Skip to main content
In April 1675, a few weeks after Leonard Hoar’s resignation in March, Urian Oakes (ca. 1631-1681) agreed to take the position of president pro tempore. This acting presidency persisted for five years. With no better candidate having come forward, the Harvard Governing Boards finally gave Oakes the full title in February 1680. In early June, Oakes overcame his reluctance and accepted the new role. The delay proved ill timed: Oakes died in office on Aug. 4, 1681 (= July 25 in the Julian calendar then used by English colonists). Many feared that the institution had little chance of surviving much longer.
Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison describes Oakes as “a little bit of a man, cram-full of learning, intolerance, and choler. No mean poet in English, and a writer of vigorous prose, he has left on record a series of lengthy Latin Commencement orations that are models of academic punning and classical wit.” Indeed, Cotton Mather hailed Oakes as the greatest "Master of the true, pure, Ciceronian Latin and Language" in the land.
The Oakes years saw the completion of Old Harvard Hall in 1677 as a replacement for “Old College” (Harvard’s short-lived first new building at the southern end of the Yard; fire destroyed Old Harvard in 1764).