Harvard can claim the largest university library in the nation, multiple companies around the world, much of Boston and Allston, and lots of money. But the University also owns some bizarre things thanks to past bequests by donors. FM researched some of the most shocking and peculiar donations made in the history of the University to learn more about their origins and how they came under Harvard’s possession.
1. The Falik Men’s Room
When Berkeley Law Professor and HLS Alumnus William A. Falik (yes, pronounced just like “phallic”) donated $100,000 to the Law School for a public interest law fellowship to commemorate his father’s 100th birthday, he suggested that Harvard name a newly-built restroom after him. Surprisingly enough, then-Dean Elena Kagan supported the idea; as a result, male students, faculty members and visitors of the Wasserstein Hall at HLS may now take care of their business in the ‘Falik Men’s Room.’ Apparently this was not the first time a restroom has been named after Mr. Falik—University of California, Berkeley also has a “Falik Gentlemen’s Lounge” after another previous donation he made to the school. Maybe smart people can be funny after all.
2. Dining Hall Tray designed by Walter Gropius
This cream-colored, circular dining hall tray was used between the 1950s and 70s and is currently on display outside the Harvard Archives in an exhibit about Harvard’s dining history. Walter Gropius, the German architect and theorist who founded and directed the Bauhaus school until he fled Germany shortly before World War II, was the chairman of Harvard’s Department of Architecture from 1936 to 1952, and designed this tray with the Architects Collaborative while in Cambridge. The tray stopped being used everyday in the late 1960s, and soon came to be called the ‘trashcan lid.’
3. Gore Vidal’s Fortune and Assets...All of it.
Gore Vidal, renowned American writer known for his essays, screenplays, and novels, left his multimillion-dollar fortune to Harvard University. “Did he even go here?” you ask. Nope, he didn’t—he was accepted here but opted to join the Army and become a writer instead. Harvard isn’t just getting Vidal’s fortune, but also has claim to future profits from ongoing sales of Vidal’s books. Now Vidal’s half sister is challenging Vidal’s will based on the claim that he was not mentally competent when he changed the terms of his will in the year preceding his death (he suffered from alcoholism and dementia in his final years).
4. Keep Women in the House
Former Massachusetts Attorney General A.E. Pillsbury bequested Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia $25,000 each in 1931. But there was a catch: The money had to be used to combat the feminist movement that had “begun to impair the family as the basis of civilization and its advance.” Pillsbury wanted the bequest to be devoted to creating or developing sound public opinion and action on the subject of “anti-feminism”—in other words, to keep women in the home. Harvard refused to accept the bequest.
5. Name Scholarships
Most scholarships are granted based on citizenry, grades, residency, financial need and even academic interest. But some donors have left scholarship money to future Harvard students with particular last names. From Thayer to Downer, these scholarships target specific descendants with these surnames. There are also scholarships based on other unusual requirements, like those that give preference to students pursuing studies related to Confucius or sons of employees of Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc. Try checking out some of them—who knows, your last name may be more useful than you think.
6. Free Boston Symphony Orchestra Tickets
Before Government Professor Arthur A. Maass passed away in 2004, he left a provision in his estate plans that established a free-ticketing program which would provide seven to eight free tickets per week to Harvard students for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Students can pick the tickets up on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Office for the Arts. Thanks to Maass, Harvard students have been able to secure tickets to hear quality musical performances by one of the nation’s most renowned orchestras completely free of charge.
7. Real Estate
Harvard owns a lot of real estate outside of Cambridge like summer houses, observatories, and boathouses, mostly thanks to generous donors. These properties are all owned and managed by Harvard Real Estate, Inc., and are located all over the world. Most of these properties are used as academic study or research centers for university fellows and faculty members, some provide extra benefits like gorgeous views and tremendous collections.
One such property is Villa I Tatti, a 16th century Italian estate in Florence, Italy bequeathed by art scholar Bernard Berenson, class of 1887, in 1959. The villa, also called Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, is home to tens of thousands of photographs, books, and pamphlets, as well as additional luxuries like grand cypress trees, and fountains surrounding the estate. The estate serves high quality food and wine, and scholars are allowed to stay at the villa during their studies.
8. A Mystery Collection
George Andrew Reisner ’89, renowned Egyptologist, bequested an extensive collection of thrillers and mystery novels to Harvard. Apparently around a fifth of the novels have grades on them (rated A through D) by Reisner himself. Some rare novels were graded ‘X’ if they were particularly bad; others earned an A+ grade. Most of the books Reisner donated can be found in the Widener Library amidst the other detective novels and fiction in the PZ section.
9. Two Forests
Black Rock Forest located in Cornwall, New York is one of two forests the University owns. At 3,800 acres, the forest used to belong to an alum from Harvard’s Class of 1908 named Ernest G. Stillman; Stillman conducted his private research in the forest until he bequested the property to Harvard in 1949. Many research and class field trips venture to Harvard’s other forest, the Petersham in Worcester County, which was gifted to Harvard by James W. Brooks in 1908.
10. More Money than You Have Ever Imagined
Hansjörg Wyss is the man who broke records in 2008 by donating $125 million, the largest philanthropic gift ever received by Harvard. Wyss donated a second $125 million last year to Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, which was named in his honor after his first donation. Wyss also gave $25 million to Harvard Business School in 2004, having received an MBA from the school himself back in 1965. Wyss made much of his wealth through his careers as an entrepreneur and businessman, and currently has a net worth of $8.7 billion.