The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University
Admissions   | forms  | important dates  | contact us  | resources  | GSAS departments  | FAQ  | search  | sitemap 
International Students Financial Aid
Academic Information Student Life
Programs of Study > Publications

History and Organization

< GSAS Bulletin
< GSAS Handbook
> About the Handbook
> Introduction
> History and Organization
> Admission to Degree Programs and Degree Requirements
> Non-Degree Status
> Academic Information
> Degree Requirements
> Regulations and Standards of Conduct
> Financial Requirements
> Financial Aid, Fellowships, and Prizes
> Housing and Meals
> Academic Resources
> Services and Programs
> Counseling Resources
< Colloquy
< GSAS Residence Hall Handbook


Home  >  Publications  >  GSAS Handbook  > History and Organization

Harvard and Radcliffe and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Founded in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and named for its first donor, the Reverend John Harvard, who left his personal library and half his estate (about 800£) to the new institution, Harvard College was born into the Puritan tradition. The University today is still governed under its original charter granted by the Colony in 1650. This, with amendments and John Adams' further definition in the fifth chapter of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, is the authority under which Harvard operates.

 top of page

History and Organization

The earliest visible Harvard, despite almost a century of previous existence under the close scrutiny of the clergy and magistrates of the Bay Colony, is an eighteenth-century institution. In the College Yard stand Harvard's oldest buildings, plain and in the best sense homely with their brick exteriors, straightforward appearance, and unassuming design. Massachusetts Hall (1720), Wadsworth House (1726), and Holden Chapel (1744) are the earliest. Hollis Hall, built at the expense of the Colony, dates from 1763. Harvard Hall (1766) stands on the site of a seventeenth-century building of the same name. It burned down one wintry night in 1764, destroying the 5,000-volume college library (then the largest in North America) and the scientific laboratory and apparatus. This was the Harvard of the well-known Burgis and Revere engravings—except for old Stoughton College, which suffered so much damage from occupation by Continental troops during the Revolution that it had to be torn down in 1781. A new Stoughton Hall (1805), Holworthy Hall (1812), and Charles Bulfinch's famous University Hall (1815) form the outline of the original Yard.

For its first 200 years of existence, Harvard was relatively small, proudly provincial, ambitiously intellectual, but still a college with a conservative, set curriculum emphasizing rhetorical principles, rote learning, and constant drilling. The faculty was very small and the president did a little of everything, including teaching, assisted by junior faculty like the remarkable Henry Flynt (1676-1760), tutor and disciplinarian who spent fifty-five years as a Harvard tutor and sixty years as a fellow of the Corporation. Particularly outstanding among the faculty was Professor John Winthrop, AB 1732, who held the Hollis Professorship and taught mathematics and science (then called "natural and experimental philosophy") from 1738 to 1779. Next to Benjamin Franklin, Winthrop was probably the greatest man of science of the colonial era. Another distinguished early figure was the Jewish scholar Judah Monis, AM Hon. 1720, who taught Hebrew from 1722 to 1760.

During the first 230 years of its existence, Harvard College retained its old framework as an English college modeled on Oxford and Cambridge, though with some developments of its own. In time, many of the faculty members who had pursued postgraduate work at German universities saw shortcomings in the English model. One of the most important developments was the establishment of professorships in the undergraduate department, which was an innovation on the English idea of a college. The greatest departure from the English precedents, and a long step towards the foundation of a real university, was the establishment of the three professional schools of Divinity, Medicine, and Law. Medical studies began in 1782, and law and divinity became graduate departments in 1816 and 1817, respectively. Even so, the College did not start to take on the aspect of a true university until mid-century, when a library building (1841), an observatory (1846), a scientific school (1847), a chemistry laboratory (1857), and a natural history museum (1860) were built. From 1820 until 1872 the University consisted of the College and the three professional schools, with the later additions of the Dental School, the Scientific School, and the Bussey School of Agriculture. The gap in this constitution was that there was no equivalent of the German Faculty of Philosophy (i.e., of the Arts and Sciences) at the graduate level. One of President Charles William Eliot's great innovations was the establishment of a Graduate Department.

