On April 15, 1912, the sinking of the Titanic broke in on the spring sports season, and one week later it was duly noted that the victims included three graduates of the Colleg, among them Harry Elkins Widener '07. The sinking of the unsinkable wounded America's spirit of progress during the reign of the "sacred triumvirate": God, prosperity, and the Republican party. That the disaster should touch Harvard so directly was ironically appropriate, for Harvard in the early 1900's was the ne plus ultra of gentlemanly self-assurance.
An Advocate of the day advised that "the Freshman who keeps himself natural and normal need not worry about his future in Harvard College. Inevitably he will make good." No doubt this was good news to the class of 1912 that arrived here in the fall of '08.
President Eliot resigned in 1908 after a 40-year term in which he launched the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business Administration. Replacing him was A. Lawrence Lowell, then professor of Government.
In his Gov 1 lecture on the morning after his nomination, Lowell responded to hearty applause with a call for closer cooperation between administration and students: "We must work together," he said, "in building up the noblest institution in the land." An era of change was begun at Harvard.
Change was coming to the city, too, as Cambridge approved plans for a subway line from Boston out to Harvard Square. Eight minutes to Park Street was the goal, and plans that described the subway's "shelter" referred only to the roof-structure above ground that would protect passengers from Cambridge rain.
Meanwhile, College Men in capital letters perused the diagrammatic play-by-play reports of the weekend's football game that were published on Monday mornings. A faculty resolution attacking overemphasis on intercollegiate athletics the year before had not dampened their enthusiasm, and Men in the cheering section were careful to secure crimson handkerchiefs to flourish during the singing of the "Marseillaise."
A professional military band was hired for the annual football classic, and Harvard triumphed 4-0 at New Haven in its first Eli victory in seven years.
Nineteen-twelve returned to its sophomore year to be greeted by the annual tribute to the Union, which then charge a membership fee, as "the eating-place which alone in Cambridge supplies the need of first-class restaurant fare." This formality completed, those who wanted to join did and those who didn't, didn't; the Union continued to serve as a center for speech-making and class "smokers."
On another side of the social life, a Cambridge gentlewomen advertised that "Harvard '09 men agreed it was 'remarkable' to learn the WALTZ in three (private) lessons." For formal wear, it was the "Mac Hurdle" full dress shirt: Absolutely no bulge," Mac Hurdle claimed; the patented band and bosom does it.
In the Spring, the Lampoon held a house warming in its Mt. Auburn Street castle, complete with an English bar room dismantled, transported, and reconstructed for 'Poonie purposes.
President Lowell introduced a modified elective system based on the principle of "knowing a little of everything well." It was expected that the plan would encourage students to give their entire College program some forethought.
Believing that "a boy's career in college is largely determined by his Freshman Year, Lowell also organized the freshman dormitories, with an eye toward facilitating the process of advising young men moving from stricter prep schools to Harvard freedom.
In football, Lowell inveighed against a "trained band of gladiators" advocated instead a squad drawn form the top of a large group of student players. Reflecting a national concern over football deaths that caused President Roosevelt's threat to ban the sport if it weren't "cleaned up," Lowell noted that new safety rules, in addition to the recent legalization of the forward pass, were being considered.
This was Harvard's Golden Age of Football, presided over by coach Percy Houghton, and students continued to read daily about "Long Secret Practice" or "Yale Secret Practice Held." Unfortunately, Yale had some good secret practices that year, and the New Haven team won 8-0 in the newly-enlarged Soldiers Field Stadium.
Oddly enough, nothing much happened around the University in 1912's junior year. Even the Harvard-Yale game was stumped, the final score standing at 0-0.