Finley, Former Eliot Master, Classics Professor, Dies at 91

John H. Finley Jr. '25, a former master of Eliot house and famed classicist, died Sunday, June 11, at age 91.

During his time as Eliot house master, he was known for being highly involved in the selection process for the house, His care in selecting students led to many intramural championships and a large number of Rhodes scholars for Eliot.

During one year Finely spent as a visiting professor at Oxford, his son remembers him proudly noting that 12 of the 18 Rhodes Scholars were from Harvard, and 11 of those had come from Eliot House.

"One of the great pleasures of University life," Finley once said, "is the cheerful company of the young.:

Finley is remembered for memorizing the names of all house residents and advising them on how to conduct themselves.


According to his obituary in the New York Times, Finley would often tell House residents that the purpose of college was to reduce the time they spent thinking about women from 80 percent to 60 percent.

Finley was also remembered for saying his soul was shaped like a shoehorn because of the time he spent getting his students into jobs.

"How should I have known that god as humorist has in store for me the letter of recommendation as an art form?" he said.

Finley, who taught at Harvard for 43 years, joined the faculty in 1933. his most popular course, humanities 103, titled "The Great Age of Athens," focused on the works of Homer, Plato and Aristotle.

At his last lecture in 1976, Finley received two standing ovations.

Finley was also the chief author of General Education in a Free Society, which introduced many of the concepts that led to Harvard's adoption of General Education, the precursor to the Core Program.

Finley was a resident of Tamworth, N.H. at the time of his death.

He is survived by his two children, John H. Finley III '58 and Corrina F. Hammond '61, as well as five grandchildren.