The Statue of John Harvard was sculpted between 1883 and 1884 by a Harvard graduate, Daniel Chester French. The statue is true to its nickname of the “Statue of Three Lies”.
John Harvard lived between 1607-1638, dying at the young age of 30. Originally an English minister, he traveled to the New World in 1637 to be a preacher in Charleston. Unfortunately, disease ran rampant in the colonies and John Harvard died of tuberculosis in the fall of 1938, just a few months after his arrival. Although he never attended Harvard, he donated half of his estate and his library of 400 books to the then unnamed college at his death, the other half of his estate remaining with his widow. In honor of the great donation, the school was named after him, Harvard College. Almost two centuries later, the statue was commissioned to honor the benefactor.
The lies surrounding the statue are rampant. The biggest misconception is that the statue is of John Harvard. Wrong! In fact, there are no documents or pictures or descriptions of John Harvard. No one knows what he looks like! Without knowing his subject, French modeled the statue after Sherman Hoar of Concord, a descendant of puritans like John Harvard himself. French also did not know what Harvard wore. He consulted “Felts Customs of New England” to see what a 17th century clergyman would wear.
The other two “lies” of the statue have to do with its inscription. It states “John Harvard, Founder, 1638”. In reality, John Harvard was not the founder of Harvard University, just the main, and original, benefactor. He never even visited the school! Also, Harvard was not founded in 1638 like the statute suggests. It was founded two years earlier in 1636 by a vote by the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
For current students, it is good luck to rub John Harvard’s toe, making one foot shinier than the other. Although, we wouldn’t recommend it. Take a tour with to find out why!
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