World War I Memorial Product of 15 Year Struggle

Devotion Won Tribute To First War Dead

On October 5 the Saltonstall Committee made its final recommendation for a memorial to the 639 Harvard men who lost their lives in World War II. Its report calls for the installation of a plaque in Memorial Church at an expense of 65 or 70,000 dollars. In answer to the objections of inadequacy, the Committee intimates in effect that its modest goal would at least avoid the five year struggle for funds which preceded the building of Memorial Church. Out of that struggle, however, came a durable memorial which combines the functional and inspirational to the greatest possible degree. The current proposal does not stand comparison to the devotion which created Memorial Church in spite of discouragement and delay.

At a meeting of the Associated Harvard Clubs in 1919 bagan a controversy over the First War memorial which was to last for 12 years. In an atmosphere of "war no more, a world of united nations and reconciliation floating before our vision," suggestions for a church, a garden, theater, gymnasium, monument, scholarships, institute of international relations, and dormitories poured in from all sides. Not until May of 1925, however, was a resolution finally adopted to construct a church, the most fitting commemoration to the 373 Harvard men who died in that "religious war--greater by far than any of the old Crusades in its principles."

In 1926 the first appeal went out for the necessary million dollars. But to the surprise of the committee which had volunteered to raise the money, the request was greeted by vigorous objection to the form the memorial was to take. Perhaps the general disilusion over the gains of the war or a more realistic approach to its causes brought harsh criticism from all sides as to the suitability of a church to remember those who died for distinctly non-religious reasons. Some cried that such a proposal was not utilitarian enough; others called it too utilitarian. One influential group found it completely unnecessary, since the University already had a chapel which seemed large enough for the average congregation. And the Appleton family, who had given the chapel 70 years before, objected to its being razed to make room for the new.

Undaunted in its work, the fund raising committee toiled laboriously on and finally in 1929 was able to announce that more than 800,000 dollars had been subscribed, and work on the church could soon begin. In July, 1931, the building was started, but the disupte was far from ended for the Student Council soon raised the question, "What about the names of the three Harvard men who died for Germany! President Lowell came out against their inclusion of the same plaque with the other names. The aspect of the war had changed, however, and their names finally appeared on a separate plaque, but only because they had given their lives for a different cause.

At last, on November 11, 1932, the fifteenth anniversary of Armistice Day, Memorial Church was dedicated to those who "gave their lives. . . that we might learn from them courage in peace to spend our lives making a better world for others." And Bishop Lawrence who delivered the dedication address, explained finally the reason for the choice. "Because the sons of Harvard have faith, want more faith, and believe in the constant nurture of faith, they have given this chapel to the University."


The selection of the Church has been vindicated in spite of the criticism which delayed it, and few would deny that it is a fitting tribute with a lasting meaning. The prospect of repeating such an ordeal, however, seems to dissuade the Saltonstall Committee from undertaking a comparable task, and it will place a decidedly modest proposal before the Associated Harvard Clubs on Friday. To realize a more adequate tribute would require years and determination. But that is the way Harvard gets a vital memorial.