Around New England

Harvard Undergraduate House Purges Portrait of Namesake

March 26, 2019

An undergraduate dormitory at Harvard College will not display a portrait of the man it’s mostly named for when it re-opens in the fall of 2019.

The portrait of Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856-1943) and his wife Anna has hung for years in the dining hall of Lowell House, one of 12 undergraduate houses at Harvard College where sophomores, juniors, and seniors live.

Lowell served as president of Harvard University from 1909-1933, during which time he established the majoring system that almost all colleges and universities in America use today. Harvard’s physical plant and endowment grew immensely during his tenure. Lowell established the house system at Harvard College, which brings together a cross-section of upperclassmen to live together during their last three years in the college. He was also a major benefactor to the school.

Lowell as president also tried to limit Jews to 15 percent of each incoming class, instigated a secret court that purged homosexuals from the student body and faculty in 1920, and unsuccessfully sought to keep black students from living in Harvard Yard.

Those activities are what got him banned from the Lowell House dining hall.

“We should not ignore or hide our history. We need to keep talking about Abbott Lawrence Lowell with each new cohort of Lowell residents (discussing both the good and the bad that he contributed) whether or not he is hanging over us while we’re eating Cheerios,” said the house masters, David Laibson and Nina Zipser, in an email message to students and other affiliates of the house, according to The Harvard Crimson.

Lowell House, built in 1930, is one of the most prominent buildings on the Harvard campus, known especially for its high bell tower with a blue dome beneath a white spire.

The house is technically named for the Lowell family, which contributed several prominent graduates of Harvard College. But it’s most readily associated with Abbott Lawrence Lowell, whose initials “ALL” are inscribed in the building’s main gate.

Lowell House has been undergoing a major two-year renovation, and is not currently open. It is scheduled to re-open for the fall semester later this year.

Abbott Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia. This isn’t the portrait that is being purged from Lowell House.

Lowell House at Harvard College. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.