The Rage to Riot--A Ritual Habitual

From Cabbage to WILL Issues Are Only Excuses

Nietzache would have called it an outlet for "internalized aggression;" the Harvard "Regulations for Students" call it a reason for expulsion. But for over-worked, exam-beset Harvard students from time immemorial, it's been the Riot.

Student protest at Harvard is almost as old as the College itself--and so is administration opposition. The statues of the College are quite explicit about large student gatherings for reasons not altogether academic--"The mere presence of a student at a disturbance or unauthorized demonstration makes him liable to disciplinary action.

Once upon a time this action consisted of a sound caning, dealt out by the Headmaster. More contemporary measures have included tear gas, police dogs, and good old-fashioned arrest.

The earliest Harvardians seem to have been aroused only by food. The first Harvard insurrection, in 1766, was prompted by the serving of sour butter a thing distasteful to the gentlemanly and tasteful undergraduates. The Great Butter Rebellion, which lasted a month, was finally eulogized by one of the insurrectionists in a Biblical testament entitled "The Book of Harvard":

"And it came to pass in the ninth month on the 23rd day of the month, that the sons of Harvard murmured and said.

"Behold! bad and unwholesome butter is served out unto us daily.

"Then arose Asa, the Scribe, and went unto Belcher, the Ruler, and said, 'behold, our butter stinketh, we cannot eat thereof: now, give us, we pray thee, butter that stinketh not.

"And Belcher the Ruler said, 'trouble me not, but be gone unto thine own place;' but Asa obeyed him not.

"Then Edward the Chief ruler and the other rulers [President Edward Holyoke and Faculty] consulted together and said.

"Now let us punish Asa the Scribe, and make him confess before all Harvard."

"So in the tenth month, and on the 11th day of the month, the Great Sanherdin of Harvard [the Board of Overseers] met, and many of the Sons of Harvard were prevailed upon by the Threatenings of the Members of the Great Sanhedrin and confessed.

"So after this there were no more murmurings at Harvard, but all was Peace and Quietness as it is to this Day, Cambridge, November 19, 1766."

But the promise of "Peace and Quietness" proved as hollow, as the students' stomachs. The Great Rebellion of 1768, incited once again, by the low quality of college food, also lasted for a month, and proved equally fruitless.

As the Revolutionary War drew near, patriotic devotion eclipsed the undergraduates' voracity. Rioting broke out only once, when two Tory students brought tea into the dining hall in 1775.

Five years later occurred the most effective rebellion in Harvard's history; it was also the shortest and mildest. A large group of student simply gathered in the Yard to draw up a list of complaints against President Samuel Langdon, and demanded his dismissal. Shortly thereafter, Langdon quietly submitted his resignation.


At the turn of the century it was a Yardly custom for freshmen to call up to their friends' rooms from the ground below. One over-studious freshman, known to posterity only as Rinehart, had no callers. Determined to revamp his Image, he took to standing below his window shouting his own name. Rinehart's deception was seen uncovered, and his name became a byword at Harvard rebellions. At one time its very mention in the Yard was a staple ingredient for mixing instant riot.

The first major revolt of the nineteenth century, in 1807, was also a gastronomic protest. The Rotten Cabbage Rebellion consisted of a large student assembly under a tree which still stands near Hollis Hall, later to be christened Rebellion Elm. They pleaded for a change in the quality of the Harvard menu, especially in the cabbage. But the revolt resulted only in 17 expulsions--the food remained mainly unchanged.

A dozen years later, the freshmen and sophomores staged a massive battle in the dining room, pelting each other with fruit and vegetables. When several were suspended, students congressed once again under Rebellion Elm, and the entire sophomore class decided to resign from the College. They recanted within two weeks, but not all were readmitted. This effort also inspired a poetic outpouring: a poem in four cantos, "Rebelliad; or Terrible Transactions at the Seat of the Muses."

The last and most violent riot of the nineteenth century resulted in a number of customary dismissals and a few civil arrests. It began when a freshman was punished by the administration of his tutor. His loyal classmates gathered under Rebellion Elm and started two months of rioting in their brother's defense. They converged upon the lodgings of the tutors, smashing their windows and furniture, hurled missiles through the chapel, and hanged President Josiah Quincy in effigy.

The early decades of the twentieth century were characterized by an unusual tranquility. The only protests were by undergraduates in small numbers, easily pacified by proctors in larger numbers.

The first major riot of the century occurred in May, 1952 when noisy students gathered in the Yard, awaiting the arrival of Walt Kelly at a rally to kick off the "Pogo for President" campaign. The Cambridge police, used clubs and fists against the rioters, arresting 28 students toting "Pogo for President" placards. All were acquitted, however, with the help of Joseph A. DcGuglielmo '29, then Mayor of Cambridge, who served as defense attorney.

Vellucian Violence

Four years later, some 350 students rampaged through the Cambridge streets, demanding the head of Alfred Vellucci. The "We want Vellucci" chant resulted from Vellucci's proposals that the Cambridge City Council confiscate all Harvard property for use as parking space. Vellucci suggested alternatively declaring Harvard a separate city from Cambridge, or, should this fail, revoking Harvard's liquor licenses. The confiscation plan was rejected by the City Council by a 5-4 vote, and a frightened Vellucci later insisted that he had only put forth the suggestions to dramatize the City's parking problems.

When President-elect Kennedy came to Harvard shortly before his inauguration a large group of students managed to upset the Secret Service by surrounding him and demanding a speech. But the true riot of that year occurred in the spring, when for two days students protested the Corporation's decision to change diplomas from Latin to English.

"Latin Is, Pusey No," was the chant of 2000 traditionalists, led by a sixth year Latin student who, complete with toga and laurel wreath, orated from the steps of Widener on the virtues of the classics. The crowd decided to vent their indignation on President Pusey, who first merely wondered, "Why can't I ever have a quiet evening at home," and then tried to justify the Latin-to-English switch in verse (borrowed from the Bryn Mawr alumnae bulletin):

What's pat in Latin

Or chic in Greek

I always distin guish

More clearly in English.

The Latin Diploma Riot received extensive newspaper coverage, which enticed a large number of Bostonians to join the riot in Harvard Square, ending with arrests and the use of tear gas.

In May, 1963, a group of Cliffe hungry for a riot, resorted to a "reverse panty raid" on Harvard houses. Shouts of "we don't want your sockies, just your jockies" lured hundred of Harvard students out and over