Campus & Community

Portrait of former Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett is unveiled

4 min read

The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations has unveiled a seventh portrait in its Minority Portraiture Project.

The latest honoree in oils is L. Fred Jewett ’57, M.B.A. ’60, a fixture in Harvard administrative affairs since 1958, whose last role before retirement was as dean of Harvard College (1985 to 1995).

About 100 well-wishers were on hand for the Dec. 19 unveiling ceremony in the Cronkhite Building at 86 Brattle St., the new location of Harvard’s Office of Admissions. Afterward, standing a few feet from his circa-1970 likeness in the conference room, Jewett gave his portrait the ultimate compliment. “I recognize myself,” he said.

“This is a special day for us,” said S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation and coordinator of the portraiture project. He praised Jewett for his role in encouraging minority admissions at the college. “No one has done more of that than the person whose portrait is represented here today,” said Counter.

Owais Siddiqui ’07 provided a tribute to Jewett, who among his many college roles was dean of admissions and financial aid from 1972 to 1984. “Under his leadership, the admissions office made diversity a priority,” said the Kirkland House senior.

Later, as dean of the College, “Jewett challenged the institution to change,” said Siddiqui. In 1996, Jewett introduced randomization to House assignments, arguing that it would prevent continuing informal divisions along racial and ethnic lines.

In 1958, he was one of the College’s original freshman advisers, a role he kept for 40 years. Jewett also served as a proctor in the Yard (1958-1977), as assistant dean of freshman (1962-1964), and as director of freshman scholarships (1967-1972).

Jewett is the first nonminority to be honored by the Minority Portraiture Project, which was established in 2002 to predominantly honor scholars and administrators of color who have served Harvard with distinction.

Before the project, the Harvard portrait collection (more than 1,200 pieces) included only three representations of African Americans – two oils and a marble bust. The oldest was from 1987, a portrait for Memorial Church of the Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church.

In 2002, a student survey looked at 302 honorific portraits most likely to be seen by students in University offices, lobbies, Houses, and libraries. Only three depicted persons of color.

The survey led to a $100,000 gift that year from then-President Lawrence H. Summers to establish the portraiture project as a corrective measure. Seven are done, and two are hung, including the Jewett portrait. Another five Minority Portraiture works are in progress. In the end, the $100,000 fund will yield “20 or 25” portraits, said Counter.

William Fitzsimmons, dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, praised Jewett for being the forerunner of the present inclusive admissions policies, and said the portrait would “ride herd” over the office. In making big decisions, said Fitzsimmons, “We think about what Fred would think.”

Small glasses of champagne were passed out, and Fitzsimmons offered Jewett a toast: “To the one true dean.”

The Jewett picture was painted by Stephen Coit ’71, M.B.A. ’77, who has painted all the project portraits so far. The Lowell House alumnus, now living again in Cambridge, is a onetime high-tech venture capitalist. In 1996, he turned to painting full time.

Coit called the Jewett portrait a composite work, done from life sketches and archived photographs. “Doing a portrait is about making choices,” he said. That included choosing not to show Jewett as he was as a young man, with a bristling brush cut. “He could have looked a little like H.R. Haldeman,” said Coit.

The one other portrait so far unveiled and on display is of former dean of students Archie C. Epps III, who died in 2003. It hangs on the first floor of University Hall.

Other finished pictures in the Minority Portraiture Project have been unveiled but not placed. They depict Harvard College admissions officer David L. Evans, a veteran of Harvard administration since 1970; Rulan Pian, a former professor of East Asian languages and civilizations and professor of music; Kiyo Morimoto, the onetime director of Harvard’s Bureau of Study Counsel, who died in 2004; Eileen Jackson Southern, who died in 2002, an authority on Renaissance and African-American music and the first black female professor to be given tenure at Harvard; and Stanley J. Tambiah, the Esther and Sidney Rabb Research Professor of Anthropology, who retired from active teaching in 2001.

Other portraits, commissioned and in progress, will be of Harold Amos, Ewart Guinier, Nathan Huggins, Martin Kilson, and John Monro.