Wear Thy Cloake, and Cut Thy Hair Go Ye Not to Harvard Square
The Colonial Era Student Handbook
In September 1986, Harvard will throw itself a 350th birthday party, promising to attract thousands of the nation's richest, most conservative, and most elite for a gala a la the Royal Wedding.
The party will mark that day in 1636, when the Puritans--between hunting witches and building churches--found time to found Harvard.
A lot of people at not-so-well-established schools in Connecticut coastal communities claim that not a lot has changed in the intervening three-and-one-half centuries, calling Cambridge's Ivy institution "stodgy," even "rigid."
But a glance at the colonial-period College Laws now sate guarded in Pusey Library's Harvard Archives shows Harvard has made more than a handful of reforms since the days of cloaks, Classics, and clerics.
The Harvard of 1636 had 12 students--all male--compared to the some 6400 men and women who today call Cambridge's Ivy towers home. "Scholars," more commonly known today as students, were called by their surnames as a general rule--of course, sons of noblemen and knights' eldest sons were exempt from the restriction.
But even these fortunate schollars couldn't talk to their more humble buddies in English, unless "called thereunto in publick exercise of oratory or the like."
Speaking the scholarly language of the day, Latin, was never a problem, though, for the young men who ended up here-they were admitted because of their ability to read and understand Tully, Virgil and other "ordinary classical authors," to say nothing of the Greeks.
Today, students only have to profess a knowledge of a few useful classical terms like "Veritas," "Ad nauseum," and "PiEta."
"[The old criteria] certainly would make the admissions process a lot easier on the committee, and I don't think we'd have any housing problem," says Dean of Admissions and Financial Aids L. Fred Jewett '57 of the old admissions requirements.
Once admitted to Harvard, students were expected to treat administrative gurus with reverence befitting "their parents," Schollars could not speak in the presence of the president, tutors, fellows or other superior types, and no "disorderly gainsaying" was permitted. Anyone chanting "Derek Bok, get the word, this is not Johannesburg," could also expect strict censure, especially if he forgot to translate it into Latin.
A dress code forbidding Guess jeans, Athletic Department sweats or "Yale Sucks" T-shirts was strictly enforced. If schollars wanted to leave their chambers, they had to don their somewhat they coate, gowne and cloake set.
Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, who himself is known to sport a cloake on occasion, the favors the return of the gown rule "They wouldn't have to be held responsible for people the Square who I know aren't Harvard students,' he says.
In colonial times everyone had to "wean modest and sober habit." "Strange ruffian like new langled fashions," including gold and silver were strictly prohibited.
What are ruffian fashions? "It's undoubtedly clear that once students arrive at Harvard they appear handsome and well-dressed, but they soon disappear into the blue denim world of jeans," Epps says. "I would welcome banning that and return to the coat and tie rule at dinner."
Those puritans fearing a premature onset of the 1980s and rogynous look also had their say in the legislative process. Long dresses and bonnets were not allowed at the all-men's school--the punishments: "public admonition, degradation, suspension, rustification or expulsion."
The Second Century
The laws of the 1700s got more intricate, but no more liberal. God-fearing schollars prepared for the Lord's day early, having to stay in on Saturday nights (of course Ye Olde Picadillie Fillie had not been built) and never forgetting to give thanks before leaving the dining hall.
With all that translating, praying and donning of sober habit, students during Harvard's second century had little time for merriment. Fortunately, it was prohibited.
"To prevent those tumults and disorders which are frequently consequent upon any confideable member of the students being together at entertainments, as well as to guard against extravagance and needless expense, all undergraduates are prohibited from making any festive entertainment in the College or its vicinity," according to the laws of 1763, a very distant precursor of today's student handbook.
Included in the College's definition of "Festive entertainment" was dameing (for which suspension of the mild degredation were the punishments) foregone the dining hall pudding (served with every meal) to eat out in Cambridge taverns or victualling houses, and getting drunk on the alcohol one didn't have in his room.
If such wanton abandon were once again prohibited, Epps says, "it might improve people's GPAs." Of course, he adds, colonial Harvardians didn't always heed these rules. "During those days people did the most awful things in their rooms, like drinking grog and smoking things out of far-eastern pipes."
