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Statue of John Harvard

John Harvard statue at Harvard University

“John Harvard” by Daniel Chester French

“John Harvard” by Daniel Chester French is a sculpture in bronze honoring clergyman John Harvard (1607–1638), who made a deathbed bequest to the “College,” which had just been undertaken by the Massachu­setts Bay Colony.

John Harvard’s gift to the school was £780 and‍ ‌his 400-volume scholar’s library. As an act of gratitude and as an example for future endowments, the College was named Harvard College.

There was no documentation on what John Harvard looked like, so the sculptor Daniel Chester French used a Harvard student descended from an early Harvard president as inspiration.

The young-looking clergyman is sitting, holding an open book on his knee. He wears clerical clothes from the seventeenth century, with low shoes, long, silk hose, loose knee-breeches, and a tunic belted at the waist, while a long cloak is thrown back and falls in broad folds.

The statue’s inscription‍ is:

“‌JOHN HARVARD •   FOUNDER • 1638‍.”

‌The founding of the college was not the act of one but the work of many, and John Harvard was just one of the founders of the school, but the timing and generosity of his contribution have made him the namesake.

The statue was originally installed‍ ‌in 1848 at the western end of Memorial Hall. It was later moved in 1924 to its current location on the west side of Harvard Yard’s University Hall, facing Harvard Hall, Massachusetts Hall, and the Johnston Gate.

Tourists often rub the toe of John Harvard’s left shoe for luck, in the mistaken belief that doing so is a Harvard student tradition.

Harvard University

Harvard University is a private Ivy League university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, Harvard is the oldest higher learning institution in the United States.

The Massachusetts colonial legislature, the General Court, authorized Harvard’s founding. In its early years, Harvard College primarily trained Congregational and Unitarian clergy.

Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century. Following the American Civil War, the college and affiliated professional schools transformed into a modern research university.

Harvard Yard

Harvard Yard is the oldest part of the Harvard University campus and its historic center. It contains freshman dormitories, libraries, Memorial Church, classrooms, and departmental buildings with senior officials’ offices.

The Yard is a grassy area of 22.4 acres (9.1 ha) and its perimeter fencing, principally iron, with some stretches of brick, has twenty-seven gates.

Daniel Chester French

Daniel Chester French (1850 – 1931) was an American sculptor best known for his design of the monumental statue of Abraham Lincoln (1920) in the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC.

In 1893, French was a founding member of the National Sculpture Society, and he was appointed a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1913.

He was a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He was a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and was awarded a medal of honor from the Paris Exposition of 1900.

He was a founding member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, including as chairman from 1912 to 1915.

Statue of John Harvard

  • Title:               Statue of John Harvard
  • Artist:             Daniel Chester French
  • Year:              1884
  • Medium:        Bronze
  • Dimensions:   Figure: 71 by 38.6 by 65 in, (180 by 98 by 165 cm); Plinth: 61 by 72 by 12 in, (155 by 183 by 30 cm)
  • Type:              Public Art, Famous Sculptures
  • Location:       1 Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Daniel Chester French

“John Harvard” by Daniel Chester French

​A Virtual Tour of Public Art

“John Harvard” by Daniel Chester French

“John Harvard” by Daniel Chester French


“If you’re last in your class at Harvard, it doesn’t feel like you’re a good student, even though you really are. It’s not smart for everyone to want to go to a great school.”
– Malcolm Gladwell


Photo Credit: Jessica Williams, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons; Matthias Rosenkranz, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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