Term of office: 1853-1860

In James Walker (1794-1874), Harvard gained a president whose great words fell short of commensurate deeds. “President Walker’s inaugural address was one of the most solid, sensible, and prophetic orations ever delivered on such an occasion,” notes Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison. “Unfortunately, Dr. Walker was one of those wise persons, not uncommon in academic circles, who cannot get things done. He was too tired or indifferent to advance his own theories effectively.”

Even so, Harvard continued to grow in important new directions. In 1858, two-story Boylston Hall rose to serve the physical sciences (the third story was added in 1871), and the first Appleton Chapel (demolished in 1931) was completed. In the same year, Harvard received $50,000 from Francis Calley Gray that established a Museum of Comparative Zoology. In 1859, Abbott Lawrence made his second $50,000 donation to the Lawrence Scientific School. The same year found Harvard’s new Gymnasium (on the site of today’s Cambridge Fire Department Headquarters) under the supervision of professional boxing teacher A. Molyneaux Hewlett, the first black person to serve on the Harvard staff, who remained until his death in 1871.

Perusing the 1856-57 catalog, students would find Harvard’s first music course (“Vocal Music”). March 1857 brought less harmonious tidings, when the faculty approved the introduction of written final examinations and, of course, bluebooks. With firm faith in old-school classroom recitations as the true measure of mastery, Greek Professor Evangelinus Apostolides Sophocles was soon burning bluebooks he had never read.

Troubled by arthritis, Walker submitted his resignation on Oct. 29, 1859, but remained in office until Jan. 26, 1860, a few weeks before the election of his successor.