# House Plan Creation

PRESIDENT LOWELL CREATES THE HOUSE PLAN

By BAYLEY MASON '51

APRIL 30, 2010 Alumni Night, Lowell House JCR

Lowell House Dinner Talk, April 4, 2011

Si Monumentum Requiris Circumspice

(If you seek his monument, look around you. St Paul's Cathedral. Sir Christopher Wren 1632-1732). )

The 22nd president of Harvard University -- Abbot Lawrence Lowell, or Lawrence Lowell as he called himself -- was, like the Oxford-educated Wren, a master builder as well as a leading educator. In his 24 years in office (1909-1933), Lowell built the seven River Houses, the Business School, the Fogg, the biological and chemical science labs, four freshman dorms, the President's House, Vanderbilt Hall, Lars Anderson Bridge, Dillon Field House and not least Widener Library and Memorial Church -- all in all, over 65 buildings, several of which he privately funded. --- more than in the previous 297 years since the founding of the College.

Like most university presidents, Lowell viewed bricks and mortar as primarily the means to effect educational goals. This paper will focus on Lowell's creation of what some consider Lowell's signature achievement - Harvard's House Plan. It concentrates on the initial River Houses.

Lowell came from a distinguished and self-satisfied Boston Brahmin background. Related on both sides to the founders of the great 19th century textile cities of Lowell and Lawrence, he was a grandson of a Corporation member. Other relatives included the Cabots, Coolidges, and Appletons and not least the Lawrences. Brother Percival was an eminent astronomer and sister Amy a colorfully acclaimed poet. Himself a graduate of Harvard College and Law School, at age 42 (after a mediocre law practice) Lowell became a government professor -- his permanent appointment came in 1900 at age 44. In 1902, Lowell was dissatisfied with teaching accommodations for his popular Government course, so he anonymously gave the money for what became the New Lecture Hall (decades later named for Lowell). In 1909 at age 53 he succeeded Charles William Eliot as president. He never took a salary.

He was a man of perplexing contradictions: a patrician, he was viewed, like FDR, "a traitor to his class." He was said to have exasperated his friends and confounded his enemies. His biographer maintains he may have been passed up for Porcellian (of which his ancestor was a founder) and he joined no other final club. He was careful later not to antagonize the final clubs when creating the Houses (profiting from Woodrow Wilson's disastrous clash with the eating clubs at Princeton). He took up the Hasty Pudding and was a reasonably sociable person. Lowell disdained the indolent rich and objected strongly and vocally to the Gold Coast separating wealthy students from the undergraduate masses -- a key factor in his promotion of a House Plan.

Lowell was noted for his self-confidence. Cleveland Amory in the Proper Bostonians observed that Lowell's grandfather's obituary contained a line " He seemed to have a firm confidence in his own judgments." Amory added, "Harvard's president seems to have gone to some lengths to preserve that tradition."

Lowell's supreme self-confidence (hubris or arrogance some would call it) would stand in his way in cases such as his proposed quota on Jews (resisted ultimately by the faculty and governing boards), barring African-Americans from living in Yard dorms (until overruled by the Corporation), the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the " gay court" that expelled several students and a teaching fellow and efforts to bar Law professor Louis Brandeis from the Supreme Court. These same bullheaded traits would help in curriculum reform, the Fogg, a new Business School, science labs, Widener and defending academic freedom. His TR management style would lead to his success with the House Plan which in many aspects would become intertwined with countering anti-Semitism at Harvard.

Anti-Semitism and Lowell

Lowell's dislike of Jews did not extend to the NY German Jews who came to NYC in underwrote supported projects such as Straus Hall, Lehman and the Fogg. For the most part this group sat on sidelines during Lowell's quota fight as, like him, they looked down upon more recent and poor Polish-Russian émigrés. Former FAS Dean and Corporation member Henry Rosovsky and his wife Nitza have described this class aspect of anti-semitism common to the twenties. Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom observed anti-Semitism was "at an all-time peak in the United States in the 1920s and Harvard was not unaffected." His History Department colleague Donald Fleming also commented on the invidious distinction between German Jews at Harvard and those of Polish and Russian lineage. Eliot, though more tolerant than Lowell, also distinguished "desirable" from "undesirable" Jews and wrote a biased commentary in a pamphlet on Zionism. But Eliot at least objected to quotas and traveled a higher road than Lowell.

