The World Turned Upside Down

Tradition holds that as the defeated British soldiers retired off the field at Yorktown, their regimental band struck up an ancient march, The World Turned Upside Down:

If buttercups buzz’d after the bee
If boats were on land, churches on sea
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse
If the mamas sold their babies
To the Gypsies for half a crown
If summer were spring
And the other way ’round
Then all the world would be upside down!

I was reminded of these verses the other day, when looking through our collection of historical Harvard student room photos in preparation for a project we’re sponsoring, the Adams Room Catalog, which will allow occupants new and old to see who has lived in a particular suite before them. One of my favorite images has always been the one below. Simply put, it is precisely what you imagine when you think: Victorian room.

This particular picture has also been very important for us in terms of guiding acquisitions for the Suite. It is so clearly photographed that we can use digital enhancement to pick out the finest details. In particular, this photo led us to discover the wire carte de visite hangers we see again and again in the various period room photos. Here’s a closeup:

Eventually, after much searching we managed to find two of these extremely rare wire holders – at considerable cost. Here’s one of ours, above FDR’s desk:

But ours doesn’t look quite the same, does it? Rather bare in fact. Well, the reason is that the cards have mysteriously been dropping off the hanger. The slightly breeze or touch, and they fall like leaves off an autumn tree. There’s probably at least a good dozen on the floor behind the desk as I write. The solution however, is finally at hand: it seems I had hung the holders upside down: the Victorian hangers don’t clamp the pictures as modern refrigerator holders do, but rather support them in a wire loop from below – something you can clearly see in the period enlargement above, and which I saw, oh wise curator that I am, for the first time the other day. I wonder what other little jokes from the past await my discovery… The world turned upside down indeed.

And speaking of the future: Today’s article in the Wall Street Journal notes that with the potential change in tax laws for 2013, now is a particularly good time to consider year-end charitable giving, stating that “Under current law, donations of assets that have risen in value, such as shares of stock, often qualify for a deduction at the full market price, enabling donors to skip paying capital-gains tax on the appreciation.”

As a registered 501(c) 3 public charity, the Foundation stands more than ready to accept your charitable donation, and we can certainly use your support to fund our upcoming scholarship and educational programs.

 Some people read history, others make it. Support the FDR Suite Foundation




 

Shopping for Gems and Snaps

In years past, the course, Introduction to Congress, had a reputation as one of the easiest at Harvard College. Some of the 279 students who took it in the spring semester said that the teacher, Matthew B. Platt, an assistant professor of government, told them at the outset that he gave high grades and that neither attending his lectures nor the discussion sessions with graduate teaching fellows was mandatory. “He said, ‘I gave out 120 A’s last year, and I’ll give out 120 more,’ ” one accused student said.   New York Times, August 31 2012

As the College’s indelicate cheating scandal unfolds in unexpected directions (I would like to know: what is the purpose of an open, take-home final exam, anyway?) many have commented that today’s pressure to succeed fosters a culture of students shopping for classes with easy A’s, rather than subjects of material worth or interest. Such classes are called ‘gems’ by the current undergraduates. However, this practice of searching for the easiest route is hardly new. In FDR’s time, easy courses were called “snaps” (as in “Was it easy?”  “Sure, a snap”). Nathaniel Shaler’s immensely popular and notoriously benign Geology 4, which FDR took freshman year, was one such, and if the Lampoon is any guide, ‘snaps’ were as sought after as ‘gems’ are today:

The only difference between then and now would seem to be motivation: today’s students have an ever wary eye open to graduate and professional schools, while I’d guess FDR’s pals were more worried about finding sufficient time for  “chorus girls and lots of fizz.”

O tempora, o mores!


Some People Read History. Others Make It.
Come make a little history: support the FDR Suite Foundation!

 

 

Sifting Freshmen

The Faculty Sifting Freshmen. (Click anywhere on the photo to enlarge.)

As we again welcome freshmen this week for the 376th time, I thought you might enjoy two views of the process from a 1900 Harvard Lampoon in our collections. The first is entitled “Faculty Sifting Freshmen” showing the the College administation as a grizzled old gardener sifting potting soil.