The Graduate Department was created in January 1872 by action of the Governing Boards. The Academic Council was appointed to administer and recommend candidates for the degrees of master of arts, master of science, doctor of philosophy, and doctor of science. When the establishment of a Graduate Department was first put before the College faculty, there was much opposition. It was said that the University had insufficient funds to teach undergraduates properly, and the Graduate Department would weaken the College. To which President Eliot replied, as Professor Palmer remembers, "It will strengthen the College. As long as the main duty of the faculty is to teach boys, professors need never pursue their subjects beyond a certain point. With graduate students to teach, they will regard their subjects as infinite, and will keep up that constant investigation which is so necessary for the best teaching." In 1872, Harvard boldly announced that the new degrees of PhD and SD would be given to properly qualified graduates on examination after certain periods of residence at the University; and that the degree of AM would henceforth be given to any graduate of any respectable college on an examination upon a single year's study. This announcement was unprecedented in this country, and it was an omen of great promise for the future. As the Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison described it:

Up to that time there were no facilities at Harvard for the training of men in the liberal arts after taking their first degree, although advanced instruction in the natural sciences had been given in the Lawrence Scientific School for over twenty years, without a degree to reward the students' efforts. Harvard men who wished to be trained as scholars in the humanities and the social sciences had to study abroad. It was now provided that the MA should be given in the future for not less than a year's postgraduate study in approved subjects, and after examination; the class of 1869 was the last whose members were allowed to take the MA for 'keeping out of jail five years and paying five dollars,' as the saying was. The PhD was to be conferred after a more advanced examination and the acceptance of a dissertation deemed a 'contribution to knowledge'; William E. Byerly (AB 1871) took the first Harvard PhD, in mathematics, in 1873 (Byerly Hall, headquarters of the Graduate School, is named for him); and James O. Averill (AB Amherst 1870) took the first MA of the new dispensation the following year.

In 1871-72, the list of seventy-four courses open to graduates was made up from the regular courses of study offered to undergraduates. The elective system, established five years earlier in 1867, made it possible for the regular College courses to offer material for graduate study. Before that date almost all of the work of the College had comprised required courses, and nearly the whole time of professors was given to hearing lessons recited. The development of the elective system, encouraged by President Eliot, called for a great increase in the number of teachers of all grades; this made it possible for the professors to offer advanced courses for the better students.

When the Graduate Department was founded, there was no distinction between undergraduate and graduate studies; and no hard-and-fast line has ever been drawn between them. Graduate students simply took elective studies that they had been unable to take in the College. In 1875-76, courses primarily for graduates made their first appearance in the catalogue. A very significant departure was made in 1877-78. "Besides the regular courses of instruction," states the catalogue, "graduates may often make arrangements to obtain advice or direction and in some cases special instruction, in the pursuit of higher studies, from professors or other competent persons." This "special instruction" by professors began to appear in the catalogues after 1885.

In 1872, twenty-eight students were attracted to the new program. No less than thirteen of the first twenty-eight graduate students were officers of the University, consisting of one professor, one assistant professor, ten tutors or instructors, and one proctor. The quality of the early doctors in arts and sciences (1873-78) is indicated by such names as John Trowbridge, William K. Brooks, William Everett, N. S. Shaler, Henry Cabot Lodge, J. Walter Fewkes, Frank A. Gooch, and Charles Sedgwick Minot. In the second year, 1873-74, thirty-five candidates enrolled for the higher degrees, and in 1874-75, forty candidates enrolled; in this year five students received income from the Harris, Kirkland, and Parker Fellowships, the last paying a stipend of $1,000 a year.

