According to a recent issue of the Alumni Bulletin, there is a bill before the Massachusetts Legislature providing that the state law controlling the election of Overseers be amended,--to the effect that the Governing Boards hereafter have the power to change such elections as they deem necessary. This bill is the result of a long agitation in favor of the election of the Overseers by postal ballot. Under the present system, candidates are suggested by a committee of the Alumni Association. These names are then nominated by postal service and are finally voted upon at Commencement by those alumni who are in Cambridge on that day. The disadvantage of this rule is that many alumni, eligible to vote, are unable to do so, because they do not happen to attend the Commencement exercises.
In the past there have been many and peculiar ways of selecting the Harvard Overseers. For over 200 years the members of the Massachusetts Legislature were Overseers themselves. In 1642, while Henry Dunster was president of Harvard, the General Court of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay provided for the so-called "company of Overseers". This company consisted of all the dignitaries of the colony such as the Governor, the Deputy Governor and the magistrates.
Further changes followed in 1780, when Massachusetts adopted a constitution, and subsequent acts of the Legislature provided for the eligibility of clergymen of different denominations for the Board. Then in 1865 the power to elect the Overseers was transferred to "all holders of A.B., A.M., or honorary degrees, voting in Cambridge on Commencement Day". In 1907 and 1916 the number of the Overseers was increased and the right to vote for these men was given to holders of all degrees of Harvard and its graduate schools. The new bill will make it possible for all graduates to vote for our Overseers whether they happen to be in Cambridge at the moment, or elsewhere.