Mather House Examines Namesake's Past

Mather House residents have begun a process to investigate the controversial past of their House’s namesake.

“House Master” Title Change
Michael D. Rosengarten, Co-Faculty Dean of Mather House.
At an event hosted by Mather’s House Committee, undergraduates, along with the House's Faculty Deans and Resident Dean, began planning a larger effort to remember Increase Mather, a former Harvard president and slave owner.

In addition to serving as President of Harvard College in the late seventeenth century, Increase Mather was a Puritan minister and involved in the Salem Witch Trials, Mather owned a slave named Spaniard.


The project involves examining documents from the Harvard University Archives and a number of books about Harvard and Increase Mather’s history.

According to Avni Nahar ’17, one of Mather’s HoCo chairs, the project ultimately aims to provide students with a fuller understanding of their home.


“It’s just important for us to know more about this place that we live in and spend so much time, and this name we use so much what it actually means,” she said.

Mather House’s initiative comes as Harvard discusses controversial symbols on campus, and colleges and universities nationwide grapple with race relations in light of recent controversies at Yale and the University of Missouri. University President Drew G. Faust has emphasized the importance of recalling sensitive parts of the University’s history. Faust said she disapproved, however, of changing titles and building names en masse, as Harvard should work on “sustaining our history, not erasing it.”

Mather Faculty Dean Michael D. Rosengarten voiced similar sentiments at Thursday’s event.

“I think the main thing is to acknowledge it and not bury it,” he said, referring to Increase Mather’s slaveholding.

Earlier this month, Faust dedicated a new plaque on Wadsworth House to four slaves who lived and worked on Harvard’s campus during the eighteenth century. Faust also wrote a Crimson op-ed reiterating her support for these projects.

“We need to understand the attitudes and assumptions that made the oppressions of slavery possible in order to overcome their vestiges in our own time,” Faust wrote in her op-ed. “In more fully acknowledging our history, Harvard must do its part to undermine the legacies of race and slavery that continue to divide our nation.”

In addition to the Wadsworth House plaque, Faust said she convened a committee with historians Sven Beckert and Evelyn B. Higginbotham to study other locations on Harvard’s campus with histories intertwined with slavery and determine ways to memorialize those histories. Beckert directed a study in 2011 that found Harvard’s endowment in the past to be connected to the slave trade.

Recently, the Harvard Corporation granted Harvard Law School approval to discard the school’s seal given its historical connections to the Royall family, prominent slaveholders who helped endow the first law professorship at Harvard more than 200 years ago.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ignacio_sabate.


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