Harvard in 1900
If you're acquainted with something of Harvard student life, you might reasonably suppose that Franklin Roosevelt's Harvard couldn't be all that different from your own experience. After all, only slightly more than ten decades separate today's Harvard and FDR's. We're not talking Colonial times here. How really different could the College in 1900 be?
The short answer: almost completely.
Let's start by subtracting all of the personal technology we take so for granted in our daily lives. Of course, there are no cell phones, I-pods, or personal electronic devices of any kind. But that's just the beginning. Nor are there computers, television, movies, radio, CD's, cassette tapes, or even vinyls. The Victrola is still years away. Newspapers are the sole source of information about current events – often reported days or weeks after the fact – while sheet music is the M-P3 of the day, followed in popularity by player piano rolls.
To communicate from place to place, use of the telegraph, though expensive, is widespread and growing. Even more costly is the recently invented telephone – individual "sets," as they are called, are extremely rare and function only locally. Long-distance calls, made by appointment from special boxes, can't reach beyond Chicago from the East Coast, if the connection goes through at all. Wait times often run into hours, and the cost is $9 for 5 minutes – the equivalent of $10/minute in today's currency. Most communication, and all course work at Harvard, is written longhand, in pen and ink. (The ballpoint is still decades away, and the primitive typewriters of the day are another expensive, and bothersome, rarity.) The equivalent of email is the penny postcard, delivered courtesy of the United States Postal Service, twice daily. A postcard mailed from the College in the morning has a reasonable expectation of reaching a party in Cambridge that same afternoon.
1900 is still a pedestrian era, and students think nothing of walking a mile or two to their destination. Automobiles are an ultra-luxe rarity, more often than not powered not by steam than by gas combustion engines; the horse and carriage still reign supreme on the roadways, sharing the partially paved streets around Harvard Square with trolleys and trains, and the occasional bicycle, or "wheel," as FDR calls it. (He kept a Columbia Chainless while at college.) The subway to Cambridge is still years from completion, and the only transcontinental flights over East Boston are avian ones: the Wright brothers are still building bicycles while dreaming of the skies. From Boston's secondary port, Europe is 8 days away by steamer; the West Coast 4 plus days by rail. Travel to points beyond the 45 States is measured in weeks, or even months.
A different world, indeed.
So what was College life like in FDR's time? The following essays, assembled from a variety of sources, attempt to answer that question. (Please note: these sections are under construction, and are to be expanded with new material.)
What a difference a century makes: Harvard tuition in FDR's last year was $150/year.
Courtesy Harvard University Archives
The Physical Environment: The Architecture of Cambridge & the College in 1900
A work in progress, this photo essay explores view of Cambridge and the College in 1900; Michael Weishan
Adapted from Samuel Eliot Morrison's Three Centuries at Harvard.
An essential guide to understanding the role Final Clubs Played at FDR's Harvard. Adapted from Cleveland Amory's The Proper Bostonian 1947
Adapted from Samuel Eliot Morrison's Three Centuries at Harvard