1636 was a great year to be alive. People gave their kids fun names like Prudence and Chastity. No one had to bother with Daylight Savings Time. Colonists were content to live in harmony on the East Coast, not yet haunted by a bucket-list desire to see the Grand Canyon. Besides the widespread pestilence and despair, things were going pretty well.
But John Harvard, a minister from Cambridge, Massachusetts, was not so happy with colonial life. Dismayed by the youths he met in his ministerial work, Harvard worried for the future of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. “These young men are kind, simple and God-fearing,” he wrote. “How will they learn to become assholes?”
Harvard decided to found a university, one that would educate future generations in disciplines like Attending College and Telling People Which College You Attend. However, after a cursory visit to Ye Olde College Confidential, Harvard discovered that the university of his dreams already existed: A School Near Boston, a Cambridge divinity school famous for its vague and condescending name.
Eager to make a difference, Harvard donated his entire fortune to the university. He also donated his personal library — 87 Bibles, plus one of those word-search placemats from Applebee’s.
In honor of his generosity, the school would be renamed Harvard College. “We wanted to thank him with a gift from the Hallmark Store or, like, an Edible Arrangement,” wrote A School Near Boston president Francis Smith. “But then you have to send someone to the market, and that could be a whole big thing. This seemed easier.”
Campus beautification ranked first among John Harvard’s priorities. Describing his architectural ethos as “lots of red rectangles,” Harvard designed the new campus in about ten minutes. For six days Harvard labored, laying bricks until his wrists were sprained and weak. And on the seventh day John Harvard rested, for he had an interview with Goldman on the eighth.
In an early interview with The Early Crimson, Harvard described his vision for the University. “Finally, a place where white, Christian, land-owning men can flourish,” he said. “If they’re on the list, that is. Also, no freshman boys.”
But Harvard was also surprisingly progressive for his time. “We look forward to admitting women in the 1970s,” he continued. “We want to wait for the only historical period with worse pants than the ones we wear now.”
In the years that followed, Harvard College grew in size and clout. On-campus culture expanded with the creation of various social and academic clubs. James Dorner, class of 1639, wrote one of the oldest known diaries documenting Greek life. “I have decided to rush a fraternitee, that I might growe closer to God and bro,” he wrote in the fall of his sophomore year. “Verily, I be so shwasted right now.”
But for all its salmon-shorted whimsy, Harvard was an incomplete institution. Alone like a yin without a yang, like the YDN without WKND, Harvard College staggered through the rest of the seventeenth century. Adrift. Aimless. Despicable.
Then everything changed. The year was 1701 — the dawn of a fresh new century filled with horrifying sickness and no penicillin. America was ready for a new university. A university with the size of a small liberal arts college and the resources of a world-class research institution. A university with a more flattering school color. A university better than Harvard in every way.
Eli Yale made it happen. The donation of his own, far superior personal library (two Applebee’s word-search placemats) to a New Haven college changed the course of human history. The school was renamed Yale in his honor. Harvard students, paralyzed by their school’s competitive social atmosphere, grew jealous of Yalies’ fun parties and sexy, rebellious Gothic architecture. Thus the greatest rivalry in history was born.
And then a lot of other things happened, and now maybe we might win The Game.