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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 15.896

Papers of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, 1861-1945, 1953 and undated

Overview

Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856-1943), lawyer, historian, and philanthropist, was president of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933. Lowell was an important figure in American education and public life. He was an acknowledged expert on world politics and political theory. Lowell’s concern for the public’s interests occupied much of Lowell’s time and his sense of duty led him to take part in many public discussions including support for United States membership in the League of Nations after World War I and an official review of the controversial Sacco and Vanzetti trial. The Papers of Abbott Lawrence Lowell chiefly document his involvement in philanthropic activities, civic affairs, and social reform.

Dates

  • 1861-1945, 1953

Creator

Researcher Access

The Papers of Abbott Lawrence Lowell are open for research use.

Restricted items are noted at the item level below.

Original letters in box 116 are restricted.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Extent

45 cubic feet (92 document boxes, 17 flat boxes, 4 portfolio folders, 2 microfilm boxes, 1 pamphlet binder)
The Papers of Abbott Lawrence Lowell chiefly document his involvement in philanthropic activities, civic affairs, and social reform, with the heaviest concentration of material in the collection dating from 1877 to 1941. The collection recounts Lowell’s service as a public servant influencing policy, especially in regard to education, judicial rule-making, and municipal administration. The collection highlights Lowell’s interest in national and international affairs and reveals his leadership role in the American peace movement, principally his efforts to secure American ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and American participation in the League of Nations. Lowell’s academic research on political science and government, including his studies of the English parliamentary system, the initiative petition and referendum ballot process in the United States and Europe, and municipal reform and administration is also documented in the collection. The collection emphasizes the educational reforms initiated at Harvard during Lowell’s administration and his leadership position in academia. Additionally, the collection features materials related to Lowell’s legal career, business enterprises, and secondary and college education. A limited amount of material in this collection documents Lowell’s activities as a professor and as president of Harvard University, mainly detailing his efforts at curriculum reform and installation as president of Harvard. Materials related to Lowell’s activities as president are found in the Records of the President of Harvard University, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, 1909-1933 (UAI 5.160.xx). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua03003

Lowell’s involvement in civic affairs, especially in regards to education and public policy, is chronicled in the Subject files in this collection. These document Lowell’s work with several organizations to facilitate public improvement including the Boston School Committee, the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Advisory Council to the Unemployment Compensation Commission for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Subject files detail Lowell's efforts to facilitate a merger between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; recount his work to reform judicial rule-making in Massachusetts; and relate his service, despite harsh criticism, in assisting in the review of the controversial murder trial and conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. These records also highlight Lowell’s interest in national affairs, his studies of the initiative petition and referendum ballot process initiated in the United States in the early twentieth century, his unease over the social influences of movies on the public, particularly young children, and his opposition to New Deal legislation including a proposed child labor amendment to the United States Constitution. The Subject files also illustrate Lowell’s leadership in the American peace movement, principally as executive chairman of the League to Enforce Peace, and document Lowell’s efforts to secure American ratification of The Treaty of Versailles and American participation in the League of Nations.

The writings in this collection including reprints, book chapters, addresses, lectures, and manuscript drafts, contain some of Lowell’s earliest thoughts on political science and government and demonstrate his long-term interest in the improvement of the administration of government in the United States. The writings underscore Lowell’s authoritative and leadership position in academia and trace the educational reforms initiated at Harvard under Lowell’s administration. Additionally, Lowell’s leading role in marshaling public opinion on behalf of the League of Nations and his efforts to establish an international organization to preserve world peace are also conveyed in his writings.

Harvard related materials in this collection detail some of Lowell’s activities as president of Harvard University. Correspondence and news clippings document Lowell's election as Harvard president in 1909. Correspondents offer Lowell their congratulations on his election; generally asserting that Lowell is the most qualified person to assume the responsibilities as Harvard’s president. Additional letters, addresses, and blank printed matter document the planning and arrangement of Lowell's inauguration in October 1909. Other letters and awards presented to Lowell from colleges, universities, and other learned societies acknowledge Lowell’s lifetime of achievements in the fields of education and the humanities; and Baccalaureate sermons given by Lowell to Harvard students on contemporary events and issues convey Lowell as a thinker and scholar. Harvard related materials such as letters and reports in this collection chronicle Lowell’s efforts as a professor to improve the curriculum and stimulate academic achievement at Harvard; document the construction of the New Lecture Hall at Harvard in 1903; and highlight Lowell’s role in planning the Harvard alumni meeting at the close of the 1936 Tercentenary celebration.

