David Owen to Retire as Master, Plans to Teach After Sabbatical

David E. Owen will retire as Master of Winthrop House at the end of the academic year, it was announced yesterday. He will spend next year on sabbatical in England, but will return to the University to teach in the fall of 1965.

Owen's seven years as Winthrop's Master have capped more than two decades of administrative work at Harvard. His informal style and wry humor have changed the character of the House and given him a reputation as one of the most popular Masters in the House system's history.

Owen got into the House business unexpectedly. In 1957, he had just returned from a year in England when he got a call from Dean Bundy asking him to take over as master of Winthrop.

"It sounded like good fun," Owen reflected yesterday, "especially since I hadn't seen much of undergraduates here. But I hesitated for awhile. I had just finished the research for a book, and I wanted to write it."

Took the Job


Owen took the job, however, and relegated work on the book to summer vacations. (The final draft of English Philanthropy, 1660-1960 went to the printers last Thursday, four years behind schedule.) The rest of the academic year Owen devoted to Winthrop House.

His prodigious memory for names and details and his interest in undergraduates have become legendary.

Every year he astounds the entering class when he greets each man by name at the first House function.

His famous defense of Charles Dickens' Scrooge, first prepared "in a moment of desperation" for a Signet Society dinner, has become a highlight of the Winthrop Christmas show.

The Master's hand has showed in other ways. In the past few years, Winthrop has had fewer disciplinary and academic cases than any other house in the college. "Winthrop has become a by word with the administrative board for a lack of problems," Dean Ford said yesterday.

Owen's greatest complaint about the House system is the method of putting together each year's entering class. He has long criticized "the amount of time and effort put into selecting freshmen at the busiest season of the year," and recommended the adoption of "something like Yale's IBM system, though perhaps not quite as impersonal."

Owen came to Harvard as a visiting lecturer in 1937, after 15 years at Yale. He taught British history, gave the famous Crystal Palace speech--now one of Harvard's historic lectures--for the first time, and was hired as an associate professor the following year.

"I hadn't studied much English history and had practically never taught it," Owen recalls, "but the Department here was exceedingly trusting." His Ph.D. thesis in Far Eastern History was later published under the title, British Opium Policy in China and India.

Owen was chairman of the History Department from 1946 to 1955, except for a two year stint as chairman of the committee on General Education. Often called one of the "quiet administrators," he led the Department during the difficult post-war days, when an influx of veterans swelled the enrollment of the College.

Owen and his wife leave for England in August. They will "take a flat in London," while he does the research for a book on the city in its Victorian heyday.

A year later, he'll be back in Cambridge, striding pointer in hand across the lecture platform, expounding on the Crystal Palace

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