The second is a little ditty entitled The Freshman’s Meditation. I may be wrong, but this ancient verse makes a neat little modern rap:

Click anywhere on the image to enlarge

Incoming freshmen take note: the chorus girls have entirely disappeared, and you shan’t have till next October “to make it up” should you decide to partake of the fizz.

Oh, those were the days…

I know you’ll all join me in welcoming the Class of 2016 to Cambridge, and the class of 2015 to Adams House.

Six Buildings

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As you know, we have been working madly away on a joint project with the HAA, Six Buildings That Shaped Harvard History.

Well, our work is finally done, after eight months trial and travail. The film will preview to the HAA Board tomorrow, and then be promoted worldwide to our alumni beginning in May, as the last official part of the 375th celebrations. With luck it will increase not only awareness of the FDR Suite & our mission, but also how fascinating an historical resource we have in the College that surrounds us.

Thus, may I present to you, our supporters, a special pre-premiere premiere of Six Buildings:

 

Six Buildings That Shaped Harvard History from Michael Weishan on Vimeo.

Note: the entire video is 36 minutes long, and may take some time to load on slower connections. For those of you wishing to skip about, click on the video, press play, then pause, allowing the film to fully load on your PC (the status bar will progressively go gray.) You may then skip about at will. In later editions, the film will be divided into six segments for quicker viewing. You may also unclick the “HD” button on the lower right for considerably faster, lower definition viewing.

Some People Read History. Others Make It.
Come make a little history: support the FDR Suite Foundation!

Harvard at 375… Make That 300

"At 7:45, nature took a turn for the worse. Just as students from Adams House — the only undergraduate House that had chosen a formal dress code for the occasion — prepared to march before the president, a downpour began. The torrent elicited a collective shriek and a sudden bloom of umbrellas," related the Harvard University Gazette. Photo courtesy the University Gazette.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but those of you not at Harvard this past Friday for the opening ceremonies of the 375th may have been in a happy majority. The weather, as we say in New England, was fouler than foul. A muggy 70º rain descended in the early afternoon, and turned into a steady wind-driven downpour by early evening. The large crowd of spirited alumni and students, packed into the Yard and Tercentenary Theater, soon turned the place into an unholy mess.  On today’s Six Buildings Tour, as we passed in front of Widener and witnessed the cleanup from the the previous night’s proceedings, one of our alums exclaimed: “I was at Woodstock. I was here last night. This was almost as bad.” Having missed both events, I can’t compare. I can only report I have never seen such destruction to the grounds. The grass in the entire Tercentenary Theater and large part of the Yard has disappeared into churned mud several inches deep.

As if to presage the dampened mood, this past Friday the Crimson issued a special edition: Harvard at 375: The Unclear Future. Less where-to-go than where we’ve been, the issue openly wondered: what next Harvard?

Despite the ankle deep mud in the Yard & the current national sturm und drang, I think we should take heart. This has, in fact, all happened before. The 300th Celebration, presided over by FDR in 1936, was so rain-sodden that top-hatted guests sloshed across planks hastily cast over flooded pathways, equally burdened by soon-soaked woolens as by a lingering Depression and the looming war in Europe.

FDR himself lightheartedly noted the troubled mood, both national and Harvardian as he began his address:

The roots of Harvard are deep in the past. It is pleasant to remember today that this meeting is being held in pursuance of an adjournment expressly taken one hundred years ago on motion of Josiah Quincy. At that time many of the alumni of Harvard were sorely troubled concerning the state of the Nation. Andrew Jackson was President. On the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Harvard College, alumni again were sorely troubled. Grover Cleveland was President. Now, on the three hundredth anniversary, I am President.”

To go back a little further, in the words of Euripides:

“There be many shapes of mystery. And many things God makes to be, Past hope or fear. And the end men looked for cometh not, And a path is there where no man sought. So hath it fallen here.”

In spite of fears, Harvard and the Nation of which it is a part have marched steadily to new and successful achievements, changing their formations and their strategy to meet new conditions, but marching always under the old banner of freedom.

In the olden days of New England, it was Increase Mather who told the students of Harvard that they were “pledged to the word of no particular master,” that they should “above all find a friend in truth.”

That became the creed of Harvard. Behind the tumult and the shouting, it is still the creed of Harvard.

In this day of modern witch-burning, when freedom of thought has been exiled from many lands which were once its home, it is the part of Harvard and America to stand for the freedom of the human mind and to carry the torch of truth.

