Campus & Community

This month in Harvard history

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  • Nov. 6, 1770 – Rumblings of Revolution: Joseph Avery, Class of 1771, orates on “Oppression and Tyranny” before the Speaking Club.

  • November 1791 – A writer in the Boston press accuses Harvard of poisoning students’ minds with Edward Gibbon’s monumental History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88). President Joseph Willard replies that far from even considering Gibbon, the College uses a text by French historian Abbé Millot. Nathaniel Ames, who left Harvard around 1812, recalls Millot’s as “the most utterly worthless and contemptible work of that kind or any other extant.”

  • Nov. 23, 1849 – Dr. George Parkman disappears at the Medical School in one of the most famous murder cases in Harvard history. Earlier, Parkman has lent money to colleague Dr. John White Webster. To secure the loan, Webster gives Parkman a mortgage on his personal property, including a valuable collection of minerals. When Parkman learns that Webster has backed another loan with the same collection, he begins relentlessly pursuing Webster to collect the debt. A week after the disappearance, a suspicious janitor breaks through a brick vault below Webster’s lab and finds human body parts, which the authorities soon discover all around the lab. Found guilty of first-degree murder, Webster belatedly confesses and appeals for clemency, but is hanged on Aug. 30, 1850. Parkman’s widow leads a fund drive to support Webster’s wife and children.

    – From the Harvard Historical Calendar, a database compiled by Marvin Hightower