Rare Early Letter by the President of Harvard about a Bequest

Signed by Charles William Eliot

Item: 20846
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ELIOT, CHARLES WILLIAM. (1834-1926). President of Harvard 1869-1909, the youngest president in its history who led it to become the premier university in the United States. ALS. (“Charles W. Eliot”). 2pp. 4to. Harvard University, October 7, 1876. To Elisha Bassett.

The President and Fellows of Harvard College have received with gratitude the bequest of five thousand dollars made to them by the late Francis Bassett for the establishment of three scholarships in the College. They recall Mr. Bassett’s lifelong interest in the affairs of the college, and they are glad that his name should be enrolled among its benefactors. The conditions annexed to the bequest are judicious and convenient of execution, and the President and Fellows can have no difficulty in giving effect through long generations to Mr. Bassett’s wise and beneficial design.

Begging you to accept the thanks of the President and Fellows for the courtesy and promptness with which you have discharged your duty as executor, I remain Very truly yours…”

Charles W. Eliot

The member of a prominent Boston family, Eliot was educated at Boston Latin School and Harvard, graduating in 1853. He became a mathematics tutor at Harvard the following year, and, although he held promise as a scientist and academic, it was as an administrator that Eliot found his true calling. After spending two years studying the academic institutions of Europe, he took a professorship in analytical chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the time of his return, American higher education was experiencing a crisis. Long controlled by the church and offering only classics, Harvard and other, similar, institutions were becoming less attractive to industrial leaders who wanted a more practical education for their children.

In 1869, The Atlantic Monthly published an extensive article entitled “The New Education,” in which Eliot, influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Unitarianism, laid out his ideas on how to reform American higher education. Subsequent to his essay, Eliot was appointed president of Harvard, and under his stewardship, it became not just the country’s leading educational institution but a model for the reformation of all American educational institutions. During Eliot’s tenure, Harvard attracted a new wave of financial donors to become the wealthiest university in the world. The international prominence of the university as well as Eliot’s championing of other progressive causes also made him one of the most famous figures of his day.

A Massachusetts native, Francis Bassett attended Harvard University (graduating in 1810) before embarking on a legal career. “In 1830 he was appointed Clerk of the United States Circuit Court for the second Circuit, and of the United States District Court of Massachusetts, under Judges Story and Sprague. In 1845, having acquired a competence, he resigned and went to Europe. Since that time he has been a man of elegant leisure, fond of books, interested in history and genealogy,” (from his obituary in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 30, 1876). The three scholarships were offered annually to sophomore, junior and senior students.

Written on two separate sheets. Scattered foxing. Folded and in very good condition. Letters by Eliot from this early period are uncommon.

Rare Early Letter by the President of Harvard about a Bequest

Signed by Charles William Eliot

$250 • item #20846

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