For centuries, the grand old saying, “The truth is great and will prevail,” has been a rock of support for persecuted men.

But it depends on men’s tolerance, self-restraint, and devotion to freedom, not only for themselves but also for others, whether the truth will prevail through free research, free discussion and the free intercourse of civilized men, or will prevail only after suppression and suffering—when none cares whether it prevails or not.

Love of liberty and of freedom of thought is a most admirable attribute of Harvard. But it is not an exclusive possession of Harvard or of any other university in America or anywhere else. Love of liberty and freedom of thought is as profound in the homes, on the farms and in the factories of this country as in any university. Liberty is the air Americans breathe. Our Government is based on the belief that a people can be both strong and free, that civilized men need no restraint but that imposed by themselves against abuse of freedom. Nevertheless, it is the peculiar task of Harvard and of every other university and college in this country to foster and maintain not only freedom within its own walls, but also tolerance, self-restraint, fair dealing and devotion to the truth throughout America.

A rain-soaked FDR on stage, speaking to Grenville Clark, '03, at Harvard's 300th in 1936. FDR would go on to say: " I am not, you will observe, conceiving of the University as a mere spectator of the great national and international drama in which all of us, despite ourselves, are involved. Here are to be trained not lawyers and doctors merely, not teachers and business men and scientists merely; here is to be trained in the fullest sense—man." Photo courtesy FDR Presidential Library and Museum

Many students who have come to Harvard in the past have left it with inquiring and open minds, ready to render service to the Nation. They have been given much and from them much has been expected. They have rendered great service.

It is, I am confident, of the inner essence of Harvard that its sons have fully participated in each great drama of our Nation’s history. They have met the challenge of the event; they have seen in the challenge opportunity to fulfill the end the University exists to serve.

As the Chief Executive of the Nation I bring to you the solicitation of our people. In the name of the American Nation I venture to ask you to cherish its traditions and to fulfill its highest opportunities.

We need in the days to come as we needed in the past from Harvard men like Charles William Eliot, William James, and Justice Holmes, who made their minds swords in the service of American freedom.

They served America with courage, wisdom and human understanding. They were without hatred, malice or selfishness. They were civilized gentlemen.

The past of Harvard has been deeply distinguished. This University will never fail to produce its due proportion of those judged successful by the common standard of success. Of such the world has need. But to produce that type is not the ultimate justification that you would make for Harvard. Rather do we here search for the atmosphere in which men are produced who have either the rare quality of vision or the ability to appreciate the significance of vision when it appears. Where there is vision, there is tolerance; and where there is tolerance, there is peace. And I beg you to think of tolerance and peace not as indifferent and neutral virtues, but as active and positive principles.

I am not, you will observe, conceiving of the University as a mere spectator of the great national and international drama in which all of us, despite ourselves, are involved. Here are to be trained not lawyers and doctors merely, not teachers and business men and scientists merely; here is to be trained in the fullest sense—man.

Harvard should train men to be citizens in that high Athenian sense which compels a man to live his life unceasingly aware that its civic significance is its most abiding, and that the rich individual diversity of the truly civilized State is born only of the wisdom to choose ways to achieve which do not hurt one’s neighbors.

I am asking the sons of Harvard to dedicate themselves not only to the perpetuation, but also to the enlargement of that spirit. To pay ardent reverence to the past, but to recognize no less the direction of the future, to understand philosophies we do not accept and hopes we find it difficult to share, to account the service of mankind the highest ambition a man can follow, and to know that there is no calling so humble that it cannot be instinct with that ambition; never to be indifferent to what may affect our neighbors; always, as Coleridge said, to put truth in the first place and not in the second; these I would affirm are the qualities by which the “real” is distinguished from the “nominal” scholar.

It is only when we have attained this philosophy that we can “above all find a friend in truth.” When America is dedicated to that end by the common will of all her citizens, then America can accomplish her highest ideals. To the measure that Harvard participates in that dedication, Harvard will be justified by her effort, her purpose, and her success in the fourth century of her life.

Such wise words, and much to take heart from.

The 400th Anniversary Celebrations are scheduled for June 2036. God willing, I will take part. I wonder who will speak, and if he, or she, is even born yet…

For now, there is no way to know. But still, would it be too much to ask for dry weather?