Reports to the Board of Overseers
This collection is comprised of committee reports on various issues submitted to the Harvard University Board of Overseers between 1650 and 1854. These reports contain the committees' summaries and recommendations on on a range of academic, administrative, and financial concerns. Specific topics addressed include the curriculum, the rules surrounding specific endowed professorships, the academic calendar, University finances, student attendance at Harvard Medical School, and the operation of the Harvard College Library.
- 1650, 1685, 1761-1854
- Harvard University. Board of Overseers (Organization)
Open for research.
Extent2 cubic feet (16 volumes, 1 legal half document box)
This collection is comprised of committee reports on various issues submitted to the Harvard University Board of Overseers between 1650 and 1854. These reports contain the committees' summaries and recommendations on on a range of academic, administrative, and financial concerns affecting Harvard. Specific topics addressed include the curriculum, the rules surrounding specific endowed professorships, the academic calendar, University finances, student attendance at Harvard Medical School, and the operation of the Harvard College Library.
Reports are chiefly signed by committee chairmen and secretaries. Supplements to volumes 1 and 2 and loose reports are located in Box 17.
History of the Board of Overseers
The Harvard College Board of Overseers was legally established by the General Court of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1642. It is one of Harvard's two governing boards, the other being the President and Fellows of Harvard College (often referred to as "the Corporation"), and now consists of thirty members who are elected by alumni to serve 6-year terms. In addition, Harvard's President and Treasurer serve as ex officio members. Broadly speaking, the function of the Board of Overseers is to encourage the University to maintain the highest attainable standards as a place of learning. To do this, Overseers serve on various standing and visiting committees at the University, through which they conduct research on a range of topics and advise academic and administrative bodies on their strategic directions, priorities, and planning. The Overseers direct the visitation process by which Harvard's schools and departments are periodically reviewed and assessed, and they advise University leaders, including the President. In conjunction with the Corporation, the Overseers approve high-level teaching and administrative appointments. They are also charged with conferring degrees. The Board of Overseers as a whole typically meets five times during the academic year, including a meeting held each year at the time of Harvard's Commencement. At these meetings, the Board hears formal reports from various standing committees and senior University Administrators, including the President. In addition to these meetings of the Board as a whole, individual Overseers meet on separate occasions with the visiting committees and standing committees to which they belong.
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.
The Reports to the Board of Overseers are arranged in three series:
- Bound reports, 1761-1854
- Loose reports, 1650, 1685
- Supplements to volumes 1 and 2, 1781-1830
The documents in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business.
Some of the records have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.
This document last updated 2019 December 20.
This finding aid was created by Jennifer Pelose in October 2014.
Titles devised by the archivist.
Preservation and description of the Reports to the Board of Overseers was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Harvard University. Board of Overseers. Reports to the Board of Overseers, 1650, 1685, 1761-1854 : 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.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA