The History of Harvard Housing

Over the years, Harvard's housing has drastically changed. With Housing Day coming up, here's a look a back at the biggest events in Harvard housing history.
By Marco A. Torres

Over the years, Harvard's housing has drastically changed. With Housing Day coming up, here's a look a back at the biggest events in Harvard housing history:


Apthorp House (now the Adams House Masters’ Residence) is built for the Reverend East Apthorp of Christ Church, the first Anglican congregation in Cambridge.


The Radcliffe Quadrangle begins as housing for female students, with six original dorms being built through 1937. Apthorp House is purchased by Archibald Cary Coolidge and his brothers, and is turned into an undergraduate residence. The house becomes infamous for student antics including indoor rifle practice, student water fights, and having a pet monkey within the residence.


The grandson of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edward Waldo Forbes, Class of 1895, acquires land between the Yard and the Charles River. Forbes gives this land to the University in a series of several gifts.


Harvard University, under the direction of President Abbot Lawrence Lowell, purchases the “Gold Coast” dormitories in what is seen as a first step to combat housing inequity between rich and poor students.


Rumors begin to spread of a tentative plan for a “House System” consisting of seven upperclassman dorms outside of the Yard. A Yale alumnus, Edward S. Harkness, Class of 1897, donates more than $10 million to Harvard University after his plans for a House system at his alma mater temporarily fall through.


Harvard University takes preliminary steps to establish its House system with funding from Harkness. President Lowell supports the creation of these Houses as a means to combat socioeconomic stratification in the form of off-campus housing. The first two Houses, Dunster and Lowell, are built on the recently acquired lands near the Charles River.


Leverett House is next to open, as an extension from McKinlock Hall, which had been built five years prior as a memorial to a student from the Class of 1916. It is added to Mather Hall (not to be confused with Mather House) and a dining hall, creating the original Leverett House. Eliot House opens. John Winthrop House opens, as a combination of Standish Hall and Gore Hall (not to be confused with the Gore Hall library which Widener replaced upon opening in 1915). Apthorp House is converted into the Adams House Masters’ Residence.


The “Gold Coast” dorms are combined with Russell Hall, creating the new Adams House, inaugurated in 1931 and completed the following year.


Kirkland House opens.


Quincy House opens. It is the first House to be built after the original seven River “Harkness” Houses, coming to be the first of what is called “New Harvard.” The “Old Quincy” building, now Stone Hall, was originally Mather Hall and was part of Leverett, but becomes part of Quincy once Quincy House opens.


Leverett Towers are built.


Mirroring the House system at Harvard, the Radcliffe dorms are re-organized into Houses, known simply as North House, South House, and East House.


Mather House opens in 1970, another of the “New Harvard” dorms.East House merges with South House, taking on the latter dorm’s name.A building previously used to house distinguished Radcliffe alumni becomes Currier House.Prior to this year, Housing selections consisted of an interview process with students by House masters, coming to be known as a “draft” system. This “draft” system is replaced, as the College begins to use a “preference” system where students indicate a preferential ordering of House.


Harvard Yard is opened to female residents.


South House is renamed Cabot House.


As a result of concerns involving “self-segregation” between racial, religious, and social identities for housing assignments, the College implements a random housing lottery system in the spring term.


North House is renamed Pforzheimer House.


A decision is made to change blocking group size from 16 students to 8. This is implemented the following year.


Quincy becomes the first House to undergo renovation and “renewal” in what will ultimately be a College-wide project.

House LifeHouse RenewalHousing DayRetrospection