Biographical Note

Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856-1943), lawyer, historian, and philanthropist, was president of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933. Lowell was an important figure in American education and public life. He was an acknowledged expert on world politics and political theory. A member of Boston’s “Brahmin” social aristocracy, Lowell considered himself a steward of public welfare and spent his life furthering causes that he deemed worthy. Lowell’s eagerness for world peace led to his involvement in supporting United States membership in the League of Nations after World War I. His concern for the public’s interests occupied much of his time and led him to take part in many public discussions, including participation in a review of the evidence from the controversial Sacco and Vanzetti trial.

Lowell was born into a prominent Boston family with strong ties to Harvard University. His grandfather, John Amory Lowell (1798-1881), businessman and philanthropist, was a member of the Harvard Corporation for many years. Lowell’s maternal grandfather, Abbott Lawrence, textile manufacturer and founder of Lawrence, Massachusetts, provided $50,000 to establish the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard College and provided an equal sum in his will for the school. Lowell’s father, Augustus Lowell, banker and financier, was a graduate of Harvard College (Class of 1850) and a trustee for twenty years of the Lowell Institute, an educational foundation located in Boston, Massachusetts.

After graduating from Harvard College (AB 1877, LLB 1880) Lowell married Anna Parker Lowell (d. 1930) in 1879 and established a legal practice with his cousin Francis Cabot Lowell in 1880. Frederic J. Stimson joined the practice in 1891. Lowell worked primarily as an administrator of estates and as a managing investor for charitable organizations. In 1884 he co-authored with his cousin Francis the mildly successful book the Transfer of Stock in Corporation. While practicing law, Lowell pursued his scholarly interests in political science and government. In 1889 he published Essays in Government, a comparison of American and British governmental systems. A few years later, in 1896, Lowell wrote the first comprehensive study of continental government published by an American, Governments and Parties in Continental Europe. This work established Lowell’s reputation as a scholar and led to his appointment as Lecturer on Existing Political Systems (1897) at Harvard, teaching courses in modern and constitutional government. Once at Harvard, Lowell took an active interest in the improvement of the curriculum and scholarship at the institution and in 1903 he co-authored a report which revealed shortcomings in the elective course system and a general laxity of student academic performance. By 1909, Lowell had achieved recognition as a leader in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and was acknowledged among his peers as the successor to President Charles W. Eliot. When Eliot retired in May 1909, Lowell became the twenty-third president of Harvard.

Lowell’s presidency (1909-1933) was marked by several major reforms at Harvard University. Among these was the implementation of a modified elective course system to encourage students to take academically stimulating courses, maintain undergraduate interest in scholarship, and provide Harvard students with a well-rounded education; the establishment of general examinations in fields of concentration upon graduation to gauge a student’s knowledge of an entire field of study; the formation of a tutorial system offering students individual guidance in reviewing course material in preparation for the general examination; the creation of a reading period in which students were allowed uninterrupted time to prepare for final examinations; and the introduction of the house system, which required freshmen to live together in halls to promote a “democratic social life” among students at Harvard. Adapted from the English college system, Harvard was the first American University to adopt “Houses” on campus. Material growth at Harvard was extraordinary during Lowell’s administration and a growing need for library shelves, classroom space, and laboratory facilities, made building construction and remodeling inevitable. For twenty years there was regular construction on the Harvard campus and Lowell became known as “The Builder.” Amongst the many new buildings constructed during Lowell’s tenure were the Widener Library (1915), a new Dental School building (1909), and a new building for the Fogg Art Museum (1927). Additionally, in order to promote the early stages of a student’s scholarly career, Lowell in 1933, then President Emeritus of Harvard, endowed a Society of Fellows at Harvard under which twenty-four scholars, free from formal classroom requirements, would be able to pursue studies in any Harvard University department.

Lowell’s philanthropic activities during his lifetime demonstrated a concern for the progress and welfare of the community, lending his name, time, and administrative talents to many causes and organizations; on many occasions Lowell was called upon to contribute an address, publication, or printed statement. Lowell supported tariff reduction, women’s suffrage, and immigration restriction. He opposed the Boston Police strike (1919) and called for volunteers to take the place of striking policemen. As a member of the Boston School Committee (1895-1898), Lowell supported reforms designed to encourage the hiring of academically superior teachers and administrators. Lowell worked diligently on the Boston Chamber of Commerce to improve municipal administration and judicial procedures in Massachusetts. Lowell favored an appointed rather than an elected judiciary and he distrusted the initiative and referendum process as unworkable in practice. Domestic affairs troubled Lowell in the 1930s and he wrote and spoke out against the increasing centralization of government under the New Deal policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, asserting that the programs being pursued were creating bitter class antagonism and weakening the individual American character. In addition, in the 1930s, Lowell publicly opposed Roosevelt’s court-packing scheme as a threat to an independent judiciary and a child labor amendment to the United States Constitution as unbridled government regulation of the American family. Another public issue in which Lowell was involved was the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, immigrant anarchists convicted of murder in 1921. The conviction stirred worldwide protests, as many people believed that Sacco and Vanzetti had been framed and convicted for their political views. In May 1927, Sacco and Vanzetti supporters petitioned Massachusetts Governor Alvan Fuller for clemency. Uncertain of a decision, Fuller appointed Lowell to a three-person committee to investigate whether Sacco and Vanzetti were given a fair trial or convicted on the basis of prejudice. After a review of the trial, the committee concluded that Sacco and Vanzetti had indeed been tried and convicted fairly; both men were executed in August 1927. Lowell was criticized for the remainder of his life for the committee’s decision and received abusive letters in the following years from Sacco and Vanzetti supporters on the anniversary of their execution.

