Term of office: 1725-1737
After the death of John Leverett, the Harvard Corporation offered the presidency to two ministers who declined the invitation. Finally, in June 1725, the Corporation elected Benjamin Wadsworth (1670-1737), one of their own number, who took the job more dutifully than joyfully.
With £1,000 from the Massachusetts Great and General Court, the College soon built a new President’s House on the southern end of the Yard. Wadsworth began living there in November 1726, before the structure was completed in the following year. Today, Wadsworth House, which served as Harvard’s executive residence until the end of the Everett administration in 1849, is Harvard's second-oldest building.
Under Wadsworth, the Harvard Governing Boards produced a new set of College laws in 1734 (the first major revision since 1692), and the curriculum was improved. Student behavior, however, did not follow suit. “Wadsworth was no disciplinarian, and the young men resented a puritan restraint that was fast becoming obsolete. The faculty records, which begin with Wadsworth’s administration, are full of ‘drinking frolicks,’ poultry-stealing, profane cursing and swearing, card-playing, live snakes in tutors’ chambers, bringing ‘Rhum’ into college rooms, and ‘shamefull and scandalous Routs and Noises for sundry nights in the College Yard.’“ (Samuel Eliot Morison)
In 1727, London merchant Thomas Hollis established the Hollis Professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, Harvard's second named chair. Six years earlier, Hollis had given the College its first endowed position (in divinity).
Kindly and intelligent, Wadsworth was “faithful, devoted, and methodical,” Morison reports. “He combed the records for evidence of college property, and did his best to recover lands alienated through the neglect of college officers or the enterprise of squatters.” He died in office on March 27, 1737 (= March 16, 1736, in the Julian calendar then used by English colonists).