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The oldest college building in America--Massachusetts Hall--will have its 200th birthday this year. Some years ago the birthday of Hollis Hall was celebrated by a pageant, speeches, poems, and dinners. Massachusetts Hall, which is older than Hollis, will have an even more elaborate celebration. Plans for it are in charge of William Coolidge Lane, Librarian of Widener Memorial Library and President of the Harvard Memorial Society.
Massachusetts Hall was started in 1718 and finished in 1720. The Province of Massachusetts heeded the repeated pleas of President John Leveret of Harvard for another building and appropriated 3,500 pounds to be used to erect "a fair and goodly house of brick." The province was poor in those days, and this was considered a magnificent sum. The building is indeed "a fair and goodly house." Its substantial timbers and brick have stood 200 years of wear and tear.
In 1776; when the Massachusetts militia was concentrating for an attack on the British troops in Boston, the Colonial troops were quartered in Massachusetts Hall. Those students who did not shoulder muskets moved their books to Concord. The soldiers during their stay did 49 pounds' worth of damage to the hall.
For many years the rent of rooms in Massachusetts Hall was, with the Cambridge ferry tolls, one of Harvard's principal sources of income. The hall housed 72 students, in 36 small studies. The building is 50 by 100 feet and is three stories high. Many notable persons have lived in Massachusetts Hall during their College course. For 150 years it did service as a dormitory.
Student Life Not Luxurious.
Student life was both Spartan and Puritan in the early days of Massachusetts Hall. The students performed their ablutions in the chill New England air at a pump in the College yard. The regulation College breakfast was "a cue (mug) of beer and two sizings of bread." Students were up at daybreak and were kept at their studies by candle-light. If the frequent verbal admonitions of their tutors failed to keep them at their books, a stout stick was resorted to. One unfortunate youth, on being chastised by the Reverend Nathaniel Eaton, first President of Harvard, cried aloud for Heaven to sustain him while the Reverend Mr. Eaton plied an industrious birch. He was then given another thrashing for taking the name of God in vain.
Penalties for Minor Infractions.
The early dwellers in Massachusetts Hall were hedged around by many rules. They were subject to fines for petty offenses. One scale of such fines reads:
Absence from prayers, 2 pennies.
Absence from public worship, 9 pennies.
Neglect to repeat sermon, 9 pennies.
Frequenting taverns, 1 shilling 6 pennies.
Profane cursing, 2 shillings 6 pennies.
Lying, 1 shilling 6 pennies.
Going upon the top of the College, 1 shilling 6 pennies.
Tumultuous noise, 1 shilling 6 pennies.
Rudeness at meals, 1 shilling.
Keeping guns or going skating, 1 shilling.
Fighting or hurting persons, 1 shilling 6 pennies.
Refusing to give evidence, 3 shillings.
Playing cards, 5 shillings.
It will be observed that the authorities thought playing cards about five times worse than lying, and regarded the ginmill habit as only half as bad as refusing to "squeal on another student."
The College records show that one Thomas Sergeant was publicly chastised "For speaking disrespectfully of the H. G." By "H. G." is meant, of course, Holy Ghost.
Beer Served in "U4".
The College ran its own barroom, where grog, beer, and tarts could be purchased by the students. It was known as the Buttery, and was conveniently situated in the recorder's office. It was presided over by the Head Butler, who was a College graduate and who received 60 pounds a year for being College barkeeper, recorder, stationer, bell-ringer, and janitor, all in one:
But despite all the rules--or may be because of them--the students occasionally burst forth in unmistakable manifestations of youthful spirits. In 1768 four were expelled for bombarding the study of Mr. Willed, a tutor, with bricks. Also the graduating class of that year aroused the ire of the Royalists by refusing to graduate in British clothes--worn by all fashionable people in those days. They appeared in American homespun and American boots.
The S. A. T. C. in 1769.
Massachusetts Hall was the centre of political ferment in Revolutionary War times. The General Court of Massachusetts sat there more than once. The students organized in 1769 a forerunner of the modern S. A. T. C.. It was called the Marti-Mercurian Band. It drilled in dashing uniforms, consisting of blue coats, faced with white; rankeen breeches, white stockings, to boots, and cocked hats.
Luxury occasionally crept into the blue-stocking atmosphere that pervaded the old hall in its youth. One committee censured the students for "wearing gold or silver lace, brocades, and silk nightgowns."
It was near Massachusetts Hall that Harvard built its "Indian College." The aborigines, however, failed to respond to this plan to given them a higher education. Only a few came to the College, and only one graduated. He died soon after. The Indian College was abandoned.
When Burgeon's captured British army was being sent back to England an attempt was made to quarter its officers in Massachusetts Hall. The College and the province had a heated controversy, and finally compromised by allowing the officers to be quartered in Apthorp House, which still stands.
Massachusetts Hall had one very narrow escape from destruction. Fire started in the original Harvard Hall, the first
college building built in America, and entirely destroyed it, in 1764. Only energetic work by student bucket brigades saved Massachusetts Hall, which began to burn several times. Harvard Hall contained the College Library of 5,000 books, including John Harvard's collection. Of this collection only one volume was saved--"The Christian Warfare Against the Devil, World, and Flesh."
Today Massachusetts Hall, still a "fair and goodly house of brick," and capable of giving service to many more Harvard classes, is used for examination, for the office of the College Superintendent, and for the famous 47 Workshop, where the students in Professor George P. Baker's courses in drama produce their plays
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