Lowell’s concern for domestic affairs did not lead to any lack of interest in foreign affairs. Lowell played a major role in the founding of the League to Enforce Peace, an organization established in 1915 to promote world peace. Serving as the League’s executive chairman (1915-1921) and later president (1921-1923), Lowell spoke and wrote tirelessly on behalf of American participation in the League of Nations, an international body founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I. Lowell saw a need for the nations of the world to stand together to maintain world peace; he called for sanctions against Japan in 1937 after that nation's invasion of Manchuria. Certain that appeasement would bring war, Lowell characterized World War II as a clash of “conflicting ideas of civilization” to which the United States could not be indifferent. He maintained that America had a duty to support the democracies of France and England against the forces of dictatorship.

Abbott Lawrence Lowell died on January 6, 1943 in Boston of a cerebral hemorrhage and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Arrangement

The records are arranged in five groups:
  1. Biographical materials, circa 1866-1944
  2. Correspondence files and letterpress books, 1861-1944
  3. Harvard related materials, 1877-1943, 1953
  4. Subject files, 1895-1945
  5. Writings by Abbott Lawrence Lowell, 1877-1941 and undated

Superseded call numbers

To assist researchers in identifying materials noted in previous citations, the list below provides references from obsolete call numbers UAI 15.896.2 and UAI 15.896.3 to new box and folder numbers. Please use the current call number, UAI 15.896, with the appropriate box and folder number in place of the superseded call number when citing material from this collection.
  1. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 1, Folder 1 Advisory Committee, correspondence between members, with governmental officials and defense counsel, June and July1927; later correspondence between committee members and other officials, August 1927-1929 See: Box 81, Folder 1. Advisory Committee, correspondence between members, with governmental officials and defense counsel, 1927 June and July; later correspondence between committee members and other officials, 1927 August-1929
  2. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 1, Folder 2 Advisory Committee, documents presented to, statements, notes, miscellany See: Box 83, Folder 1. Advisory Committee, documents presented to, statements, notes, miscellany, [1920-1927]
  3. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 1, Folder 3 Advisory Committee, copies of testimony presented, July 11-15, 1927 See: Box 81, Folder 2-6. Advisory Committee, copies of testimony presented, 1927 July 11-15
  4. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 1, Folder 4 Advisory Committee, drafts and copy of report to Governor Alvan T. Fuller See: Box 81, Folder 7. Advisory Committee, drafts and copy of report to Governor Alvan T. Fuller, 1927 July
  5. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 2, Folder 1 General correspondence, April-July, 1927 See: Box 82, Folder 1. General correspondence, 1927 April-July
  6. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 2, Folder 2 General correspondence, August 1-10, 1927 See: Box 82, Folder 2. General correspondence, 1927 August 1-10
  7. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 2, Folder 3 General correspondence, August 11-20, 1927 See: Box 83, Folder 2. General correspondence, 1927 August 11-20
  8. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 2, Folder 4 General correspondence, August 21-31, 1927 See: Box 82, Folder 3. General correspondence, 1927 August 21-31
  9. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 2, Folder 5 General correspondence, September 1927 See: Box 82, Folder 4. General correspondence, 1927 September
  10. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 2, Folder 6 General correspondence, October-December, 1927 See: Box 82, Folder 5. General correspondence, 1927 October-December
  11. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 2, Folder 7 General correspondence, 1928-1939 See: Box 82, Folder 6. General correspondence, 1928-1939
  12. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 2, Folder 8 Miscellaneous See: Box 82, Folder 3. Miscellaneous, [circa 1927, 1942]
  13. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 3, Folder 1 Clippings, dated, June-August, 1927 and 1942 See: Box 82, Folder 7. Clippings, 1927 July-August, 1942
  14. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 3, Folder 2 Clippings, undated See: Box 82, Folder 8. Clippings, [1924-1928]
  15. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 3, Folder 3 Newspapers, sections, from 1926-1929; undated See: Box 84, Folder 1-3. Newspapers, sections from 1926-1929
  16. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 3, Folder 4 Notices and announcements, May 1926-1929; undated See: Box 83, Folder 4. Notices and announcements, 1926 May-1929
  17. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 3, Folder 5 Pamphlets, 1929 and 1938 See: Box 82, Folder 9. Pamphlets, 1927, 1938
  18. Formerly UAI 15.896.2, Box 3, Folder 6 Periodicals and periodical articles, 1924-1929 See: Box 82, Folder 10-11. Periodicals and periodical articles, 1924-1929
  19. Formerly UAI 15.896.3, Box 1, Addresses presented at the inauguration of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, 1909 See: Boxes 32 and 33. Addresses presented at the inauguration of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, 1909

Acquisition Information

The bulk of the Papers of Abbott Lawrence Lowell were donated to the Harvard University Archives by Henry A. Yeomans and Nora A. Dwyer on December 9, 1948. Additional materials were acquired through donation. Whenever possible the archivist noted the terms of acquisition in the folder lists below.

The acquisitions are as follows:
  1. 1909 December 30, Gratis
  2. 1911 September 22, unknown donor
  3. 1911 September 27, President’s Office
  4. 1932 October 15, Jerome D. Greene
  5. 1933 July 6, Abbott Lawrence Lowell
  6. 1934 August 9, Abbott Lawrence Lowell
  7. 1938 November 2, Clippings file
  8. 1943 Gratis
  9. 1948 December 9, Henry A. Yeomans and Nora A. Dwyer
  10. 1949 January 5, Mason Hammond
  11. 1955 November 3, Walter Lichtenstein
  12. 1960 January 14, Mrs. Joseph Hamlen
  13. 1961 October 10, unknown donor
  14. 1971 October, Robert Shenton
  15. 1973 December, Georgetown University Archives
  16. Unknown date, Jerome D. Greene
  17. Accession number: 09625; 1982 December 20

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Records of the President of Harvard University, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, 1909-1933 (UAI 5.160.xx) consist of the records document the Lowell administration from 1909 to 1933. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua03003
  2. Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, ca. 1852-ca. 2004 (HUP) contain photographs of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, circa 1909-1933. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua04006
  3. Records of the Office of News and Public Affairs: Photographs, 1913-1995 (inclusive), 1943-1983 (bulk) (UAV 605.xx) contain photographs of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, circa 1909-1933. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.ARCH:hua04003
Related Materials In the Houghton Library
Related Materials
  1. Abbott Lawrence Lowell peace papers, circa 1913-1933 (2005-481): consists of printed material related to organizations supporting international peace.
  2. League to Enforce Peace (U.S.) records, circa 1912-1921 (Int 6722.8.25): records document the activities of the League to Enforce Peace.
  3. League to Enforce Peace (U.S.) additional records, 1917-1923 (MS Am 785) http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.Hough:hou00014
  4. A. Lawrence Lowell letter on Sacco and Vanzetti, 1927 (93M-62)
  5. Papers concerning the Sacco and Vanzetti case, 1921-1927 (MS Am 2383) include typescript carbon of the 1921 trial and motion for new trial transcripts, prepared for A. Lawrence Lowell for his work on the Lowell advisory commission. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.Hough:hou01789

References

  • Abbott Lawrence Lowell. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. Gale Biography in Context. Web. 9 January 2013.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard 1636-1936. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • Yeomans, Henry Aaron. Abbott Lawrence Lowell 1856-1943. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1948.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2018 February 28.

Processing Information

The Papers of Abbott Lawrence Lowell were first classified and described in the Harvard University shelflist prior to 1980. In 2013 (January-September) Dominic P. Grandinetti reprocessed these papers, maintaining the order of the papers as found with minimal re-arrangement. In all respects, the archivist attempted to retain and preserve the original arrangement and existing relationships of the documents. Details about the processing and arrangement of each series are described below.

Reprocessing included rehousing materials in the appropriate containers, establishment of series and subseries hierarchy, photocopying of news clippings, and the creation of this finding aid. Folder titles were transcribed as found in this collection by the archivist; dates and titles supplied by the archivist appear in brackets.

As part of this finding aid, the archivist created a listing for superseded call numbers UAI 15.896.2 (Sacco and Vanzetti papers) and UAI 15.896.3 (Addresses presented at the inauguration of Abbott Lawrence Lowell) to help researchers in identifying materials noted in previous citations. The listing provides references from the superseded call number to new box and folder numbers.
Link to catalog
Title
Lowell, A. Lawrence (Abbott Lawrence), 1856-1943. Papers of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, 1861-1945, 1953 and undated : an inventory
Author
Harvard University Archives
EAD ID
hua26013

Repository Details

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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