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COLLECTION Identifier: UAI 15.892

Papers of Thomas Hill


Thomas Hill (1818-1891) was President of Harvard University from October 6, 1862 to September 30, 1868. He was also a Unitarian minister, mathematician, scientist, educator, and Harvard University lecturer.


  • Creation: 1794-1930.


Language of Materials


Conditions on Use and Access

Permission of the University Archives is required for access to the Papers of Thomas Hill. Researchers are advised to use published versions of these papers, both because of the fragility of the originals and their nineteenth-century orthography, which may make them difficult to read for those who are unaccustomed to it. Please consult the reference staff for further details. Additional restrictions may apply.


3 cubic feet (9 document boxes, 1 portfolio box, 4 volumes, 2 microfilm reels)

The Papers of Thomas Hill document both his personal and professional activities for the length of his career. The biographical materials, non-Harvard University correspondence, and scrapbook materials are substantial and examine Hill's life, particularly his relationship with his family, from his birth until his death. The Harvard University correspondence found in these papers documents Hill's administration of Harvard University as president. Finally, the writings, sermons, lectures, and inventions in these papers illustrate Hill's diverse and far-ranging intellectual and philosophical interests.

Biographical Information


Thomas Hill (1818-1891) was President of Harvard University from October 6, 1862 to September 30, 1868. He was also a Unitarian minister, mathematician, scientist, educator, and Harvard University lecturer.

Early Life and Education

Thomas Hill was born to Thomas Hill (1771-1828) and his second wife, Henrietta (Barker) Hill (1774-1824) on January 7, 1818 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hill's father had emigrated to the United States from England in 1791 for religious reasons. In his new country, Hill's father began as a farmer, started a business as a tanner, and served as a judge on the court of common pleas. A lover of nature, Hill's father taught his children the scientific names of plants and encouraged an interest in the natural sciences. Hill's mother died in 1824 and his father died in 1828. Hill was was an orphan by the time he was ten years old.

Hill had little formal schooling in his early years, but his mother and sisters taught him to read and cipher. A keen observer with a retentive memory, Hill was a constant and wide reader. He developed an early interest in botany, science, philosophy and mathematics. By the time he was twelve years old, Hill had read the works of Benjamin Franklin and Erasmus Darwin. Hill served as an apprentice in a newspaper office from 1830 to 1833. In 1834 he studied under his eldest brother at Lower Dublin Academy in Holmesburg, Pennsylvania. Although he was interested in civil engineering, Hill became an apprentice to an apothecary, serving in this capacity until 1838.

Hill entered Harvard University in 1838 and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1843. In college, Hill distinguished himself in mathematics and invented an instrument for calculating eclipses and occultations, for which he was awarded the Scott Medal from the Franklin Institute. He also published a little book of poems entitled Christmas and Poems on Slavery, dedicated to Eliza Lee Follen, who was active in the anti-slavery movement. In 1845, Hill received his divinity degree from the Harvard Divinity School and entered the ministry .


Hill served at the First Church of Waltham, Massachusetts from 1845 to 1859. It was during this time that Hill established his reputation, not only as a man of God, but also as a scientist, educator, and writer. In the next few years, Hill published First Lessons in Geometry (1855), a mathematical textbook, Geometry and Faith (1849), a book describing the essence of Hill's religious doctrine, and several papers on mathematics and astronomy for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1857, he wrote an article about astronomy for the new Appleton's Encyclopedia. A popular speaker, Hill gave the Phi Beta Kappa oration at Harvard University in 1858 and presented a series of Lowell Institute lectures on The Mutual Relation of the Sciences in 1859. During his final years in Waltham, Hill served on the Waltham School Committee and was constantly encouraging and promoting new ideas and methods of instruction, including the introduction of phonetic spelling in the public schools.

Harvard Presidency

In 1859, Hill accepted the presidency of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Hill's appointment was ill-timed, however, as the American Civil War forced the college to close in 1862. That same year Cornelius Conway Felton, the President of Harvard University, died suddenly, and Hill was asked to succeed him.

Returning to Harvard University, Hill had high hopes for the future and brought about a number of changes. Under his administration, the undergraduate curriculum adopted an elective system, permitting student choice in selecting courses. The standards for admission were raised, an Academic Council made up of the faculties of the college and professional schools was established, scholarships for the support of graduate students were endowed, a program of University Lecturers was introduced, and new chairs for professorships in geology and mining were founded.

