Feb. 7, 1978: Harvard’s Only Snow Day

Some undergraduates were upset by the College’s decision to hold classes in the wake of an almost seven-inch snowfall yesterday, but Harvard historically has been reluctant to declare a snow day.

The record-breaking snowstorm of 1978 was the first and only time in history that Harvard closed because of snow, according to Rev. Peter J. Gomes in a Crimson article in 2006.

The blizzard hit Massachusetts on Monday, Feb. 6, 1978, and The Crimson reported winds of up to 92 miles an hour and snow accumulations of 8 to 16 inches the next morning.

Administrators decided to officially shut down Harvard on Feb. 7, only after then-Gov. Michael S. Dukakis declared a state of emergency, closed schools for two days and called in 8,500 members of the National Guard to help clear the roads.

Many criticized then-University President Derek C. Bok for not closing the University immediately after the storm hit. According to Gomes, Bok responded, “I tried to, but I didn’t know how.”

By Wednesday, two days after the snow started, 29 inches had accumulated in Boston.

The snow was so deep that it buried any cars left abandoned on the road. Because Dukakis banned all means of transportation except for emergency vehicles, many students used skis to get around campus.

“We were cross-country skiing and literally going across the tops of cars,” said Patricia M. Nolan ’80.

Students entertained themselves in a variety of ways, holding snowball fights in the Yard and creating figures from the snow.

“Some of the sculptures were more artistic, and some were more graphic—like one might see in an art class with nude bodies and nude body parts,” Cara B. Seiderman ’81 said.

A group of freshmen created a make-shift ski jump on the steps of Widener, while other students sledded down the back of the library on “borrowed” dining hall trays. Some Kirkland residents elected to don bathing suits before venturing into the snow.

The three-day shutdown officially ended on Thursday, Feb. 9.

Students were encouraged to walk to classes the following day, but according to Seiderman, few students showed up.

“We didn’t have e-mail systems or anything like that, so there wasn’t instant notification for the students,” Seiderman said.

“So the professors came to classes and didn’t have many students,” Seiderman said.

The University officially resumed normal operations the following Monday, one week after the start of the snowfall.

Although the academic calendar remained unchanged, many professors held additional sections or added a class on weekends to make up for missed instruction.

Before the storm of ’78, the last time the College closed for weather-related reasons was during the New England Hurricane of 1938, a devastating storm that destroyed billions of dollars worth of property and killed hundreds of people.

—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at hrouse@college.harvard.edu.

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