The Man, The Myth, The Legend


While all eyes are on John Harvard and the school that his legacy begot, Dr. Robert Harvard Davis will miss all of this week's fanfare. Back home in Cardiff, Wales, one of the few living descendants of 17th century minister plans to commemorate the 350th by drinking a simple toast to his now-famous ancestor.

"While it will be business as usual during the day, I shall be thinking of Harvard, and drinking a glass in John's honor in the evening," the professor of family medicine at the University of Wales says.

Meanwhile, some 40,000 people will frolic in Cambridge this week, posing before John Harvard's statue, shaking a John Harvard marionette's hand or sending letters affixed with John Harvard postage stamps.

John Harvard died at the age of 30 in 1638 of consumption, though no one is sure whether it really was tuberculosis. On his deathbed, the childless minister and graduate of Cambridge University in England bequeathed half of his estate and all of his books to a very small, very new school in Cambridge, Mass. That school, flattered and enriched by his gift, named itself after him.

Because John Harvard died childless, he has no direct descendants. However, a branch of the family, probably descended from John Harvard's cousin, Robert, still exists in England, and several members bear "Harvard" as either their first or last name.

But according to 350th organizers, none of these Harvard descendents will attend this week's festivities. Davis, who visited Harvard last May, says, "It makes me very proud to be related to John Harvard, and I would have liked to make my trip to the States coincide with the celebration--the program looks excellent."

One Harvard descendent, Peter Harvard, attended the tercentenary celebration in 1936.

Peter's father, Lionel de Jersey Harvard '15, was the only descendent of John Harvard ever to attend Harvard University, and was admitted to the University, but only with a little help from Massachusetts Hall.

Lionel, the only direct descendent of John Harvard's brother Thomas, hoped to attend university, but his family was unable to afford it. When Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877, learned that a descendent of John Harvard was interested in attending the school, he decided to try to help.

Although Lionel failed his entrance examinations the first time, he tried again and passed. One year later, in 1911, he entered Harvard. The University gave him free tuition, and alumni collected enough money to pay for his expenses.

Lionel lived in Weld 12 his freshman year, and belonged to the Signet Society and the Hasty Pudding Club. After graduating from Harvard, he returned to England, and shortly thereafter was killed in the First World War. Lionel Hall and the de Jersey Fellowship were both named in Lionel Harvard '15's honor.

While Lionel got in with a little help from President Lowell, not too long ago another Harvard family member was not so lucky. Davis's daughter, a graduate of Cambridge University, applied to the Business School and was turned down.

One other notable Harvard graduated from Harvard, only he was no relation to the original Harvard. Nonetheless, John T. Harvard '69's enrollment caused quite a stir, mostly in the Admissions Office, which conducted a thorough check of his name.

Although Lionel's Harvard stint received substantial media attention, Harvard administrators did what they could to help Harvard '69 avoid publicity. The Crimson and the local media left him alone, even when during his sophomore year he dated a Simmons College woman whose last name was Radcliffe. Harvard now lives in Peru.

So who was the real John Harvard?