Despite these apparent successes, Hill's years at Harvard were not happy. He had difficulty in his dealings with faculty and in governing the University. In addition, his first wife, Ann, died while he was in office and his second wife, Lucy, suffered from an incurable illness. Hill's experience with his own physical problems at this time also contributed to his unhappiness. Tired and overwhelmed both personally and professionally, Hill resigned his office in 1868.

Later Life

After the death of his wife Lucy in 1869, Hill spent a year resting and traveling. In 1871 he was elected to the Massachusetts state legislature from Waltham and served for one year. In 1872, Hill sailed with his friend Louis Agassiz on an expedition to South America. Returning to the ministry in 1873, Hill accepted a position at the First Church in Portland, Maine. For the next eighteen years, Hill was happy spending his time preaching, writing, lecturing, and pursuing scientific and educational experiments.

In 1891, Hill became ill, suffered for several months, and died in Waltham, Massachusetts.


Thomas Hill married Ann Foster Bellows (1817-1864) on November 27, 1845. They had six children: Mary Bellows Hill (born 1847), Henry Barker Hill (born 1849), Katherine Hill (born 1851), Elizabeth Joy Hill (born 1854), Anne Bellows Hill (born 1857), and Thomas Roby Hill (born 1864). After Ann's death, Hill married Lucy Elizabeth Shepard (1837-1869) on July 23, 1866. They had one son, Otis Shepard Hill (born 1868).

Parents and siblings

Father: Thomas Hill (1771-1828)

Father's wife: Ann Capnerhurst (died 1793)

Mother: Henrietta Barker (1774-1824)

Brother: William B. Hill (1799-1845)

Brother: John B. Hill (1806-1874)

Sister: Henrietta B. Hill (1807-1862)

Sister: Ann C. (Hill) Carpenter (1810-1880)

Sister: Elisa B. (Hill) Gray (1812-1884)

Sister: Matilda B. Hill (1814-1830)

Half-brother: Samuel Hill (born 1793)

Half-sister[?]: Mary Hill

Spouses and children

Wife: Ann Foster Bellows (1817-1864)

Wife: Lucy Elizabeth Shepard (1837-1869)

Daughter: Mary Bellows (Hill) Pierce (1847-1911)

Son: Henry Barker Hill (1849-1903)

Daughter: Katherine Hill (1851-1926)

Daughter: Elizabeth Joy (Hill) Worcester (born 1854)

Daughter: Ann Bellows (Hill) Monks (born 1857)

Son: Thomas Roby Hill (1864-1923)

Son: Otis Shepard Hill (born 1868)


Grandson: Edward G. Hill (born 1872)

Grandson: Henry Hill Pierce (born 1875)

Grandson: Thomas Lewis Pierce (born 1877)

Grandson: John Alexander Pierce (born 1878)

Granddaughter: Mary E. Pierce (born 1881)

Grandson: Maurice Rumford Pierce (born 1887)


  1. Land, William G.Thomas Hill, President of Harvard, 1862-1868.Harvard Alumni Bulletin, (May, 1933) : 832-834.
  2. Land, William G.Thomas Hill. In Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. IX, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933.
  3. Land, William G.Thomas Hill, Twentieth President of Harvard.Cambridge, Massachusetts:Harvard University Press,1933.
  4. Morison, Samuel Eliot.Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636-1936.Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,1936.


  1. Biographical Material
  2. General Correspondence
  3. Harvard University Correspondence
  4. Writings
  5. Sermons and Lectures
  6. Inventions
  7. Scrapbook

Acquisition Information

The Papers of Thomas Hill were acquired by the Harvard University Archives through donation and purchase.

  1. undated accession, William G. Land
  2. 1919 Mrs. [Elizabeth Joy (Hill)] Alfred Worcester
  3. 1933 Mrs. M.H. Swope [upon review by archivists, Mrs. M. H. Swope's full name cannot be traced]
  4. 1936 Philip Spaulding
  5. 1940 Morris J. Rosenberg
  6. Accession number: 11342; 1988 February 26
  7. Accession number: 13745; 1998 April 21
  8. Accession number: 14130; 2000 March 24

Inventory update

This document last updated 2022 July 28.

Processing Information

Most of this material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980. In 2005, Dominic P. Grandinetti re-processed these papers. Re-processing included the integration of outstanding accessions, the rearrangement and rehousing of the material in appropriate containers, and the establishment of series, and the creation of this inventory.

Hill, Thomas, 1818-1891. Papers of Thomas Hill : an inventory
Harvard University Archives
Language of description

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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