Campus & Community

The long Crimson line

3 min read

University archives depict Harvard military history

For almost 250 years, the U.S. military and Harvard University have shared a deeply interwoven history. From the thousands of students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have served in uniform to others who have shaped American diplomacy or scientific research, members of the Harvard community have long dedicated themselves in service to the nation’s military.

Members of the Harvard community also served in militias and local military units during the almost 150 years before the nation’s founding.

A Harvard University Archives exhibition currently on display at Pusey Library demonstrates the scope of this relationship. The exhibit, called “To Better Serve Thy Country: Four Centuries of Harvard and the Military,” includes correspondence from military leaders, uniforms and personal collections of soldiers, and presentations on nuclear research and other archival materials.

Beginning with the founding of the University and the nation in the colonial period and concluding in the 21st century, the items presented in this exhibit illustrate the evolving ties between Harvard and the military in several key periods.

The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A sign welcoming visitors to the exhibit at Pusey Library shows a group of cadets from the first graduating class of the Naval Training School at Harvard in 1942.
Emily Atkins, a survey archivist at Harvard, looks over some of the memorabilia on display at Pusey Library.
A U.S. Army dress cap from the collection of Lieutenant Colonel Norman T. Newton, a Harvard landscape architecture professor. Newton spent three years traveling through Italy as part of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (“The Monuments Men”) that worked to survey, protect, and recover cultural artifacts in areas affected by World War II.
Photographs and letters from Harvard students, alumni, and administrators are arrayed in front of an 1888 photograph of Memorial Hall. Among the items on display are photographs of cannons and ammunition held at the Cambridge Arsenal, which Harvard students rushed to protect when the Civil War began.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke to 6,000 uniformed soldiers from the steps of Memorial Church on Sept. 6, 1943, the same day on which he received an honorary degree from Harvard. “I earnestly trust that, when you find yourself alongside our sailors and soldiers in 1943 or 1944, you will feel that we are your working brothers in arms,” he told the crowd.
Blackboards and posters announced Memorial Church services to celebrate the end of World War II.
During World War II, under the leadership of President James B. Conant, Harvard served as a military training institution and a critical government-sponsored research facility. Key projects undertaken by Harvard faculty included the development of radar countermeasures and the improvement of protective gear for pilots.
A letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Harvard President James B. Conant dated Feb. 7, 1944. Roosevelt wrote to express his pleasure that British Prime Minister Winton Churchill had been award an honorary degree from Harvard in 1943.
Soldiers and civilians socialize in the Hasty Pudding clubhouse at 12 Holyoke St., circa 1944-1945. The club had been opened to officers stationed at Harvard and to their wives.
In the entrance to Pusey Library, across from Widener Library, the American flag and steeple of Memorial Church are shown in “Harvard Goes to War,” a 1942 film that documents Harvard’s contributions to the war effort during World War II.