Spring Fever in 1834

for the moment

IN THE SPRING OF 1834, Harvard College went berserk. Josiah Quincy, president of Harvard University at the time, wrote the parents of the College on June 4 to inform them of "the nature and course of these outrages." In his letter, he describes how the difficulties all began with one stubborn student in Greek class. "On being told by his Instructor that when 'he directed anything to be translated, he expected it would be done,' the student replied, 'I do not recognize your authority,' shut his book and paid no attention to his recitation afterward." The 23-year old student chose to leave the College.

That night, the Greek instructor's recitation room was trashed, all the windows were smashed and several other windows on campus were broken. This was just the beginning. The students let loose in the daily prayers, disrupting the service with "scraping, whistling, groaning and other disgraceful noises." A night watchman, set to guard campus property, was attacked with a shower of stones. The administration was not happy, and an explosion of "crackers" the next day during prayers didn't help their mood either.

President Quincy finally broached the subject, threatening a group of Sophomores and Freshmen with prosecution if the students' behavior did not improve.

It didn't. Even the expulsion of two students didn't slow down the fevered students. "The whole Sophomore class absented themselves from prayers with three exceptions," President Quincy writes in the letter. Three exceptions. You just have to wonder who those cool kids were. The Sophomore class repeated this feat one more time, and--here comes the kicker--that same day the administration voted the entire Sophomore class "to be dismissed from college and be ordered to leave Cambridge immediately after Commons; which for that class are to cease after breakfast." The class left town without too much trouble before noon that same day.

Over the next few days several recitation rooms in University Hall were trashed, evening services were disrupted, and a few more students were dismissed. The letter ends with a resolution to prosecute for "the trespasses and disturbances," but writing later, in the Annual Report of that year, President Quincy notes that the College was once more on even keel.

Seven weeks off? 1834 was a damn good year.

"A Series of Trespasses" letter courtesy of the Harvard University Archives.