March 9, 1857 – The faculty adopts the recommendation of a joint faculty/Overseers committee that annual examinations of each Class in each subject before an Overseers Visiting Committee be in writing instead of by recitation. Papers are to be set and marked by instructors, with Overseers essentially functioning as proctors. Thus begins Harvards modern ritual of blue books and final exams.
Burning his blue books unread, Greek Professor Evangelinus Apostolides Sophocles later refuses on principle to downgrade the student who has done well in daily recitations but poorly in the written final. And if a student should show significant improvement on the written, chalk it up to cheating, he says.
In the late 1920s, Professor Herbert Weir Smith describes this colorful character, born in the shadow of Mt. Olympus, as a “self-exiled Greek [who] lived in his ascetic cell in Holworthy as if he were a monk on Mt. Sinai or in Cairo. [. . .] Many are the tales of his capricious disregard of academic regulations. To a proctor, reporting that a student had cheated at examination, he made answer, ‘It make no matter. I nevare look at his book anyway.’ [. . .] X and Y were among the candidates for admission [to the College] examined in a group, and viva voce, as was the custom then. The next day X asked his grade. ‘Passed,’ said Old Sophy. ‘And Y?’ said X, though certain that his friend had failed. ‘Passed,’ was the reply: ‘It is unfair to discriminate. You all do know nothing.’ ”
March 18, 1858 – In a room over a grocery store at the corner of Holyoke and Harvard streets, five students from the Class of 1858 and five other College friends form the Harvard Glee Club. (For several months beforehand, the first five had met to sing indoors and serenade around Cambridge and Boston.) Although informal singing groups had sprung up at Harvard since the early 19th century, the Glee Club is considered the College’s first formally organized vocal ensemble.
– From the Harvard Historical Calendar, a database compiled by Marvin Hightower