The Harvard Grade Cards of Franklin D. Roosevelt
and Lathrop Brown
If you search the internet for the term “gentleman’s C,” chances are you’ll come up with some version of: “a grade given by certain schools (often Ivy League) to the children of wealthy or influential families in lieu of a failing grade” — that’s certainly what I always thought the term meant. But in FDR’s day, the meaning of a “gentleman’s C” was entirely different. A “C” was the grade a gentleman aspired to, so as not to seem too interested in studies and be considered a “grind.”
A 1909 verse by Robert Grant, ’73, LL.B. 1879, explains this neatly:
The able-bodied C man! He sails swimmingly along.
His philosophy is rosy as a skylark’s matin song.
The light of his ambition is respectably to pass,
And to hold a firm position in the middle of his class.
Should you try too hard, you became the stuff of parody, as the “The Grind’s Song” from the 1902 Hasty Pudding Show HI.KA.YA reveals:
I’m a typical College grind,
I look it, you’ll admit, you’ll admit, you’ll admit
You’ve heard it’s a grind to be a grind
Not a bit, not a bit, not a bit! Just the opposite!
Don’t let my words belie my looks
My happiness is in my books
I love to work, I hate to play
For me life’s simply the other way
Don’t enlist your sympathy, I’m as happy as can be,
For to read my Latin Grammar is life in Arcadie!
To document how much things have changed, I thought you might be interested in seeing the study cards of FDR and Lathrop, president and congressman of the United States, respectively. We’ve recently received copies from the Archives, and will reproduce them for viewing in the Suite. The upper right hand corner reveals their entrance examination results, and year by year grades proceed from left to right across the bottom.
Click on each to view them full scale.