Some German Jews, like the eldest son of Macy's founder Isidor Straus's (an alumnus as were his brothers) supported Lowell enthusiastically but rather privately. Lowell cultivated wealthy Jewish alumni and tried to enlist them in support of his quota -- they were not public critics but essentially balked at his extremism even while defending his underlying class bias. Their loyalty to Harvard compelled them to continue giving during Lowell's embarrassing quota crusade. Among Lowell's many ironic policies is that even as he was trying to restrict Jewish enrollment that had risen to 22 percent in 1922, his eventual House Plan, as noted, would break up the Gold Coast and lower class barriers.

Lowell staunchly favored "all classes" living together -- including the Jewish ones on whom he tried to impose a 15% quota. He covertly set up new screens called "character" and also wished to distribute Jews in the Houses -- his own version of a randomization policy. Lowell had tried to ban African-Americans from the Yard until he had to lift it in 1923 but they in their small numbers eventually became acceptable in the Houses. Only 160 African-Americans had ever studied in the College before 1940 -- mostly since 1890. Lowell fretted in both cases about what Harvard's Wasp clientele thought. Like his counterparts at Yale and Princeton, he had a frantic fear of the so-called Columbia phenomenon in which Wasp flight to other elite colleges occurred in the face of 40% Jewish enrollment. Yale had a "silent" quota and Princeton pegged Jewish students to their national populace or about 3% compared with Harvard's eventual 26%. Lowell without firm evidence argued that the rising number of Jews was causing a growth in "anti-Semitic feeling among the students."

Lowell in 1922 crudely analogized: "The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews is not ruined because the Jews are bad in character but simply because other people stay away, and the Jews themselves cease to come." Meanwhile, Corporation members such as Thomas Perkins found Lowell's anti-Semitic comments and policies offensive and that Jews were just the latest immigrant group trying to establish an identity. Lowell's bad press that damaged the University furthermore was annoying both governing boards. Eventually the faculty and governing boards defeated Lowell's quota proposal. But he undercut their decision by introducing geographical preferences (i.e. any place but New York City) and his nebulous screens such as "character." Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth used the same subterfuge and Lowell's successors, Conant and Pusey to some extent continued subtle discriminatory policies.

Lowell rather recently was found by the Crimson to have sanctioned a dean's rump court that expelled several gay students and faculty -- several of whom reportedly committed suicide. Directly unconnected to the House plan, this move illustrated Lowell's contradictory concern for undergraduates in general but his bias against certain groups such as gays and lower class Jews.

Lowell was Vice President of the Immigration League that tried to restrict immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, yet he backed the League of Nations. He supported efforts to break the Boston Police strike, yet he stood by Harold Laski who backed the strikers. Lowell appointed or endorsed the first Irishman to the Corporation and the first Jew to the Board of Overseers.

While all this was churning, Lowell not only was concerned about reducing Gold Coast impact, he was aware as Yale historian George Wilson Pierson observed "the plain fact is that Harvard living conditions were very much worse (than Yale's) ....in a number of essential particulars Harvard College had nearly ceased to exist, There was no intellectual unity (and) extremes of wealth and poverty."

Lowell from the outset spoke to "intellectual unity" by registering his dislike of Eliot's free-wheeling electives curriculum. As a professor, Lowell lobbied for concentration, distribution, general examinations and tutorial. As the new president, he installed these programs while at the same time vigorously addressing undergraduate life and housing.

Lowell's concern for undergraduate housing preceded his presidency by seven years. In 1902 the Corporation asked for appointment of an advisory committee to address petition of students who thought too few rooms available and those they could secure were badly maintained and served. Historian Donald Fleming has noted that Harvard plumbing was "rudimentary." Dean Briggs (FAS) chaired the committee, Lowell, the other senior member, wrote the report. He anticipated using the Smith bequest to build more freshman dorms and denounced the tendency of wealthier student to live in private dormitories outside the Yard, involving what Lowell viewed as breeding danger of snobbishness and separation on lines of wealth.