Professors C. L. Jackson, Farlow, Child, and Goodwin were among the early members of the faculty most interested in promoting graduate studies. However, to no one, excepting President Eliot, is the Graduate School so indebted as to Professor of Astronomy and Mathematics James Mills Peirce, who, as secretary of the Academic Council from 1872 to 1890, and dean of the school to 1895, devoted himself to the promotion of graduate instruction. From the administrative reorganization of 1890 the Graduate Department emerged as the Graduate School of Harvard University, under the new Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but with administrative officers of its own. In 1905 the name was changed to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in order to distinguish it more clearly from the professional schools.

Professor Peirce was succeeded as dean by John Henry Wright, professor of Greek, who served from 1895 until 1908, when the number of students had increased to 406. The succeeding deans were Professor of Medieval History Charles Homer Haskins (1908-24), and Professor of English John L. Lowes (1924-25). By 1929, under the deanship of Professor of Classical Archaeology George Henry Chase (1925-39), the number of students in the school had grown to roughly 1,000 and the Administrative Board of the Graduate School deliberated over the report of the Committee on Further Restriction of Entrance to the Graduate School. Dean Chase reported the Committee was unanimous in recommending restrictions on admission and wrote, "The members feel that the purpose of any restrictions should be to improve the quality of students who resort to the school rather than to attempt to set a definite number of students whether in the whole school or in the several divisions and departments." The reasons that most affected the Committee's decision were that the Harvard professional schools and other graduate schools, notably Yale and Princeton, had become more restrictive, and several candidates had entered the Graduate School after being refused admission by these other schools. Another concern was that the number of students put a serious strain upon those who directed research.

In the early 1930s, enrollments continued to increase, then dropped significantly in 1935 to 765 students and increased again to a high of 1,113 students in 1939. Chemistry Professor Arthur Becket Lamb held the deanship during 1940-43 and Howard Mumford Jones, Abbott Lawrence Lowell Professor of Humanities, was appointed dean during 1943-44 when elaborate plans for the postwar period were undertaken. The vital importance of the work of the Graduate School in postwar years was emphasized in President James Bryant Conant's statement, "The recruiting of the nation's ranks of highly-trained scholars and specialists, after the hiatus of the war years, will be one of the very vital tasks confronting American universities when the day of peace arrives." The question of admission to the Graduate School became paramount in the course of 1945-46 as former servicemen, encouraged by financial assistance from the government, began to make applications in vast numbers. In contrast to the years before 1940 when the school received about 800 applications on the average, the year 1945-46 saw more than 4,000 applications. To keep the school within manageable limits, a large proportion had to be denied, and inevitably the standards for admission had to be raised. While no rigid quotas were set, the departments set upper limits on the number of new students they could accommodate. Beginning in 1945, all applicants were asked to submit letters of recommendation, which had been required previously only of fellowship applicants.

Though the school had been reduced to 393 students in 1943-44, new applications and review procedures were put into place, and by 1946-47 there were 1,969 students enrolled. Serving as dean from 1946-49, Professor of Government Payson S. Wild, Jr. assessed the situation, "So far, veterans have performed as well if not better scholastically than nonveterans and the problems of readjustment, so dreaded in advance, have not materialized to any great extent." He concluded that the G.I. Bill had helped to "democratize the PhD" but he was much concerned about what to do after the federal subsidies were gone. Dean Wild was followed by Francis M. Rogers, professor of the Languages and Literatures of Portugal (1949-55). Serving as dean from 1955 to 1971, Professor of Greek and Latin John Peterson Elder saw the Graduate School into an era of new relations with the federal government and the admission of women to the Graduate School in 1962. Prior to 1962, women graduate students had been enrolled in the Radcliffe Graduate School.

