Campus & Community

For those with a head for history

4 min read

Stylish feature of University’s holdings: Hats galore

Hats, hats, hats. How do we love thee?

Certainly, for one, we love headgear — and have for millennia — by their cornucopia of names. We appreciate the aesthetics, protection, and ritual of the ball cap, beanie, bearskin, beaver, beret, boater, bonnet, and busby. We love the caubeen, cloche, cocked hat, coonskin, fedora, fez, gat, helmet, Homburg, kufi, and kepi.

We esteem the mortarboard, Panama, pillbox, plug, plush, and porkpie. We glory in the shako, skimmer, slouch, snood, Stetson, stovepipe, and top hat. We are mindful of the toque, trilby, tricorne, turban, and the wimple.

And our euphonious names for hat parts roll off the tongue: crown, peak, plume, visor, brim, sweatband and hatband, bond, bow, liner, crease, roll, front dip, and vamp.

For a sense of Harvard’s history of hats, begin with the cover that went on once and will never come off: the scholar’s skullcap that tops the John Harvard Statue. (Look closely.) Or visit any number of Harvard repositories, where neat boxes of collected hats rest on shelves.

At the Harvard University Archives, there are freshman beanies from a century ago, reunion hats with loopy script like the iced writing on wedding cakes, and a 1911 crew hat that looks as fresh as when it came off the shelf at James W. Brine Co., a Harvard Square outfitter of that era. At Schlesinger Library, many artifacts are kept in boxes stored in the old basement swimming pool. Archived head covers include Florynce Kennedy’s suede cowboy hat; demure nurses’ caps from the 1930s, folded like origami; and Army nurse garrison head gear from World War II.

T.S. Eliot’s John B. Stetson “genuine Panama” is logged at Houghton Library as MS Am 2820. It appears unworn and the Coop price tag, $5, still dangles from the liner. In other boxes there are Gilbert & Sullivan costume hats, a woman’s boater, a clutch of powdered wigs, a feathered and florid Three Penny Opera bonnet that looks like a slain game bird, a paste-gem tiara from 1891, and a Joan of Arc helmet from 1924, complete with visor and neckpiece of mail. Said associate librarian Susan C. Pyzynski, “I don’t know where the sword is.”

A straw Panama hat bought at the Harvard Coop by T.S. Eliot. The $5 price tag is still affixed. (Houghton Library)
A freshman beanie donated by John Hall Howe, Class of 1903, grandson of Julia Ward Howe. (Harvard University Archives)
A dark brown suede cowboy hat, signature headgear of lawyer, feminist, and civil rights activist Florynce Kennedy, 1916-2000. (Schlesinger Library)
A camouflage ball cap with 15 pins, worn by American mathematician Alice Turner Schafer when she climbed the Great Wall of China in the 1990s. (Schlesinger Library)
A class of 1950 reunion hat, 1960. (Harvard University Archives)
A hat worn by actress and dancer Katharine Sergava Sznycer in an undated production of “The Threepenny Opera.” A 1971 gift to the Harvard Theatre Collection. (Houghton Library)
A nurse’s cap with pins and buttons, circa 1930, from the collection of nursing theorist Hildegard E. Peplau. (Schlesinger Library)
A red crew hat owned by Henry Forster, Class of 1911. (Harvard University Archives)
American Legion Auxiliary Girls State Hat, from the collection of American activist Charlotte Bunch. (Schlesinger Library)
National Women’s Conference hat, 1977, from the collection of Charlotte Bunch. (Schlesinger Library)
A junior varsity crew hat, 1942. (Harvard University Archives)
A beribboned woman’s boater from the Harvard Theatre Collection’s W.S. (William Schwenck) Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan realia, 1879-2001. (Houghton Library)
A paste-jewelry tiara worn by famed nineteenth-century actress Leonora Bradley in an 1891 production of “Jeanne d’Arc,” Harvard Theatre Collection. (Houghton Library)
Matching homemade Class of 1915 reunion beanies, a gift from Emanuel Benjamin Friedberg, Class of 1915, (and MD 1920). The letters are rendered in adhesive tape. (Harvard University Archives)
A Harvard Theatre Collection helmet used by the actress Julia Arthur in a 1924 production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan.” The touring role, over two seasons (1924-1926), was her last, after a career that began in 1879. (Houghton Library)
A World War II Army Nurse Corps garrison cap, circa 1944, from the Hildegard E. Peplau collection. She served in the war. (Schlesinger Library)
A tan suede cowboy hat worn by Florynce Kennedy. (Schlesinger Library)
A World War II Army Nurse Corps garrison cap, circa 1944, from the Hildegard E. Peplau collection. (Schlesinger Library)
Girl Scout hat from the collection of Charlotte Bunch. (Schlesinger Library).