Papers of John Thornton Kirkland
- 1788-1837 and undated
- Kirkland, John Thornton, 1770-1840 (Person)
Extent2 cubic feet (3 document boxes, 1 half-document box, 1 legal document box, 1 half-legal document box, 1 portfolio folder)
The bulk of the collection contains Kirkland's records such as correspondence, diaries, commonplace books, notebooks, and meeting minutes, from his tenure as president of Harvard University, illustrating Kirkland's administration and supervision of Harvard at a time in which the school was evolving from a college to a university; increasing its faculty, expanding its curriculum, and introducing progressive modes of instruction. The records demonstrate Kirkland's role as a liaison between the Fellows of Harvard Corporation, members of the Board of Overseers, professors, tutors, students, staff, and the public. Moreover, the records offer insight into the complex problems at Harvard in the early nineteenth century, as well as illustrate the challenges faced by early university or college presidents. The records document the daily responsibilities of Kirkland as Harvard president; and they demonstrate Kirkland's regulation of student behavior, student absences and vacations, and class meetings. They highlight Kirkland's responsibility to provide adequate meals to students; his supervision of the college library, grounds, and other buildings; and his ongoing contribution to the development of the college curriculum. The records demonstrate Kirkland's execution of the rules and regulations established by the Corporation and detail his supervision of various Harvard officers and committees. The records also underscore Kirkland's role as an ordained minister and as a teacher of morality and religion to promote the spiritual welfare of students at Harvard.
The collection includes records such as sermons, diaries, and notebooks, which document Kirkland's religious studies at Harvard and his activities as a Unitarian minister. Kirkland's reflections, musings, and notes on religious themes and topics are found in these records. The records help illustrate Kirkland's religious beliefs and shed light on his style and character of preaching. Additionally, the records provide a glimpse into the kind of divinity instruction a student received at the end of the eighteenth century at Harvard.
The collection also includes a limited amount of material documenting Kirkland's family and personal life. The Kirkland-Lothrop family correspondence consists mostly of letters from 1823 to 1828 written to Kirkland's nephew, Samuel Kirkland Lothrop. Although chiefly documenting Lothrop's student life at Harvard and his relationship with his family, the correspondence also offers a glimpse into the personal life of John T. Kirkland and his rapport with his extended family. Kirkland's personal correspondence from 1804 to 1834 contains a few letters referring to his ministerial activities and other routine matters. Kirkland's travel diary describes a visit to Spain, Egypt, and the Mediterranean with his wife Elizabeth after his retirement from Harvard. Although mostly in draft and fragmentary form, Kirkland's writings housed in Series VII offer an indication of his public interests, particularly in the fields of education and religion.
Kirkland was born to Samuel Kirkland and Jerusha (Bingham) Kirkland on August 17, 1770 in Herkimer, New York. His father was a Congregational minister and missionary to Indians who founded the town of Kirkland, New York and established Hamilton Oneida College (later known as Hamilton College). Kirkland's early education took place at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He later graduated from Harvard College (AB 1789) and returned to teach at Phillips Academy and study divinity. However, Kirkland found the Calvinist doctrine too restrictive and decided to return to Harvard University and joined the Unitarian denomination. While studying divinity at Harvard, Kirkland served as a tutor of logic and metaphysics (1792-1794). Kirkland was ordained as a pastor of the New South Church in Boston, Massachusetts in 1794, serving until 1810.
A respected church leader, Kirkland was elected president of Harvard University in 1810. Under Kirkland's leadership Harvard expanded rapidly and evolved from a college to a university. Fifteen new professorships were formed, and the Law School (1817) and the Divinity School (1819) were founded during Kirkland's administration. New buildings were added to the school grounds; Holworthy Hall (1812), University Hall (1814), the Medical College (1816), and Divinity Hall (1825) were constructed. Other buildings were enlarged and renovated. The Library took over the entire second floor of Harvard Hall and extensive repairs were undertaken in Holden Chapel, Harvard Hall, Stoughton Hall, Hollis Hall, and Massachusetts Hall. New areas of instruction in chemistry, mineralogy, anatomy, physiology, and elocution were added to the college curriculum; the lecture method of instruction was introduced into the classroom; and the first student electives at Harvard were offered. Kirkland also played a leading role in the improvement of Harvard Yard which was cluttered at the time with a brew house, a wood yard, privies, roaming sheep, and a college pig pen. Under Kirkland's stewardship, the Yard was replaced with elm trees, regular pathways, and a proper lawn.
Kirkland's last years as Harvard president ended with controversy. Student disorder on campus was common in the early nineteenth century. When student riots and fights broke out at Harvard in 1823 over who was to give the commencement address at graduation, Kirkland expelled half of the senior class. As a result of Kirkland's actions, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts rescinded the school's $10,000 annual state subsidy in 1824. This financial loss created a budget deficit, but more importantly, it exposed Kirkland's lack of management skills in administering the University's finances. A fiscal crisis led to a financial retrenchment at Harvard and undermined Kirkland's authority. Over the next year, Kirkland's salary was reduced, his student secretary's job was eliminated, professors' salaries were cut, teaching loads increased, non-resident teachers were fired, and the University sloop, the Harvard, was sold. Harvard's financial accounts were brought under strict control and Kirkland's laxity in managing the financial affairs of the University was ended. In August 1827, Kirkland suffered a slight paralytic stroke. No longer able to meet the increasing challenges of administering Harvard's affairs, Kirkland resigned in March 1828.
After leaving Harvard University, Kirkland and his new wife, Elizabeth, traveled extensively in the southern United States, Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East. Returning to Boston from his overseas trips in 1832, Kirkland's health began to deteriorate, and he spent the last years of his life living quietly. Kirkland died on April 24, 1840.
- Correspondence, 1788-1834 and undated
- Diaries, 1789-1823, 1831-1832
- Commonplace books, 1801, 1803-1819
- Notebooks, 1812-1837 and undated
- Harvard University meeting minutes, 1810-1827
- Sermons, 1820, 1826 and undated
- Writings, 1799-1820s and undated
- Bella C. Landauer, 1939
- Frances W. Ramsey, Jr., 1962
- Houghton Library, 1949
- Houghton Library, 1962
- Philip Spaulding, 1937
- T. Roland [Bernes], 1965
- Thomas F. Cadwalader, 1957
- Mrs. William C. Morris, 1952
- Accession number: 12864; 1994 May 5
- Accession number: 13251; 1995 December 11
- Accession number: 14262; 2000 December 20
- Accession number: 18342; 2011 August 4
- Bailyn, Bernard."Why Kirkland Failed." In Glimpse of Harvard Past. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986.
- Eliot, Samuel A. A Sketch of the History of Harvard College, and of its Present State. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848.
- Fuess, Claude M. "Some Eminent Andover Alumni, John Thornton Kirkland (1770-1840)." The Phillips Bulletin, April 1924, pp. 6-11.
- Lothrop, Samuel K. Life of Samuel Kirkland, Missionary to the Indians. Boston, Massachusetts: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1848.
- Lothrop, Thornton Kirkland, Ed. Some Reminiscences of the Life of Samuel Kirkland Lothrop. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Wilson and Son, 1888.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. "John Thornton Kirkland". In Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. X, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. "The Great Rebellion in Harvard College, And The Resignation of President Kirkland." Publications of The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Transactions, November, 1927- November, 1928, Vol. XXVII, 1929. 54-112.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
- Palfrey, John G. A Discourse on the Life and Character of the Reverend John Thornton Kirkland, D.D., LL.D., Late President of Harvard College; pronounced on Thursday, June 5, 1840, in the New South Church in Boston, before The Pupils of President Kirkland, and The Government and Students of the University. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Owen, 1840.
- Pierce, John. "President Kirkland." Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. IX, 1894, 1895. Boston: The Society, 1895. 143-158.
- Quincy, Josiah. The History of Harvard University, Vol. II. Cambridge, Massachusetts: John Owen, 1840.
- Young, Alexander. Discourses on the Life and Character of John Thornton Kirkland and of Nathaniel Bowditch, Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1840.
Published versions of the documents in this collection are noted in the folder lists.
Additional preservation and description of the Papers of John T. Kirkland was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Kirkland, John Thornton, 1770-1840. Papers of John Thornton Kirkland, 1788-1837 and undated : an inventory
- Harvard University Archives
- 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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