The Harvard Annex was formed in 1879 to provide women with the opportunity to study with Harvard professors. From the beginning, graduate education was integral to Radcliffe's mission. Among the first twenty-seven students to enroll in September 1879 were two graduates (one from Smith and one from Vassar). In 1882, the Harvard Annex was incorporated as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women. As Arthur Gilman, the secretary of the College wrote in the 1891 report: "We have no higher duty to advanced specialists and to graduates coming from other institutions than giving them the advantages which Harvard College offers so liberally to our whole body. These students come to our classes in yearly increasing numbers and they are very welcome." The first AM certificate was granted in 1890. In 1894, Radcliffe was chartered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a degree-granting institution and the AB and AM degrees were awarded. The PhD was first awarded in 1902. Radcliffe diplomas were signed by the presidents of Harvard and Radcliffe, sealed with both seals and were in every way equivalent to the Harvard degree. The Harvard Board of Overseers resolved that Radcliffe graduate students should be admitted to any courses of instruction designed for Harvard graduates, and in the fall of 1894, fifty-one courses (marked with a double dagger††) were listed in the Harvard catalogue and opened to graduate women.

The Radcliffe Graduate School grew from these informal beginnings to be the largest graduate school among the women's colleges by 1930. The school was reorganized in 1934 when the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School was created. Bernice Brown Cronkhite (PhD 1920), who had served as dean of both undergraduates and graduates (1923-34), was appointed dean of the Graduate School and served until 1960. To many, Dean Cronkhite personified the Graduate School. She counseled students, administered the school, raised funds for scholarships, and was the driving force behind the construction of the Cronkhite Graduate Center (named in her honor in 1971), the residence for graduate women. She was succeeded by Wilma Kerby-Miller (1960-62).

The school graduated 784 PhDs, 3,284 AMs and SMs, and 976 MATs between 1890 and 1962. The holder of a Radcliffe PhD, according to the report Graduate Education for Women: The Radcliffe PhD (1951) was, typically, a professor at a women's college or a state or municipal university, since appointments at major private universities, such as Harvard, were largely closed to women. The school attracted students from all over the world. Graduates before 1917 tended to earn their degrees in classical philology, history or philosophy. The first doctorate in science was awarded in zoology in 1910. Mary S. Locke was the first African-American to receive an AM, in 1893, and Eva B. Dykes was one of the first African Americans to receive her PhD, in 1921. Other notable holders of the Radcliffe PhD are: the late philosopher Suzanne Knauth Langer; astronomer Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin, the second woman to receive tenure in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Hanna Holborn Gray, former president of the University of Chicago; geophysicist Margaret Kivelson; and Rulan Chao Pian, who recently retired as professor of East Asian languages and civilizations and professor of music.

In 1962, the Radcliffe Graduate School ceased to admit women or to grant degrees. Women thereafter were admitted directly to and enrolled in the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

In 1969, a review of graduate education was conducted by a faculty committee chaired by History Professor Robert Lee Wolff. The committee considered the implications of the recent rapid rise in the number of students admitted to the Graduate School, the resulting demands on the resources of the faculty, and other aspects of graduate students' careers. The Wolff Report confronted the decrease in public and private fellowships and shrinking job opportunities and recommended that the size of the Graduate School be reduced from its 1969 total of over 3,000 students by at least twenty percent, with the goal of 2,400 students in five years' time. The report also foreshadowed the initiation of a need-based financial aid plan, based on the premise that all students who are admitted must have adequate support.

Richard Victor Jones, professor of applied physics, served as dean (1971-72), followed by Philosophy Professor Burton Spencer Dreben (1973-76) and Edward Louis Keenan, professor of history (1977-84). In 1977-78, Dean Keenan reported that the previous trends of the early and mid-seventies persisted: the numbers of applications and first-time enrollments continued to decline slowly; and attrition, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, remained at levels higher than those of earlier years. In 1984, the final year of his term, Dean Keenan reported that while the increasingly gloomy projections about the job market for PhD recipients were accurate, the effect of the narrowing opportunities had been somewhat mitigated by several forms of institutional and individual response. In 1982-83, first-year enrollments increased for the first time since 1978.

In 1985, the Committee to Study the Graduate School, chaired by Professor of Physics Karl Strauch, addressed issues such as the organizational structure of the Graduate School and the relationship between the GSAS organization and the academic departments. The Strauch Report generally endorsed the continuation of the GSAS policy of admitting only students with adequate financial support, and suggested improvements in teaching fellow appointment policies and procedures. Citing indications from several departments that they would like to be able to admit more students, the report recommended a modest increase in the size of the Graduate School and gave highest priority to increased funding for graduate student support.

With the reorganization of the Graduate School in 1985, Sally Falk Moore, professor of anthropology, was appointed as the fourteenth dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and John B. Fox, Jr., who had previously served as dean of Harvard College (1976-85), became the administrative dean. An effort was made to streamline the functions of the Graduate School and to make it more responsive to the needs of students and faculty. Substantial new funding for graduate students was made available from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Brendan A. Maher, Edward C. Henderson Professor of the Psychology of Personality, became dean of the Graduate School in 1989. Dean Maher focused on the circumstances of graduate students themselves—the length of time it takes them to complete their degrees, the support they receive from the faculty, and how financial aid can be most effectively used in aiding them to completion of their degrees. Consideration was also given to how Harvard can best respond to changing national trends in graduate education.

Christoph Wolff, William Powell Mason Professor of Music, provided leadership to the Graduate School as dean from 1992 to 2000. A number of successful initiatives began during his tenure. While continuing to give attention to many of the issues addressed by Dean Maher, Dean Wolff has undertaken a broad review of the academic programs in the Graduate School, establishing closer links with all FAS graduate programs. Focusing on shortening the time it takes for students to complete the PhD degree, Dean Wolff, in 1993-94, established a policy, according to which students ordinarily will not be permitted to register beyond their tenth year in the Graduate School. By limiting time to degree, GSAS was able to make better use of its limited resources and encourage students to make efficient use of their time. GSAS continued its involvement with the Mellon Foundation Graduate Education Program that began in 1991 to improve graduate student time to degree and established an important new program of in-house humanities and social science fellowships, including the Harvard Graduate Society, the Eliot, and the Packard. With the assistance of Ford Foundation funding, in 1994, Dean Wolff established a program of interdisciplinary faculty/student research workshops in the social sciences and humanities that allowed the participants to discuss shared scholarly interests and individual student works-in-progress. Founded in 1991 as the Graduate Student Center, Dudley House continued, with Dean Wolff's support, to develop as the principal place for students from different departments and programs to interact. Dudley House, as a center for the graduate community, is a resounding success.

Dean Wolff's interest in improving the financial aid for graduate students led to the implementation of a report issued in May 1998 by the Faculty Committee on Graduate Student Support, chaired by Professor Peter T. Ellison. As a result of the report, FAS Dean Jeremy Knowles approved increases to the Graduate School financial aid budget. These funds facilitated the initiation in 1999 of a new cohort-based financial aid plan for the Humanities and Social Sciences. The plan has allowed GSAS to increase the amount and duration of GSAS financial aid awards.

Margot N. Gill succeeded John Fox in 1994 as administrative dean of the Graduate School. Dean Gill had served as the GSAS Dean for Student Affairs from 1986 to 1993.

Peter T. Ellison, John Cowles Professor of Anthropology, served as dean of the Graduate School from 2000 to 2005. During his term, Ellison oversaw a massive increase in financial aid to incoming students, an improvement to dissertation-completion funding for incoming students in the humanities and social sciences, the addition of new housing for graduate students, the creation of several new interdisciplinary and interfaculty PhD programs, the formation of the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences Program, and a summer language program for incoming international students.

Theda Skocpol (PhD Sociology, 1975), the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, took office as dean of the Graduate School in July 2005. One of her first initiatives was the establishment of the Graduate Policy Committee through which faculty from FAS and interfaculty PhD programs can advise GSAS on policy issues and review graduate programs on a regular cycle. Skocpol is enhancing the data-gathering and analytic capacities of GSAS to inform new policies to improve studentsí time to degree and optimal job placements. She has launched an annual prize to honor program innovations in PhD education, and a seed fund to help departments improve their programs of mentoring, training, and placement. Like her predecessors, Skocpol is raising new funds for fellowships and research grants.


> top of page

Home |  Registrar's Office | Harvard Home

Copyright © 1999-2005
by The President and Fellows of Harvard College