John Hancock (AB 1754) is perhaps the most famous member of the Hancock family, noted for his oversized signature on the Declaration of Independence. In Harvard history, John Hancock is remembered both as a young student and for his ill-fated time as the university’s treasurer when he left Cambridge for the Continental Congress in 1775. Yet John Hancock was not always at odds with his alma mater. Ten years before, in 1765, he fulfilled the request of his uncle Thomas Hancock, a successful Boston merchant, who wanted to donate £500 sterling to help replenish the College’s library, which had been lost in a fire.
Even though he was never officially appointed president, Samuel Willard (AB 1659) led Harvard College for six years from 1701 until his death in 1707. He was also a minister at the Third Church in Boston (now Old South Church). Willard’s sermons explained how his congregation could apply Biblical teachings to their everyday lives.
John and Hannah Winthrop and their children are an example of an 18th-century family whose history is not only intertwined with the political and social history of Massachusetts but also with advances in education and research. John Winthrop (AB 1735), the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, was appointed a professor in 1738 and retained the position until his death in 1779. John and his wife Hannah were avid note-takers and diarists, maintaining personal almanacs. Both were fascinated by data and recorded natural occurrences, news of travels, and local information about births and deaths. In addition, all four of Winthrop’s children attended Harvard and two of them continued their involvement with the University; James Winthrop (AB 1769) was the College Librarian from 1772-1787 and William (AB 1770) was apprenticed to Harvard treasurer John Hancock.
The political culture of the United States in the 1790s, the first decade of American self-government, was often divisive and vitriolic. Disagreements led to the creation of two political parties: the Federalists, who supported a strong federal government, a loose interpretation of the Constitution, and were pro-British and anti-French, and the Democratic-Republicans, who argued the opposite point of view. The press was an integral part of this political discussion, with many newspaper editors choosing to align with a particular party. One such newspaper editor was Joseph Dennie. After graduating from Harvard in 1790, Dennie began to edit the Farmer’s Weekly Museum, turning it into a pro-Federalist organ, “much admired by the faithful in Congress.”
Harvard in the 17th and 18th centuries was a predominately male space. Women, however, were present on Harvard’s campus as sweepers and members of the kitchen staff, often alongside men. Information about employment of women as wage laborers in the 18th century adds another dimension to our understanding of women’s role in the larger economy. Typical narratives of women’s labor focus on their work in the home, producing goods that sometimes went to external markets, but often did not. The women who worked at Harvard performed the same duties as domestic servants, but were paid by a large institution. They are alternatively referred to as “servants” and “employees” in the records, which illustrates how malleable categories of female labor were in the late eighteenth century.