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Harvard College 1767
This view of Harvard College, drawn by Joseph Chadwick and engraved by Paul Revere, shows the College in about 1767. From left are Holden Chapel, Hollis Hall, Harvard Hall, Stoughton Hall, and Massachusetts Hall.

The Early History of Harvard University

Harvard University, which celebrated its 350th anniversary in 1986, is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Founded 16 years after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, the University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 18,000 degree candidates, including undergraduates and students in 10 principal academic units. An additional 13,000 students are enrolled in one or more courses in the Harvard Extension School. Over 14,000 people work at Harvard, including more than 2,000 faculty. There are also 7,000 faculty appointments in affiliated teaching hospitals.

Seven presidents of the United States – John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Rutherford B. Hayes, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and George W. Bush – were graduates of Harvard. Its faculty have produced more than 40 Nobel laureates.

Harvard charter
On June 9, 1650, the Great and General Court of Massachusetts approved Harvard President Henry Dunster's charter of incorporation. The Charter of 1650 established the President and Fellows of Harvard College (a.k.a the Harvard Corporation), a seven-member board that is the oldest corporation in the Western Hemisphere.

Harvard College was established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and was named for its first benefactor, John Harvard of Charlestown, a young minister who, upon his death in 1638, left his library and half his estate to the new institution. Harvard's first scholarship fund was created in 1643 with a gift from Ann Radcliffe, Lady Mowlson.

During its early years, the College offered a classic academic course based on the English university model but consistent with the prevailing Puritan philosophy of the first colonists. Although many of its early graduates became ministers in Puritan congregations throughout New England, the College was never formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination. An early brochure, published in 1643, justified the College's existence: "To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches."

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