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The Harvard Class of 1906

I recently had to turn in my 20th reunion writeup for my upcoming Harvard Reunion, and that spurred me to pick up and go through the 25th reunion book of the class of 1906, one of a few Harvard redbooks I have in the house.  I’ve just looked at letters G-K so far.

  • William Eugene Hartwell writes “Nineteen hundred and thirty is not the year in which to ask a business man to write, in light mood, the history of twenty-five years.”  But this is the only person I found who referred, even obliquely, to the stock market crash.  How can it be?  It turns out that it wasn’t really clear in 1930 that there was going to be a Great Depression.  The stock market had recouped a great deal of its losses — the real plunge of the market was still ahead.  As far as economic history goes, the class of 1906 was much more concerned about industrial relations, strikes, and riots than about an impending depression.
  • Robert Lee Hale:  “I have no “war record.”  This causes me neither shame nor pride.  I never was carried very far on the mob feeling which prevailed, and trust that in any future war I may be still more skeptical of official myths, and that many others will be so too.”  Hale, an economics professor at Columbia, goes on to express his belief that Sacco and Vanzetti’s guilt had not been proved, but speculates that his classmates won’t agree on this point.  “That is perhaps why, though I know Harvard has many virtues, I have lost all emotional love for it as an institution.”
  • Speaking of academics:  Arthur Holcombe was chair of the Harvard government department by 1930, the author of six books, and seems somewhat apologetic about the whole thing.  “I did not really succeed in leaving, but have been in Harvard, for better for worse, ever since…. I have generally been not far from the Yard, and, if I am permitted to have another twenty-five years, I hope to learn something about the art of life… I like my job, though it is not what I dreamed of doing twenty-five years ago, and I like my classmates’ sons.  They and their classmates are making a new Harvard, even more promising than the old.”
  • Robert Fellows Gowen reports bringing to Harvard “the first radio set seen in that institution,” in 1903.
  • Many modern-sounding sentiments, like this from Charles Francis Hovey:  “On account of the social changes in the last decade, the speed of modern life, the many demands on the time and purse of the individual, art and culture have been somewhat at a disadvantage.  In this scientific age of the machine, with everything so highly commercialized and the many temptations, there appears to be a greater need than ever before for the development of character.”
  • Few class members fought in the war (most of the class was already in its mid-30s when the US entered.)  Most play golf.  Lots of lawyers.  Lots of Masons.  It is very common for the alumni to assert the undistinguishedness of their lives and achievements.  Many mention the fascination of California and no small number have actually moved there.  One recounts a joke which must have been popular at the time:  “I shall, however, stop here and not act as did the gentleman at the funeral who, when the ceremonies were over, rose to his feet and said, “Now may I speak a few words about California.””
  • Clifford Millburn Holland was in the class of 1906.  Know who he was?  Does it help if I tell you he was the chief engineer on what, before his death, was to be known as the Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel?  Holland started working on the tunnel in 1919, and in 1924 was admitted to the Battle Creek Sanitarium (the one run by the Kellogg brothers) with what sounds like a nervous breakdown.  On October 27, he died there, of a heart attack, just two days before the New York tunnelers broke through to meet the New Jerseyans.  How can there not have already been a historical novel based on this story?



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