Today in History

Today in History: September 14

Harvard

Harvard Statue
Statue of John Harvard,
Cambridge, Massachusetts, circa 1900.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920

On September 14, 1638, John Harvard, a 31-year-old clergyman from Charlestown, Massachusetts died, leaving his library and half of his estate to a local college. The young minister's bequest allowed the college to firmly establish itself. In honor of its first benefactor, the school adopted the name Harvard College.

Founded by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1636, Harvard (external link) is America's oldest institution of higher learning. From a college of nine students and one instructor, it has grown into a world-renowned university with over 18,000 degree candidates and 2,000 faculty members, including numerous Nobel laureates. Situated a few miles west of Boston on the Charles River in Cambridge, Harvard's main campus is one of the country's most scenic. With an endowment of $11 billion, the university is the country's wealthiest.

Seven U.S. presidents — John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush — were educated at Harvard, as were leaders in many fields. The school's notable alumni include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., T.S. Eliot, Ralph Bunche, David Rockefeller, I.M. Pei, Robert Coles, Patricia Schroeder, Al Gore, Jr., and Yo-Yo Ma.

Harvard Students March
Harvard Students March Two Step,
music by E.C. Ramsdell, 1898.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

Harvard based its original curriculum on the classics taught in European universities and on the Puritanism preached in the American colonies. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the college diversified, turning away from Puritanism towards intellectual independence. Under the leadership of president Charles W. Eliot, from 1869-1909, Harvard revitalized its law and medical schools and established schools of business, dental medicine, and arts and sciences, and transformed itself into a major modern university.

Also significant in Harvard's transformation was the 1879 opening of its "sister" school, Radcliffe College, which made Harvard's resources available to women. Today, Harvard continues its tradition of academic excellence as a coeducational university with an undergraduate college, nine graduate schools, and some 200 allied institutions including laboratories, libraries, and museums.

Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Harvard University,
Cambridge, Massachusetts,

1910.
Taking the Long View, 1851-1991

The Russian Molokan Church

The presviter [preacher], his assistants, and the best male singers sit on benches placed around a table covered with a white cloth. On this table, there is usually a Bible…Women sit separately on benches placed horizontally from the table to the door.

Ethel Dunn and Stephen P. Dunn,
"The Molokans in America,"
Dialectical Anthropology 3,
no. 4 (1978): 350.

Russian Molokan Psalm Leader
Russian Molokan Psalm Leader,
Potrero Hill, San Francisco, California,
September 14, 1938.
California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell

On Sunday, September 14, 1938, members of the Russian Molokan Church held religious services in their new church building on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, California. Folklorist Sidney Robertson Cowell recorded the distinctive preaching and singing that characterized the service. Molokan singing is derived from patterns of Gregorian chants that were sung in the Russian Orthodox Church during the sixteenth century when the Molokans emerged as an ethnically and religiously distinct group. The Russian Molokans, also called "milk drinkers," were Russian peasants who dissented from the Russian Orthodox Church beginning in the seventeenth century.

In the eighteenth century, the Molokans were identified with a larger peasant movement that protested the practices of Russia's tsarist government and the role that the Russian Orthodox Church played in that government. The Molokans and other members of the Christian Spiritualist movement questioned whether it was Christian to own property, exploit the labor of others, or treat women as inferior to men. After a series of pitched battles with the government, the Molokans were exiled to the frontier regions of the empire, first to the Ukraine, and later to the Russian Caucasus. Despite the difficulties that they encountered at what was then the far reaches of the Russian Empire, the Molokans prospered. By 1900, they were the largest sect of dissenters from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russian Molokan Congregation, Group Portrait
Russian Molokan Congregation,
Potrero Hill, San Francisco, California, September 14, 1938.
California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell

Committed to the importance of exhibiting inner change of heart in daily life and suspicious of the priesthood's authority, the Molokans are similar in these regards to early Protestants. Their high regard for music is linked to its power to transform and bring about change. In the United States, their distinctive singing, performed in Russian, became an important way for Molokan immigrants to preserve their Russian ethnic identity.

Between 1901 and 1911, some 3,500 Molokans emigrated from the Russian Caucasus to California in search of both greater religious and economic opportunity. The majority of these immigrants settled in and around Los Angeles. The founders of the San Francisco Molokan community arrived there in October 1906, just six months after the great earthquake had demolished much of the city. They were encouraged, along with many of those displaced by the earthquake, to settle on Potrero Hill.