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The Class of 1944 may have been chiseled out of the honor of being Harvard's three hundredth class.
At least a good case can be made out to prove that despite the lavish Tercentenary celebration held here in September, 1936, Harvard was founded in 1640, not 1636.
The date customarily regarded as the founding of Harvard is October 28, 1636, when the Great and General Court of Massachusetts "agreed to give 400 pounds toward a schoale or colledge." But according to Samuel Eliot Morison '08, professor of History, latter day Columbia, and official Harvard historian, "Over a year clapped before anything was done to carry into execution the generous vote . . . It was probably in July or August, 1638, that Master Eaton held the first recitations of the first freshman class. . ."
Shut Down for a Year
And even this was only a false beginning, because Eaton, Harvard's first chief executive, was fired, and "For a whole academic year (1639-40) Harvard College was deserted; and it must have seemed to many pessimists that it would never reopen."
Thus it was not until August 27, 1640, that Harvard really got under way for keeps when Henry Dunster accepted the post of President. Of this historic occasion, Professor Morison says, "Of all events in the early history of Harvard College, this was the most vital. It was equivalent to a fresh foundation."
The story of the period between 1636 and 1640 is a tale of woe, for Natheniel Eaton was not all he was cracked up to be, and his wife's cooking was even worse.
Eaton Wields Cudgel
In September, 1639, Eaton was put on trial for beating his assistant with a "endgel, which was a walnut tree plant, big enough to have killed a horse, and a yard in length," and was dismissed from his post.
At the trial Mistress Eaton confessed to her culinary sins during Harvard's first abortive academic year and admitted that she never served beef, that the bread was made of sour meal, and that sometimes the beer gave out for a week at a time.
Freshmen who complain about the fare in the Union today should remember the following statement which Mistress Eaton made while she was on the witness stand:
"And for bad fish . . . I acknowledge my sin in it. And for their mackeral, brought to them with their guts in them, and goat's dung in their hasty pudding, it's utterly unknown to me, but I am much ashamed it should be in the family . . . and I humbly acknowledge my negligence in it."
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