Records of the Faculty relating to disorders
Disorderly conduct by students was a problem for Harvard administrators from the College's earliest days. The College Laws, first compiled in 1642 and revised regularly, attempted to define appropriate student conduct by setting limits on student privileges and detailing prohibited behavior (known as "disorders"). Vandalism, truancy, drunkenness, swearing, gambling, and loud noise were common disorders throughout the 17th and 18th centuries at the College, but larger displays of student unrest and protests occasionally erupted. These records of the Faculty contain documents created in the process of investigating and responding to student misbehavior by College administrators. The records highlight certain student disorders between 1768 and 1865 that required the attention of College administrators beyond that given for common infractions. The collection consists of reports, correspondence, testimony, transcriptions from Corporation, Overseers, and Faculty minutes, addresses, student confessions and petitions. The collection offers a resource for studying collegiate governance, student life, and codes of conduct in the second half of the 18th century.
- 1768-ca. 1880s
- Harvard University (Organization)
The Records of the Faculty relating to disorders are open for research.
Copying of fragile materials may be limited.
Extent.35 cubic feet (1 document boxes)
The Disorders records contain documents created in the process of investigating and responding to student disorders by the College's governing bodies. The collection consists of reports, correspondence, testimony, transcriptions from Corporation, Overseers, and Faculty minutes, addresses, student confessions, petitions, and apologies.
The Disorders records highlight certain student disorders between 1768 and 1865 that required investigation and discussion beyond that given for common infractions. The records reveal the expectations held by the College's governing boards of students both as members of the Harvard community, as well as their expectations of them as "gentlemen." The collection offers a resource for studying collegiate governance, student life, and codes of conduct in the second half of the 18th century. The presence of disorders files relating to student rebellion in the late 1700s also creates the potential for using the collection to examine themes of student unrest during the Revolutionary era.
The collection consists of three series: Disorders files, Corporation reports and correspondence, and Addresses. The Disorder files and Corporation reports and correspondence series overlap in content, but the Corporation reports and correspondence can be distinguished as single items that either have the expanded purpose of discouraging future misbehavior or consist solely of letters to the Corporation, from involved or concerned individuals, regarding a specific issue. The Disorders files consist of records created in examining a particular incident or punishment, such as a student protest or the rustication of a student. The Addresses series contains speeches by Professor Eliphalet Pearson admonishing students for infractions.
Disorderly conduct by students was a problem for Harvard administrators from the College's earliest days. The College Laws, first composed in 1642 and revised regularly, attempted to define appropriate student conduct by setting limits on student privileges and detailing prohibited activities (known as "disorders"). The College's location in Cambridge, and proximity to Boston, created difficulty for the College administration seeking to limit students' access to taverns, gaming houses, and prostitutes. Many of the College Laws were intended to focus student activities on religion and academics, and confine students within the College gates.
Vandalism, truancy, drunkenness, swearing, gambling, and loud noise were common disorders throughout the 17th and 18th centuries at the College, but occasionally larger displays of student unrest occurred. The first recorded student rebellion occurred in 1766, when Harvard student Asa Dunbar led a public protest against rancid butter served to students. The faculty responded by disciplining Dunbar, which prompted further protest. Finally, after considerable friction between the Corporation and students, 155 students signed a confession promising "future good Conduct." Protests occurred periodically after the "Great Butter Rebellion of 1766" and tended to reflect tensions between the student body and College administrators. One historian describing the Rebellion of 1768 noted that with President Holyoke's declining health, "other faculty members failed to fill the void of institutional leadership, [and] discipline suffered." In contrast, the militaristic rules set when Joseph Willard became president in 1781 collided with the Revolutionary spirit of the time and seemed to encourage a spike in mischief. Professor Eliphalet Pearson took to keeping a "Journal of Disorders" in 1788 and 1789 to note student infractions.
In the 18th century, most students guilty of disorders were disciplined by the Faculty. More serious infractions often went before the Corporation, and the Board of Overseers occasionally weighed in on particular incidents. While early disciplinary action included corporal punishment, such as the infamous floggings by Harvard's first master Nathaniel Eaton in 1642, fines, degradation of class standing, public admonishment, and rustication (suspending students to the country) were more typical punishments in the 1700s. Expulsion was the most severe punishment. Signs of student penitence and public confessions tended to encourage leniency from College officials. After the Rebellion of 1768, most students involved in the incident were allowed to return to campus after making a public confession.
Students guilty of small disorders such as cursing and gambling were summarily fined. Along with tuition and food, the Steward's Quarter bill books tallied "punishment fines" owed by students. But for more serious disorders, however, the Faculty and Corporation minutes of the 18th century reveal a more formal approach to evaluating student misconduct. In response to serious displays of student unrest, the College governors took statements and organized investigative committees. Students hoping to reverse or lessen punishments often submitted petitions for review by the Corporation.
The effects of student disorders on public opinion concerned College administrators. In 1740, the popular itinerant preacher George Whitefield preached in Cambridge and later wrote that discipline at Harvard was "at too low an ebb." Professor Edward Wigglesworth responded in a 1745 published letter that cited recent dismissals of a tutor and professor and asked, "And can it be supposed, that a Government...would not spare its own officers, would at the same Time wink at the Faults of Children?" In 1781, after students spent a rowdy night drinking in Cambridge, the Corporation requested an investigation into the incident in order to "take such steps as they shall think proper in order to secure the honour of the College." In the late 1700s, Professor Pearson delivered a series of speeches to disorderly students that emphasized that the conduct of students reflected on Harvard itself. In a 1791 address he advised students to "Let your only strife be to excel most in promoting the reputation of your Alma Mater, & in acquiring that knowledge & those virtuous habits, which constitute the true dignity & perfection of man."
The collection is arranged in three series:
- Disorders files, 1768-ca. 1880s
- Corporation reports and correspondence, 1780-1797
- Addresses, 1789-1805
The documents in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business. An 1820 letter describing the Rebellion of 1768 was received as part of the James R. Lowell papers, December 4, 1891 from Mrs. Edward Burnett, his daughter.
- Cohen, Sheldon. "The Turkish Tyranny" in The New England Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 4 (December 1974).
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
- Whitefield, George. A continuation of the Reverend Mr. Whitefield's journal, from a few days after his arrival at Savannah, June the fourth, to his leaving Stanford, the last town in New-England, October 29. 1740. (Philadelphia, 1741).
- Wigglesworth, Edward. A letter to the Reverend Mr. George Whitefield, by way of reply to his answer to the college testimony against him and his conduct. (Boston, 1745).
This document last updated 2022 March 11.
The material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives' shelflist prior to 1980. The material was re-processed in 2010. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid. Post-1800 materials have been included in the finding aid, but are not fully processed.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in August 2010.
Preservation and description of the Disorders records was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Harvard University. Records of the Faculty relating to disorders, 1768-ca. 1880s: an inventory
- 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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