Records of the Board of Overseers: waste-books
- Harvard University. Board of Overseers (Organization)
Extent.26 cubic feet (1 half document box)
These handwritten minutes record the transactions, decisions, and votes enacted at Overseers' meetings. Most are accompanied by a signed attestation by the Secretary affirming the validity of the record. Some of the minutes contain pencilled annotations, added at a later date by an unknown individual, which note discrepancies between these minutes and the formal meeting minutes. The minutes in this collection include the following information: a list of attendees at each meeting; a list of Corporation votes to which the Overseers consented; a list of votes taken at the meeting; information regarding the conferral of degrees on various individuals; notes regarding the formation of various committees; decisions related to salaries; and other pressing matters.
Of note are minutes pertaining to Harvard's physical relocation during the American Revolution. On September 5, 1775, the Overseers advised "that the College be removed to Concord with all convenient speed." The minutes from several meetings pertain to the Harvard Corporation's ongoing difficulties with John Hancock as absentee Treasurer (he was in Philadelphia and later Baltimore, with the Continental Congress) and their correspondence with him in attempts to reconcile the College accounts. Other minutes refer to student disorders and measures taken to address them. Also of note are minutes from meetings held in 1812, at a time when the composition of the Board of Overseers was heavily contested and politicized. These minutes concern discussions of a change to the Constitution of the Board in 1810 and the General Court's repeal of those changes in 1812.
History of the Board of Overseers
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Board of Overseers was involved in a wide range of decisions related to Harvard College, actively shaping its academic priorities and administrative decisions in conjunction with the Corporation. The Board's membership was decidedly different then than it is today, though, as it included (per the General Court's Act of 1642) the Governor, Deputy Governor and the magistrates of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, as well as "the teaching elders of the six next adjoining towns, viz. Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown, Boston, Roxbury, and Dorchester." For decades following the American Revolution, the membership criteria changed only slightly and the Board included representatives from the government of the new Commonwealth of Massachusetts: the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Counselors, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, in addition to the aforementioned "teaching elders." Significant changes in the Board of Overseers' composition occurred in 1810, when it was decided that some of the Board's members should be elected, in order to draw upon the expertise and experience of those outside the Board's traditional constituency. An act was passed in March 1810 which declared that, although the core membership would remain the same, the Board of Overseers should also include "fifteen ministers of Congregational churches and fifteen laymen, all inhabitants within the state, to be elected." Although this change in the constitution of the Board of Overseers would prove controversial, and faced serious opposition in 1812 when it was temporarily repealed, by 1814 it had become the established criterion for the Board's membership. Not until the General Court's Act of April 28, 1865, which separated the Overseers from the control of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, would the membership of the Board of Overseers undergo another structural change.
Prior to 1938, the Secretary of the Board was traditionally a teaching fellow, a Harvard alumnus, and/or a member of the Board of Overseers. However, as the twentieth century progressed and the Secretary's responsibilities and demands grew, the need to professionalize the position became apparent. In the years following the reorganization of the Overseers' Visiting Committees system in 1888-1889, there had been a significant increase in the number and type of committees, as well as in the volume of the routine administrative, clerical, and financial duties of the Secretary. In 1937, in order to ease the administrative load carried by then-Secretary Winthrop H. Wade, the Board of Overseers elected Jerome D. Greene to the newly established office of Assistant Secretary of the Board of Overseers. The purpose of this new office was to provide administrative and clerical support to the Secretary of the Board and to assist the Visiting Committees in performing their duties. Greene held this position, in addition to that of Secretary to the Corporation. In 1938 Wade retired and Greene was elected Secretary of the Board of Overseers. From that time forward, the Board of Overseers has traditionally elected the Secretary to the Corporation to serve simultaneously in that role and as Secretary to the Board of Overseers.
This finding aid was created by Laura Morris in October 2010.
Preservation and description of the Meeting minutes maintained by the Secretary was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Harvard University. Board of Overseers. Records of the Board of Overseers: waste-books, 1775-1816: an inventory
- 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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