The 3 Lies of Harvard

John Harvard statue

The famous statue

The John Harvard statue is a mainstay of Harvard Yard. Every day, students rub his toe on their way to class, hoping that it will give them luck on their next hard exam. As tours pass through the Yard, people stop to get a picture with one of the best-known landmarks on campus.

But the statue is not all that it seems. It’s actually nicknamed the “statue of three lies” because of all the inaccuracies inscribed on it. Here we reveal the truth behind the statue.

1. That isn’t John Harvard.

Sherman Hoar

Sherman Hoar

Even though the name “John Harvard” is written in stone on the statue’s base, the likeness is not, actually, that of John Harvard. In fact, there are no living representations of John Harvard.

In 1884, Daniel Chester French created the famous statue, and Sherman Hoar sat as a model for the head of John Harvard. Hoar later went on to serve as a member of Congress and a US district attorney.

2. John Harvard wasn’t the founder of Harvard University.

What? Yes, that’s right. The engraving on the statue states “founder,” but this is also not true. Actually, Harvard didn’t even attend the College. He was the first major benefactor to the University. He donated half of his estate and his library, which consisted of over 400 books.

Harvard University was officially founded by a vote by the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

3. Harvard wasn’t founded in 1638.

Harvard inscription

Close, but no cigar. Harvard University was founded in 1636. This gives Harvard the honor of being the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. (The oldest university in the world is Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences in Khozettan, Iran, which was founded around 200 BC).

Harvard was originally called the New College. And its mission was to train clergy. Harvard received its official famous name on March 13, 1639, named for the renowned benefactor seated in “lies.”

Interested in Harvard history? Learn more about the story of the university and understand the meaning behind Harvard’s famous symbols.

The statue has most celebrities beat when it comes to the amount of photos taken with him every day. Post pictures of yourself posing with the man himself on our Facebook page.


Wesley replied:
"Harvard was originally called the New College. And its mission was to train clergy." That is not to say that Harvard was a divinity school, or some type of religious seminary. According to Harvard historian Samuel Morrison, to train clergy was the immediate goal, but to advance learning in the arts, literature, and sciences was the purpose of the college. The clergy had to go through a 3-year liberal arts program before it could move on to advanced studies in theology.
Bill replied:
Your distinction between the "immediate goal" and the "purpose" of the college is a curious one. No, the school was founded to train ministers, the fact that they taught more doesn't diminish the fact. If you are hoping to create some Enlightenment space between the school that exists and the one that was founded fine but remember Newton was born until 1643.
Lucille Younger replied:
Now that you've come clean, old venerable one, will you promise to be as magnanimous when considering my application for a graduate summer course next summer?
Ryan replied:
Becoming the connecting link in education in Colonial America, Harvard was founded to provide education to the men in cloth that were once plentiful in Europe from schools like Cambridge University. The best evidence of this being true was written in New England First Fruits that was published in London, it said: "After God had carried us safe to New England, and we had builded(sic) our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, rear’d(sic) convenient places for Gods worship, and settled the Civill(sic) Government: One of the next things we longed for, and looked after, was to advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity, dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the Dust." With fear of losing the ministers that were educated at the Universities in England, the legislature of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay passed an act providing funding for the college on September 8th, 1636.
Anonymous replied:
Was Harvard originally for men?
kate replied:

Yes, it was. Harvard graduate programs started admitting women in the 1940s, but women weren’t allowed in the undergraduate program until 1973.

lol master362442349292 -+Loleshwaram replied:
Really? I heard of the Statue in the movie, The Social Network. Do the students at Harvard learn about the three lies of the statue.
Anonymous replied:
If "there are no living representations of John Harvard", how do people know that this is NOT him?
A 13th generation Weld, b. June the tenth, 1953. replied:
Do you have any information about the land donated to Harvard by Joseph Weld, who emigrated here as an indentured servant in 1632 and paid off his indentureship in 1634. I am wondering if he was indentured as he was a Protestant Weld and not a Catholic Weld, as of England and Sudbury. Thank you. Alison Weld

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