Harvard University Corporation records: minutes
The Harvard Corporation (also known as The President and Fellows of Harvard College), was established by the Massachusetts General Court in 1650 with responsibilty for managing Harvard's academic, financial, and policy matters. The minutes document the Corporation's role in the governance of the University, its decisions, University business practices, and Harvard's evolution from a small college into a modern university. Pre-1827 minutes in this collection are 19th century copies transcribed from the College Books. From 1827 on, minutes are those prepared by the Secretary of the Corporation.
- Harvard University. Corporation (Organization)
The Corporation records itemized in this finding aid are open for research. For volumes 1-21 please use the bound photostat copies available in the Harvard University Archives reading room.
Copying of fragile materials may be limited.
Extent11.38 cubic feet (112 volumes and 1 document box containing 7 reels of microfilm)
This collection contains bound volumes of the final drafts of the proceedings of the President and Fellows of Harvard College prepared by the Secretaries of the Corporation beginning in 1827. Pre-1827 proceedings were transcribed in the 19th century from the College Books and are included in this collection. The proceedings document the Corporation's role in the governance of the University and include information about the origin and development of the Corporation's exercise of executive power at Harvard, the Corporation's decision making process, the conduct of routine University business, and the evolution of Harvard from a small college into a modern university.
The collection is arranged in three series. The volumes in Series I contain handwritten transcriptions of early Corporation proceedings recorded in the College Books (UAI 5.10) for the years 1643 to March 31, 1827 that were extracted and copied between 1828 and 1855 on the order of the Corporation. The volumes in Series II contain the formal meeting minutes from April 1827-February 1933.The handwritten, and later typewritten, minutes are attested to by the Secretary and carry his signature. Volumes 1-25 (spanning December 27 1643-March 28, 1921) each contain a general subject index. A third series holds bound photostat use copies of Volumes 1-21 and preservation microfilm.
The collection is arranged in three series. The volumes in Series I contain handwritten transcriptions of early Corporation proceedings recorded in the College Books (UAI 5.10) for the years 1643 to March 31, 1827 that were extracted and copied between 1828 and 1855 on the order of the Corporation. The volumes in Series II contain the formal meeting minutes from April 1827-1989. In Volumes 7-87 (spanning April 27, 1827-September 8, 1980) the handwritten, and later typewritten, minutes are attested to by the Secretary and carry his signature. Volumes 1-25 (spanning December 27 1643-March 28, 1921) each contain a general subject index. A third series holds bound photostat use copies of Volumes 1-21 and preservation microfilm.
The volumes are labeled on the spines as "College Records" and in the past have been interchangeably referred to as "College Records" and "Corporation Records." Similarly the College Books have been previously described as "College Records, 1st set" and the Corporation minutes as "College Records, 2nd set."
Corporation minutes dating from after 1800 are listed in the finding aid, but have not been fully described.
Harvard College's primary governing board, the Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College (known as the Harvard Corporation), was established by the Massachusetts General Court in 1650. As the Corporation evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries, its responsibilities for managing Harvard's academic, financial, and policy matters expanded with the growth of the College. Harvard's record-keeping practices also reflected this change as the early unsystematic notes of Corporation meetings and orders evolved into formal minutes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Massachusetts General Court designated the Board of Overseers in 1642 to oversee the affairs of Harvard College. Eight years later the General Court granted the Charter of 1650 to the College, establishing the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Where the 1642 legislation had given expansive duties to the Board of Overseers, the Charter of 1650, and its Appendix of 1657, redefined the responsibilities of the Overseers as an advisory body with sanctionative powers over the Corporation. The charter transferred the duties of managing the College, including appointing and removing administrators, faculty, and staff, creating orders and by-laws for the College, and managing finances, properties, and donations to the Corporation. The first recorded meeting of the Corporation was held on December 10, 1654.
The early written records of Harvard's governing boards were bound at various times into a long and narrow journal known as College Book 1. Corporation and Overseers proceedings were entered unsystematically alongside financial statements and miscellaneous records. During President Chauncy's administration (1654-1672) the proceedings of the Corporation began to be copied more regularly by various members of the Corporation including Treasurer John Richards, President Leonard Hoar, and an unidentified Fellow. When College Book 1 was bound together, likely by President Hoar in the 1670s, the proceedings were included as a quire. The varied purposes of the different quires bound into the volume, along with the early scarcity of paper, contribute to the disorganized nature of College Book 1.
