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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
When the University celebrated the one hundredth birthday of the Lawrence Scientific School last week, the centenary was an unusual one. For the Lawrence scientific school was founded 101 years ago, and it had ceased to exist shortly after the turn of the century.
But in its day, the Lawrence Scientific School made many contributions to science education, and its birth and death both mirrored the nation's intellectual climate in their respective eras.
The middle of the nineteenth century was an era in which men demanded "practical" results from science, and it was with this in mind that Abbott. Lawrence grandfather of President Lowell, gave $50,000 to the University for a graduate school of science. This was the largest single gift ever donated by an individual to an American institution of learning up to that time.
Lawrence wanted his school to provide training for those who intended "to enter upon an active life as engineers or chemists, or, in general, as men of science, applying their attainments to practical purposes . . ."
The effect of the Lawrence Scientific School of the Harvard scene was immediate and continuous. It introduced the bachelor of science degree into the University on a parity with the arts degree.
But as the nineteenth century drew to its end, the spirit of scientific research fostered by the Lawrence Scientific School had so imbued itself in Harvard life that it was no longer necessary to attend the Scientific School in order to become a scientist, for the University offered other training for astronomers, chemists biologists, and the like.
Moreover, the practical approach which the School featured was no longer the intellectual fashion of the day, for pure science had come into is own.
With the development of pure science came the foundation of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and this was the handwriting on the wall for the Lawrence Scientific School, for it was absurd for the University to have a schism in its science training.
And so, in 1906, the Lawrence Scientific School closed its doors and passed out of existence. But in its 60-year life span, Abbott Lawrence's dream left an impression on United States scientific and educational practices that still remains. Professor Eben Norton Horsford gave the first course offered by the Lawrence Scientific School, and in keeping with the School's "practical" air, he also manufactured the panacea which the above handbill advertises. His acid phosphate, along with other products, was so successful that he resigned in 1863 to devote himself entirely to manufacturing. In honor of his endowed chair, the Rumford Professorship, Horsford named his firm the Rumford Chemical Works.
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