Skip to main content
By the time Leonard Hoar (ca. 1630-1675) became president in 1672, Harvard had lasted long enough to produce homegrown leadership. Not until the 1971 arrival of Derek Bok, who holds a Harvard law degree, would there be a Harvard chief executive who, like the first two presidents, had not been educated at the College.
Hoar took office with every hope of transforming Harvard into a major research institution, complete with chemical laboratories, a botanical garden and an agricultural-research station, and a mechanical workshop - all outlined in a letter of December 1672 to Robert Boyle, the eminent British chemist and physicist. But so grand an enterprise was not to flower in full until the 19th century.
The detailed reasons for Hoar’s brief presidency have remained obscure: historian Samuel Eliot Morison notes that while everyone on the local scene talked about Hoar, little definitive evidence got committed to paper. It seems clear, however, that both his personality and actions proved unacceptable to too many. Students mocked his words and deeds, and tutors resigned in disgust. At one point, Hoar’s heavy-handed discipline resulted in the flogging of a student by a jailer who was later removed for cruelty.
Twice (in October 1673 and October 1674), Hoar’s case came before the Great and General Court, with the threat of dismissal hanging in the balance. By the winter of 1674-75, conditions had degenerated to the point that the entire student body walked out. In March 1675, Hoar resigned. Utterly broken in spirit, he died shortly afterwards. More than three centuries later in 1976, at the request of a portrait painter touched by Hoar’s plight, the Massachusetts Senate approved a resolution clearing Hoar of misconduct.
Hoar left behind one quiet but greatly influential innovation: a series of triennial (three-year) catalogs of Harvard graduates listed by their respective Classes. When the first installment of 200 graduates appeared in 1674, it was probably the first list of college or university alumni published anywhere, according to Morison. After 1875, the compendium appeared at five-year intervals. The last “Quinquennial Catalogue” (which also includes all Harvard officers to date) appeared in 1930 and remains a prime reference on the 65,584 individuals who had thus far received Harvard degrees.
President of Harvard University 1672-1675