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Agassiz Portrait Unveiled at Harvard

By Laura L. Krug, Crimson Staff Writer

There’s a new face in University Hall.

She has neither office nor salary. But from her place, flanked by former Harvard presidents William Stoughton and Nathan M. Pusey, University Hall’s newest addition—a portrait of Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz, the first president of Radcliffe College—will stare intimidatingly down upon the denizens of the Faculty Room, after its installation at a ceremony yesterday afternoon.

“Welcome to the Faculty Room,” said Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby to the painting during his remarks. “We are very glad to have you here.”

Agassiz, a naturalist and pioneer of women’s education, presided over the fledgling Radcliffe College from 1882-1900, and then served three more years as honorary president. The fourth-ever female member of the American Philosophical Society, Agassiz was instrumental in the establishment of the school.

Radcliffe began with 45 Harvard professors who agreed, per her request, to give advanced instruction to Cambridge girls. It was still not a degree-granting institution until, according to current Dean of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study Drew Gilpin Faust. Agassiz then began paying almost daily visits to then-Harvard president Charles W. Eliot. In 1882, Radcliffe College was born.

“She does not just represent female achievement,” Faust said at the ceremony of the portrait and Agassiz’s legacy. “She represents Radcliffe.”

She added that the portrait’s installation in the Faculty Room—only the third portrait of a woman to decorate its walls—helps to affirm that “Radcliffe College did not just disappear in 1999, but is now part of the history of Harvard.”

Radcliffe College merged with Harvard five years ago, to the disappointment of many of its thousands of alumnae. What remains now is the Radcliffe Institute, which revolves around a fellowship program aimed at mid-career professionals.

Agassiz’s portrait joins Zemurray-Radcliffe Professor of History Helen M. Cam, Harvard’s first female professor, and Phillips Professor of Astronomy Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, as the only women on the wall.

Kirby said the portrait’s placement in the Faculty Room helps to affirm the Harvard Faculty’s position as “strong and diverse.”

“It surely enhances what is now Harvard,” said Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes of Radcliffe’s legacy.

Gomes, who is one of the curators of the Faculty Room, said that in order to be considered for a place on the walls, one must have a direct link to Harvard and to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and in the case of all but former presidents of the University, “must have been dead for a decent interval.”

The Faculty Room, originally designed as a chapel by architect William Bullfinch, now hosts full Faculty meetings.

—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at

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