In approaching multiple issues of housing, Lowell worried not just about economic divisions, but also about ethnicity, specifically what was called " Little Jerusalem." This was Hastings Hall near the Law School to which Jewish students were relegated. Jews were also clustered in the top floor of one Yard dormitory leading it to be called "kike's peak." He thought residential "colleges" might address segregation along ethnic as well as class lines. His concern for more egalitarian housing seemed to be intuitively counter to his efforts to restrict Jewish enrollment.

The Committee pointedly asked: should Harvard have an Eliot German university whose only function was to provide instruction? Or should Harvard move toward an English Oxbridge model?

Lowell early on had his eye on the Oxbridge-Cambridge configurations which go back to Oxford's Merton College 1230 and as well as the much later John Harvard's Emmanuel at Cambridge in 1550. Woodrow Wilson at Princeton, James Rowland Angell at Yale and Lowell -- and others at Harvard all had some notion of a residential college system without mirroring the English system that embraced on- site instruction centered on tutors teaching in the individual colleges. An Oxbridge plan was reportedly discussed around Harvard as early as 1871.

Lowell's 1902 report to Eliot called for freshman dormitories and groups of colleges (within the College") that would a "microcosm of the whole university." He did not care for the necessary practice of students fending for themselves in Cambridge boarding and apartment houses. This encouraged, said Lowell, unwanted barriers of class and ethnic segregation. The final clubs were socially ranked, not live-in fraternities but scarcely inclusive and catered only to a minority of undergraduates.

The Gold Coast to Lowell was a special anathema: Appley, Claverly, Randolph and Westmorley. Ironically, Randolph had been built by the Coolidge Brothers headed by Archibald Cary Coolidge, librarian of Widener, and architect Charles Coolidge. Prof. Julian Coolidge, later first Master of Lowell House, opted out on grounds such apartments were too luxurious for students. FDR lived in nearby Westmorley.

The combination of the Gold Coast luxury apartments and the Final Clubs greatly aggravated Lowell. He steadily bought out the Gold Coast owners (financially faltering anyway), converting the apartments to Adams House, when the Houses were built. He convinced the Clubs to go along with the housing aspect of the Houses and he let their social component continue, ignoring their exclusionary policies, thus avoiding Woodrow Wilson's lost cause and resignation. The Final Club members and boards rather surprisingly did not resist Lowell. The Clubs never had served as dormitories. The social parties could continue and most members could afford paying twice for lunches at their clubs and houses.

Accelerating House Plan

Charles Francis Adams, a College graduate and later an Overseer, also had floated the college idea in the Columbia PBK speech 1906. Adams carried considerable weight in Cambridge not only as a Governing Board member but as great grandson of John Adams and grandson of John Quincy Adams.

On April 19, 1907 speaking at Yale -- with a bit of future irony -- Lowell said: "The obvious solution is to break the undergraduate body into groups like the English colleges, large enough to give each man a chance to associate closely with a considerable number of his fellows, and not so large as to cause a division into exclusive cliques. It must be understood, of course, that this applies only to the social life not to the instruction, which would remain a university matter as heretofore." Eliot was bothered by possible gating and bringing internal instruction in the dorms and even the possibility of introducing the English model of chapel in the "colleges."

In 1907 Princeton's President Woodrow Wilson launched his Quad plan. It had brief Trustee support; then they reversed themselves. Anticipating the preppy cult of Scott Fitzgerald's Princeton, their alumni fought to keep their Prospect clubs as the centerpiece of Princeton social life. Wilson left Princeton, in part because of this rebuff, and ran successfully for Governor of New Jersey and soon thereafter for President of the United States (Princeton, with its and Wilson's strong southern ties, refused to admit African-Americans until the Navy sent three to Princeton's V-12 program in 1943. It has been noted that Princeton discreetly kept Jewish enrollment below 3 percent).

A modified English college plan meanwhile was physically taking shape in Cambridge under Lowell. By 1913 the Associates, led by Edward Waldo Forbes, were buying up riverfront land taking coalyards, boat houses and some 28 wooden homes. Later the local power plant on the corner of Boylston Street was taken for what would be the site of Eliot House. Before WWI three freshman dorm clusters were built along the River. The South Yard was taking shape. Charles River Dam 1910 made HBS and Freshman Halls feasible. Before then the River was virtually an open sewer. It was seemingly destined to suffer strangulation much like the River's namesake Charles I, who had been executed by Cromwell 13 years after Harvard's founding.

Riverfront Dormitories

The freshman riverfront dorms largely were gifts of individuals . The architect was Charles Coolidge (a Lowell cousin) and they would come to comprise Kirkland, Winthrop and Leverett. Smith Halls became (Kirkland). John Hicks House (1760) was moved over from what would be the Indoor Athletic Building/ Malkin Gym site and became Kirkland's library. Standish and Gore halls became Winthrop House and McKinlock became Leverett House. They had open-faced courtyards, were River-focused, and distinctively neo-Georgian. Lowell saw these as nucleus of a larger House plan and he was emboldened by their success.

Money for the Business School had been raised by Bishop Lawrence, an Overseer and cousin, and Morgan's partner Thomas Lamont (a College graduate and Overseer). The donor, George F. Baker, New York banker, was not an alumnus but his son was --which helped. Independent of the House plan, the Business School would provide a similar Georgian Revival counter-point directly across the Charles.

Shortly thereafter, Lowell had added Lionel (1925) (which he personally donated), Mower, Straus (1926) and later Wigglesworth (partial donor) to complete his cloistering of the Yard and especially to house seniors. After the upperclassmen Houses were built Lowell moved the Freshman class into the Yard. Lowell did not deviate from his idea of building class unity by segregating Freshmen.

Student Council Report

In 1926 came the Student Council Report. The objective of a House Plan offered by the Council was to split student body into parts small enough to foster greater social unity and gracious living. Lowell received the report (not a conspiracy plant by Lowell as some alleged) favorably with only one major caveat: he wanted freshman kept out not only to preserve their class unity, but to prevent preparatory school cliques from dominating specific Houses. The Student Council agreed and withdrew their condition of placing all four classes in the Houses.

The term "House" came into play early. More so than Yale and Princeton, Harvard treasured its College origins -- the President and Fellows of Harvard College is the legal name. Lowell was also fearful that faculty would see a diminished central faculty and College. Christ Church, one of the most prominent colleges at Oxford, was called " The House", lending proper Oxford (if not Cambridge) panache. And House it would be -- a term somewhat interchangeable with term residential colleges preferred by Yale (which only recently has highlighted Yale College in preference to Yale University as the undergraduate nomenclature) and Princeton that still clings to the name Princeton University but has rather recently introduced residential colleges on its campus as a residential complement to the eating clubs. (Dartmouth, with several more professional schools than Princeton, holds proudly steadfast to Dartmouth College.)

In search of a major donor, in 1926 Lowell applied to Rockefeller's General Education Board to test an honors college. This bid was denied. Widener, Mallinckrodt and Baker had been committed to other Harvard purposes. JP Morgan, a major donor to HMS, had died in 1913, but alumnus son JP Jr (Jack), an Overseer, seemed to focus his philanthropy on his estates and his yacht. The 1919 endowment campaign was earmarked for science and other priorities.

Yale Rebuffs Mr. Harkness

As the twenties ticked on, Edward Harkness in New Haven was laboring with President James Rowland Angell to bring the Oxbridge plan (or Harkness plan) to a reluctant Yale faculty. Harkness, a St Paul's and Yale graduate, was the son of Stephen Harkess, the Ohio harness maker and whiskey distiller turned silent partner of JDR. Stephen's wife and Edward, the surviving son, eventually gave away about $1 billion. Mrs. Harkness Sr gave money for Harkness Quad and Carillon in 1920 followed by a theater at Yale. The theater would entice George Pierce Baker's 47 Harvard's workshop to forsake Harvard for Yale, thus ensuring Harvard ire. The ire did not extend to Lowell, however, who never made any special effort to keep Baker. At Yale there was much resentment among faculty and alumni that Yale had become too subservient to Harkness. The Harkness family's British ancestry - mostly Scottish -- fostered an Anglophile influence at Yale that reinforced in Cambridge Lowell's own Anglophobia. The British influence crops up in Harvard's House and Yale's College plans and architecture. James Rowland Angell was a Yale president imported from Michigan. As Yale historian George Wilson Pierson wrote, "Harvard was an autocracy made acceptable by usage and Brahmin self-confidence." "Lowell was himself a millionaire and to the Harvard manner born." (Pierson by the way was descended from Yale's first president for whom Pierson College is named.) Angell's dithering attempts to bring Yale Corporation and faculty into line tested Harkness' patience. Two days before his meeting with Lowell, Harkness said Yale had turned him down. Angell said no, Harkness wrote in his notes: "Interview closed." In the summer of 1928 after negotiations had broken down with Angell. Harkness threatened quietly to take his money and his plan to Cambridge. In November 1928 he did. Lowell says Harkness' letter said "something interested him and he hoped it would interest me. I knew what he meant and was ready to accept a plan whereof Harvard had for years been laying the foundations." The notion, perpetuated by Harvard's Samuel Eliot Morison, that Harkness simply arrived in Lowell/s University Hall office bearing a surprise gift for a House plan is pure license. Pierson writes: "By the touchstone of a millionaire, Harvard and Yale seemed of different stuff -- the one forward looking, decisive and successful; the other backward, hesitant, fumbling."Pierson did not believe that Angell by virtue of either personality or governance exercised anywhere near the control over his faculty that Lowell possessed. Lowell Does Not Hesitate Lowell facetiously translated the family arms over the House entrance and the motto occasionem cognosce to mean "When Mr. Harkness offers the University money to build residential houses, don't hesitate." As Harvard learned, Lowell did not pause. The Yale Record would later quip that this was "a Princeton plan being tried out at Harvard with Yale money." Lowell brought to the meeting with Harkness the Dean of FAS (Briggs) and the College (Greenough). Two weeks later, Lowell announced receipt of an anonymous gift of$3 million for an Honors College and the whole plan if Harvard's Faculty approved. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which felt somewhat railroaded by Lowell, accepted the Harkness-Lowell plan unanimously on second round vote. Pierson wrote: "Where Yale had taken two mortal years and got nowhere, Harvard moved firmly and swiftly ahead." Lowell and Harkness liked and respected each other and the plan went into effect with gift of $13.2 million. Six river houses (three of them new) opened in 1930 and Eliot House was added in 1931 after the power house was removed. Harkness declined Lowell's offer of a house naming but he insisted the Lowell name be on Lowell House -- the largest and physically most imposing (see below). Lowell included the whole family dynasty, arms and all in the naming. Harkness, like the Harvard Student Council before him, also bowed to Lowell's wish to keep the Freshman class in the Yard. The Harkness-Lowell alliance spurred Yale to move on the Harkness proposal just as Harkness had intended. Harkness gave$15.7 milllion to Yale for residential colleges in Jan 1930 with $10.2 million for bursury aid. This was about$1 billion in today's dollars to both colleges, providing a common residential character to the New Haven and Cambridge institutions.

Georgian Revival Dominates

Lowell's distant cousin Charles Coolidge of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge somewhat reluctantly followed Lowell's plan to mimic the original Harvard and Massachusetts Halls -- Georgian Revival rather than the pseudo-Gothic and Victorian buildings that had returned to Lowell's Harvard. Widener was a bastardized anomaly -- its Imperial architecture akin to Langdell came from Mrs Widener's architect Horace Thrumbauer and its elephantine bulk deemed necessary to house the vast collection. (Mrs. Widener's second husband, a Harvard professor, insisted Mrs. Widener wanted it clear that only Elkins money built the library.) Lowell did insist the library's entrance face the Yard and later on an axis with Memorial Church. Some architectural critics claim the library's architecture and use of red brick is derivative, but after all some critics note it derives as much from the early Yard as from England.

Admission to the Houses was not done randomly. For the first fifty years, students applied in order of choice and often were interviewed by Masters and House staff. This allowed Masters to create their own version of randomization, allocating scholars, proper Bostonians, varsity athletes, actors and later actresses, musicians and (quietly) Jewish students. Ordered choice, however, gave each House a stereotypical stamp. Although the Masters sought to have a mix, many preferred that their House have a certain character. At least, at the outset the House Plan collectively assured inclusiveness. Students were obliged to sign onto a meal plan, an act designed to minimize club dining.