Needless to say, wine, liquor and tobacco were prohibited in undergraduate rooms, and kegs were absolutely not allowed in bathtubs. Furthermore, any schollar caught playing Crazy Eights or Double Solitaire or throwing dice with his chambermate could expect to add five shilling to Harvard's endowment. Get caught a second time, and it was a public confession.
A Pleasurable Feast
Staying within the college gather to feast likely proved a pleasure before the days of Eggplant Parmesan and Serried Chick Livers. The College rules specifically required stewards (today's over-the-counter servers) to procedure fresh fish as often as possible, which food service officials, say they still try to do.
"We occasionally use frozen first there's been a winter storm, but we prefer to use fresh fish," says Assistant Director of Food Services Benjamin H. Walcott.
But, Walcott says, the College has no plans to provide white table clothes at meals as it did in the colonial days. "Can you imagine white table cloths in the Union breakfast, lunch and dinner--the cost, the mess, the laundry!"
Anyone wishing to forego the entrees du jour in the 1700s had to ask the president's permission to do so. "Bok would be a pretty busy fellow, wouldn't he," says Walcott.
If schollars did leave their chambers or the Yard, they had to curtail their excursion to meet the 9 p.m. parietal hours.
This rule thus precluded a scholars opportunity to nab a dose of "culture" by seen it a play in town. Not coincidentally, watching and acting in plays was forbidden.
"If any Undergraduate Shall presume to be an Actor in a Spectator at, or any Ways concerned in any Stage Plays, Interludes or Theatrical Entertainments in the Town of Cambridge or elsewhere, he shall for the first Offence be degraded and for any repeated Offence shall be rusticated or expelled," reads a 1767 law.
"These Puritans are the ones who closed theatres in England for 18 years," says Robert S. Brustein, artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre. "And Harvard still doesn't have a drama concentration or a drama program."
Restricting merriment outside of academia did not make Johnny a dull boy. Indeed, administrators had a very optimistic outlook on academic exercises that many students now consider drudgery.
"To animate the Students in the pursuit of literary merit and fame, and to excite in their breasts a noble spirit of emulation there shall be annually a public examination, in the preference of a joint committee of the Corporation and Overseers and such other gentlemen as may be inclined to attend it," a 1790 law reads.
Although public examinations no longer grace the academic year's end, today's undergraduates spend two weeks preparing for final exams and another two weeks taking them. But if you were a Harvard freshman or a sophomore in 1767, you might have a little more trouble preparing for exams than your elder classmates.
Only juniors and seniors could borrow books from the library--no more than one every three week--and had to ask permission from the president or tutors do so.
Fortunately, the privilege of upperclassmen did not extend to freshman exploitation. "No Graduate or Undergraduate shall send a freshman on errands in studying hours, without leave from one of the tutors," according to a 1790 rule.
Epps says using freshmen as runners isn't such a bad idea. "Oh, yes, I think it would be good for upperclassmen to send to Elsie's for a late-night snack," he jests.
Fortunately today's Yardlings have their own dormitories, thus minimizing the threat of slave labor.
If you made it through your four years at Harvard, your Bachelor of Arts degree was waiting for you, as long as you met a few simple requirements. Although Harry Elkins Widener '07's ill-fated ride on the Titanic had not yet led his mother to urge the institution of the obligatory swimming test, degree candidate did have to fulfill the far simpler requirement of translating into Latin the Old and New Testaments--from their original Greek form.
Schollars also had to profess a "good Acquaintance" with the Classics mathematics, natural and moral philosophy, logic and rhetoric. Vestiges of these requirements till remain in the form of the Quantitative Reasoning test (logic), Expository. Writing (rhetoric), the language requirement (Classics, et. al.) and Freshman Week proctor meetings (moral philosophy).
Of course, Epps says, students who have forgotten to don that cloake once or twice, or have snuck into the Hong Kong on a Friday night, need not fear the Administrative Board. Votes of the Faculty during the last two centuries have added, amended and eliminated the old rules, creating today's Handbook for Student and making the puritanical rest restrictions obsolete.