A second set of 17th century records was compiled by Thomas Danforth, Treasurer of the College from 1654-1668 and Steward from 1682-1683, likely in 1687. Known as College Book 3, Danforth brought together a chronicle of Harvard's history by copying official documents, donation records, inventories, College laws, and minutes of the Overseers and Corporation (including those he found in College Book I). In the 18th century, Presidents John Leverett and Benjamin Wadsworth added copies of graduate lists and College Laws to College Book 3.
Regular recording of the Corporation meetings began in College Book 4 which includes minutes from July 23, 1686 to September 5, 1750. College Book 4 was precipitated by the English Court of Chancery's October 1684 judgment that voided the Royal Charter of the Massachusetts colony, and seemed to render the College Charter of 1650, and the Corporation and Board of Overseers defunct. In May 1686, Joseph Dudley (Harvard AB 1665) received a commission as the President of the Council of New England, and on July 23, 1686, Dudley and the Council met in Boston to create a provisional College governing board led by Increase Mather as Rector of the College, and John Leverett and William Brattle as Tutors. The "Rector and Tutors" mirrored in purpose if not name the Corporation's "President and Fellows," and the agreements of President Dudley and the Council creating the new governing board comprise the first entry in College Book 4. In June 1692, a new act of incorporation for Harvard College was passed in the Massachusetts Legislature and signed by the Governor. The Charter of 1692 merged the functions of the Board of Overseers and the Corporation into one corporation consisting of the President, Treasurer, and eight Fellows. As the newly established corporation expanded it became unwieldy and met less frequently, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (known until 1825 as the "Immediate Government") assumed more responsibility in managing the College's daily operations and addressing student disciplinary issues.
On December 6, 1707 the Massachusetts General Court restored the Charter of 1650, and reestablished the Board of Overseers and the President and Fellows of the College. The changes in name and composition of the Harvard Corporation between 1686 and 1707 were documented in the proceedings recorded in College Book 4. College Book 4 was continued through the September 17, 1750 Corporation meeting, and College Books 7-10 continued the record through March 31, 1827.
Within the series of ten volumes known as the College Books, some did not include Corporation minutes: College Book 2 contained records of the Board of Overseers and was destroyed in the Harvard Hall Fire of 1764 and College Book 6 contains records related to donations to the College by Thomas Hollis.
Within the series of ten volumes known as the College Books, three did not include Corporation minutes: College Book 2 contained records of the Board of Overseers and was destroyed in the Harvard Hall Fire of 1764. College Book 5 contains Treasurer's records and is now included in the Records of the Treasurer of Harvard University, and College Book 6 contains records related to donations to the College by Thomas Hollis.
The system of recording Corporation meetings was standardized on April 12, 1827 when the President and Fellows established the position of Secretary of the Corporation. The Corporation charged the Secretary to "keep a record of the doings of the board, shall have charge of the records...and be authorized to procure four copies of the records in well-bound books, and furnish the President with a duplicate of the same." In the 19th century, the Corporation ordered formal copies of the Corporation minutes made from the relevant entries in the College Books and Corporation Waste-Books to create a uniform set of minutes beginning with the first recorded Corporation meeting in 1654.
The records areis arranged in three series:
- Corporation minutes extracted from the College books, 1643-1827
- Corporation minutes, 1827-1938
- Corporation minutes, 1827-1989
- Use copies and preservation microfilm, 1643-1914
The documents in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business. The volumes were prepared by the Secretary of the Corporation and the volumes for 1827-1914 were kept in the Harvard University Treasurer's Office until 1909 when they were moved to University Hall for use by President Lawrence Lowell. The Harvard University Archives acquired these volumes on November 9, 1914.
Collections and items have been digitized with the generous support of The Polonsky Foundation.
Some of the records have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.
- Hoffmann, John M. "An Analysis of College Books I-III; The Principal Records of Early Harvard" in Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts: Documents from the Harvard University Archives 1638-1750 (Boston: 1975), Volume 50, Appendix D.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.
This document last updated 2023 December 19.
The material was first classified and described in a Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980, and included as part of the Records of the Harvard Corporation. Archives staff made the decision to retain the pre-existing call numbers for the Corporation Records volumes (UAI 5.30 and UAI 5.30.2), rather than replacing them with the general call number for the Records of the President and Fellows of Harvard College (UAII 100). The material was re-processed in 2010. Re-processing involved a collection survey, enhanced description of minutes from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and the creation of this finding aid. Post-1800 materials are listed in this finding aid, although they are not fully described.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in November 2010. Portions redacted.
Preservation and description of the Corporation records was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Harvard University. Corporation. Harvard University Corporation records: minutes, 1643-1989: 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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