary Medicine dissolved
- Harvard Stadium opens, the first reinforced concrete stadium in the United States
- Harvard honors Eliot on his seventieth birthday, March 20
- University begins $2.5 million fund drive, its first great capital campaign
- For the first time, graduating seniors number more than five hundred
- Eliot arranges for the building of the Harvard Medical School in the Fenway
- Eliot issues his annual report in which he attacks the game of football as detrimental to the morals of students
- Langdell Hall built, Harvard Forest acquired
- The Graduate School of Business opens formally as a graduate department of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
- Eliot sends in his resignation from the Harvard University presidency, October 26
- Eliot's resignation takes effect
Series and Subseries in the Collection
- Biographical Materials
- ___General Correspondence Group 1
- ___General Correspondence Group 2
- ___General Correspondence Group 3
- ___General Correspondence Group 4
- ___General Correspondence Group 5
- ___Shorthand Notes
- Appointments, Salaries, and Appropriations
- Gifts and Bequests
- Subject Files
- ___Harvard University Files
- ___Non-Harvard University Files
- ___Addresses, Speeches, and Articles
- ___The Religion of the Future
- ___The Harvard Classics
- ___Publisher's Correspondence
- Academic Costumes
Most of papers in this collection were transferred by Charles W. Eliot to the Harvard University Archives, ca. 1890s to ca. 1920s. Additional materials were acquired through donation or purchase. Whenever possible the archivist noted the terms of acquisition in the folder lists below.
Acquisitions known to come from sources others than C. W. Eliot are as follows:
- 1901, H. Ernestine Ripley
- 1920s, Charles William Eliot
- 1931, Henry James
- 1932, Harris Kennedy
- 1933, Samuel A. Eliot
- 1934, Grace Eliot Dudley
- 1943, Jerome D. Greene
- 1953, W.A. Meyer
- 1958, James R. Reynolds
- 1959, Mrs. A.F. Wittem
- 1964, Arthur Maas
- 1964, Samuel Eliot Morrison
- 1965, T. Roland Berner
- 1966, J.K. Wright
- 1967, Max Fisch
- 1974, Hite Lambert
- Accession number: 17358; 2006 May 15
This document last updated 2019 March 28.
The papers of Charles William Eliot and the records of Eliot's Harvard presidency were first classified and described in the Harvard College Library shelflist as the Papers of Charles William Eliot (UAI 15.894) and Eliot Records (UAI 5.150). In 2006, archivist Dominic P. Grandinetti re-processed all of the Eliot material.
Re-processing started with properly identifying misclassified materials, so that all Eliot's papers were re-classified to UAI 15.894 and all the records of Eliot's presidential administration to UAI 5.150. The few exceptions to this are noted in the inventories. The archivist then rehoused all the material, eliminated old box numbers and old folders, renamed folders if necessary, established the series and subseries hierarchies, and created the inventories. Eliot’s initial transfers of material had been re-arranged several times since the 1920s and definitive evidence of original arrangement had long been lost. However, during the 2006 re-processing, the archivist attempted to maintain what remained of the original order. Exceptions are noted in the series descriptions.
As part of the Eliot project, the archivist created a map to old call numbers, box numbers, and folders that were eradicated. A link to this map is located at the end of the inventory.
For more information about the early acquisition and processing of these papers see the Librarians' Files, 1897-1937, W.C. Lane, General Correspondence File, 1897-1928, Edw-EW, Box 16, UAIII 220.127.116.11.
- Harvard University. President's Office. Records of the President of Harvard University, Charles W. Eliot, 1869-1930 : an inventory
- Harvard University Archives
- Language of description
- EAD ID
Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository
Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.
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