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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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Hasty Claim about the Adamses

Recent news about the Hasty Pudding Club at Harvard College included the detail that it claimed Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams as alumni. And indeed it does, listing at the head of its list of notable past members:
John Adams, 1775
Attended First Continental Congress; Signed Declaration of Independence; First US Vice President, 1789; Second US President, 1796

John Quincy Adams, 1788
US Senator; Secretary of State under President James Monroe; Sixth US President, 1825-1829; US Representative
The two President Adamses’ portraits appear also prominently on the club’s overview page.

That seemed odd to me. The Harvard and Massachusetts rules against theatricals in the Adamses’ time weren’t the issue since the Hasty Pudding Club’s activities didn’t coalesce around theater until the mid-1800s.

Rather, it’s the question of dates. John Adams was at Harvard College from 1751 to 1755 and later earned an M.A. in 1758 while teaching school and studying the law. His son attended the college from 1784 to 1787 and received his M.A. in 1790. (M.A.’s were pretty informal back then.) So right away there’s a question of how those dates for the Adamses’ inductions match their careers at Harvard College.

And those dates match the society’s history. The Hasty Pudding Club was founded in 1795. So it couldn’t have inducted members, even honorary ones from the college alumni, twenty and seven years before.

As an undergraduate in the class of 1787, John Quincy Adams did join a speaking club that eventually became known as the Institute of 1770, after its founding date. That merged with the Hasty Pudding Club in 1925, so the combined organization can claim that President as an alumnus—if its history acknowledged that he was actually in the speaking club. But his father, John Adams, still doesn’t even appear on the rolls of the Institute.

I found a catalogue of Hasty Pudding members from 1867 which does indeed list John Adams and John Quincy Adams. However, those young men were both less distinguished grandsons of the Presidents with the same names:

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