Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University

By Morton Keller; Phyllis Keller | Go to book overview
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PROLOGUE
FETE ACCOMPLI, 1936

L ike ripples from a stone tossed into a tranquil pond, awareness spread among Harvard's movers and shakers that the university would be celebrating its 300th anniversary in 1936. As befitted a school so rich in tradition and sense of self, President A. Lawrence Lowell in 1924 appointed the Tercentenary Historian: Harvard's gifted professor of colonial history, Samuel Eliot Morison. Lowell retired in 1933, and his successor, James Bryant Conant, emerged as “the true genius of that now famous celebration.” According to his secretary, Jerome Greene, “the Tercentenary celebration was really his inauguration.” 1

Serious planning for the Tercentenary began in the fall of 1930, several years before Conant became president, at a meeting of directors of the Alumni Association. According to one of the participants, the “prevailing opinion” even among these Harvard fat cats was “that the dominant note of the Celebration should be intellectual and not material, and that at the Tercentenary should be gathered, if possible, a notable representation of the great scholars of the world.” Soon other grand themes emerged: “the present and future of the University rather than its past, “putting the university on view as a great modern, academic workshop.” 2

A Tercentenary committee chaired by anthropologist Alfred Tozzer was formed in 1932. It pottered about, planning to do something or other in the summer of 1936 and to have a concluding ceremony that fall in Harvard Stadium (with some vague thought of keeping a tent in reserve if it should rain). Clearly a stronger hand was needed. That turned out to be Jerome Greene, who had been Harvard president Charles W. Eliot's secretary during the early years of the century (and was said to have been Eliot's choice as his successor). Greene left Harvard when Abbott Lawrence Lowell took over in 1909. He made a career for himself in New York, first in the Rockefeller Foundation and then in the Lee, Higginson brokerage house. But he was dragged down by the collapse of that firm

-3-

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