Harvard University, mainly at Cambridge, Mass., including Harvard College, the oldest American college.
Harvard College, originally for men, was founded in 1636 with a grant from the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1638 it was named for John Harvard, its first benefactor. During the 1640s the college expanded despite inadequate finances, and in 1650 it was incorporated and chartered by the General Court. Intended to be an institution for the education of Puritan ministers, it grew to be an institution of general education, and new and more liberal subjects and policies were introduced.
In the 18th cent., particularly under John Leverett (1708–24), enrollment and campus facilities increased and the religious attachment to Congregationalism declined. Systematic theological instruction was inaugurated in 1721 with the establishment of a professorship of divinity, and by 1827, with the opening of Divinity Hall, Harvard became a nucleus of theological teaching in New England. In its early years the college was largely supported by the colony and the New England community as a whole, but support soon came in the form of gifts, and in 1823 the last state grant was received. Under Charles W. Eliot, the college became a great modern university. Its physical plant and curriculum were expanded, the graduate school was established, and the law and medical schools were reorganized. Eliot is also noted for his introduction of the elective system at Harvard.
Radcliffe, Graduate Schools, and Other Facilities
From two distinct schools, Radcliffe College for women (est. 1879, chartered 1894) and Harvard evolved in the 1970s into coordinate colleges with shared facilities and professors; all degrees were granted by Harvard. In 1999, Radcliffe officially merged with Harvard College, which became a coeducational undergraduate institution. At the same time the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard was established. The university also has graduate schools of divinity (1816), law (1817), arts and sciences (1872), education (1920), business (1908), and design (1936). Harvard also has schools of medicine (1782), public health (1922), and dental medicine (1941). The school of public administration (1936) was reorganized as the John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1966.
Harvard's original library was founded in 1638 with a bequest of 400 books from John Harvard. By the early 21st cent., the university had more than 80 libraries with numerous special divisions. Its main branch is the Harry E. Widener Memorial Library (1915). The largest university collection in the world, the libraries house more than 15 million volumes as well as papers, manuscripts, incunabula, prints, digital resources, and other materials. Among the university's many museums are the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the Fogg, Sackler, and Busch-Reisinger museums of art. The latter three museums were united as the Harvard Art Museums, now housed in the shell of the former Fogg Museum with a new glass-filled interior designed by Renzo Piano, which opened in 2014. Harvard is closely associated with numerous research facilities, including the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Arnold Arboretum, Harvard Forest, a center for Byzantine studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., and a center for Italian renaissance studies at Villa I Tatti in Florence, Italy.
See histories by S. E. Morison (1936) and E. J. Kahn (1969).