Majesty on the Charles

Nowhere in this nation's higher education system is there a more majestic Georgian Revival panorama that these magnificent residential colleges. This was emphasized by both Bunting-Floyd and architectural critic/historian Douglass Shands-Tucci. The juxtaposition of the Houses along the Charles with the Weeks and Anderson bridges and the correspondent south bank Business School provide a vista that has evoked to some the Thames at Hampton Court.

The paneled interiors redolent of Oxbridge are exemplified in Eliot's baronial paneled dining hall. Only the English gardens are lacking in the River Houses -- except at Randolph Hall in Adams House. No sites were alike, so a variety of configurations arose exploiting site irregularities. The new River Houses were replete with pediments, cornices, decorative trim and ample woodwork -- and the fireplaces President Lowell insisted upon. The entry system, now under review as being too confining, was allegedly mandated by Lowell to copy the original Yard dorms and facilitate interaction between lower income student on top floors with upper income students on first two. Corridors are now favored with tempering influence of uniform pricing by floor. Lowell felt they would encourage the class segregation in the upper-lower corridor concept and that was a policy he disdained but has been more recently embraced by students in the spirit of better social interaction.

The original river houses were largely named after Harvard presidents present when named (Lowell and his family) and past (Eliot, Kirkland, Dunster, Leverett) or eminent Harvard alumni such as Adams and Winthrop. The presidential pattern would continue with later river houses such as Mather and Quincy. The Quad was the first to have several houses named after donor alumni families, such as Pforzheimer, Cabot and Currier. Only after Harkness's death was the Harkness name perpetuated in the Gropius-designed graduate quadrangle funded by his Commonwealth foundation.

Lowell House itself fittingly dominates physically the River Houses, Says Floyd, " Lowell is the largest and perhaps the handsomest of the River Houses erected on a knoll where the settlers planned to build their fort." Its sparkling blue tower commands the River, and its Russian bells evoke Lowell's autocratic nature. Randomization has diminished the distinctive character that initially came to feature each River House. But taken as whole, the River Houses, and by extension the larger House Plan that has evolved along the River and in the Quad, signal a remarkably distinctive quality of residential life that the far-sighted President Lowell and his Yale benefactor some 80 years ago sought for Harvard College.

Sources

Cleveland Amory. The Proper Bostonians. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1947

Bernard Bailyn et al. Glimpses of the Harvard Past. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986

E. Digby Batlzell. Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979.

Bainbridge Bunting and Margaret Henderson Floyd. Harvard An Architectural History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.

George Wilson Pierson. Yale, College and University , 1871-1937. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955.

Nitza Rosovsky. The Jewish Experience at Harvard. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Douglass Shand-Tucci, The Campus Guide: Harvard University, An Architectural Tour, New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2001

Richard Norton Smith, The Harvard Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1986.

Henry A. Yeomans. Abbott Lawrence Lowell, 1856-1943; Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1948.

President's Reports, Harvard University, 1910-1932.

***

The author, Bayley Mason, is a 1951 graduate of Harvard College (Lionel Hall and Lowell House, where he is a longtime member of its Senior Common Room). He was Associate Managing Editor of the Crimson and a sports correspondent for Harvard Magazine's predecessor, the Harvard Alumni Bulletin. He is active in the Friends of Harvard Football and a founding director of the Crimson hockey team's youth summer program.

Called to active duty for the Korean War after his first year at Harvard Law School, he served a Lieutenant in Naval Intelligence in Japan and Korea for three years. Mason is a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and later served as an associate dean for development of both the Harvard Medical School and Kennedy School.

Mason was Administrative Vice President of Oberlin College and Vice President of Boston University. He taught non-profit management at Harvard Continuing Education program for nearly twenty years and served two decades as a Freshman Academic Adviser and continues as part-time staff interviewer for the College admissions office. Mason is a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society. His eldest grandchild, Adams House '11, is a graduating senior in History and Literature.