J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rules for Harvard Freshmen, 1741

Adams entered Harvard at fifteen,” says John Patrick Diggins’s short biography, John Adams. That sounds mighty impressive from our perspective, when a typical college freshman is eighteen. But fifteen was slightly on the late side in the mid-1700s. With the benefit of a Boston education, John Hancock started college at thirteen, and there was an even younger student in his incoming class.

In the 1700s, ordinary schooling for Boston boys ran from about age seven to age thirteen or fourteen, if they lasted through the whole course. Therefore, the few boys who went on to college were still truly boys, only in their early teens. Usually they graduated college at eighteen, still years away from their legal majority.

The fact that college students were the age of high-school students now, and away from their families in an nearly all-male environment, helps to explain such traditions as these rules for Harvard’s incoming class in 1741.

1. No Freshman shall wear his hat in the College yard, except it rains, hails, or snows, he be on horseback, or hath both hands full.

2. No Freshman shall pass by his Senior, without pulling his hat off.

3. No Freshman shall be saucy to his Senior, or speak to him with his hat on.

4. No Freshman shall laugh in his Senior’s face.

5. No Freshman shall ask his Senior any impertinent question.

6, No Freshman shall intrude into his Senior’s company.

7. Freshmen are to take notice that a Senior Sophister can take a Freshman from a Sophimore, a Master from a Senior Sophister, and a Fellow from a Master.

8. When a Freshman is sent of an errand, he shall not loiter by the way, but shall make haste, and give a direct answer if asked who he is going for.

9. No Freshman shall tell who he is a going for (unless asked), or what he is a going for, unless asked by a Fellow.

10. No Freshman, when he is going of errands, shall go away, except he be dismissed, which is known by saying, “It is well,” “You may go,” “I thank you,” or the like.

11. Freshman are to find the rest of the scholars with bats, balls, and footballs.

12. Freshmen shall pay three shillings to the Butler to have their names set up in the Buttery.

13. No Freshman shall wear his hat in his Senior’s chambers, nor in his own if his Senior be there.

14. When anybody knocks at a Freshman’s door, he shall not ask who is there, but immediately open the door.

15. When a Freshman knocks at his Senior’s door, he shall tell his name immediately.

16. No Freshman shall call his classmate by the name of Freshman.

17. No Freshman shall call up or down, to or from his Senior’s chamber or his own.

18. No Freshman shall call or throw anything across the College yard, nor go into the Fellows’ Cuz-John.

19. No Freshman shall mingo against the College walls.

20. Freshmen are to carry themselves, in all respects, as to be in no wise saucy to their Seniors.

21. Whatsoever Freshman shall break any of these customs, he shall be severely punished.
“Cuz-John,” short for “Cousin John,” was a euphemism for the privy. According to the wonderful World Wide Words website, a set of rules for Harvard boys written down by a member of the class of 1738 is the earliest recorded use of the word “john” in this particular context. And “mingo”? That’s what boys can do while standing up in a cuz-john.

Prof. Diggins has been participating with Steven Waldman, Alan Taylor, and screenwriter-producer Kirk Ellis in a lengthy discussion of the H.B.O. miniseries John Adams on The New Republic’s website.


Marissa said...

Wow! Who made up all these rules? Was it Harvard College itself?

J. L. Bell said...

To me, these rules smell of something the upperclassmen would impose on the freshmen, who in a couple more years would impose them on a new batch of freshmen.

Harvard had a busy official disciplinary system, but its administrators seems to have been more concerned with breaking windows, getting drunk, and/or assaulting the tutors.

One of the big official punishments of this time was to be reduced in class rank, which was still determined by parental social standing rather than grades.

Anonymous said...

I graduated the S.Salem Military High School in Cairo, Egypt 1983. I see a lot of resemblance between these rules and the rules of my Military high. BTW, it was a public school, run by the Egyptian Armed Forces, thus there were no acknowledgment's for "rich" kids. My school goes back in history a few hundreds of years. It was one of a chain of training camp for the Mamlouks for centuries. Some of these rules are carved on granite stones blocks in classic Arabic, that have unknown dates of posting. As the Mamlouks were the "boy soldiers" of Egypt, and they traveled to far away places, like Fas in the Moorish lands, and mixed with merchants from other cultures, I won't be surprised that the human factor played its role and their education system got adopted by someone in Plymouth or New Haven of the British Isles during their spice and silk trade with the Moors, which later was carried to the New World. Don't get me wrong; I'm am NOT taking credit away from Harvard in any shape or form. I'm just amazed at how similar the rules are to my Military High in Egypt, so similar even the choice of words and constant usage of 'hat'. I might be dead wrong though.