Abbott Lawrence Lowell

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Abbott Lawrence Lowell

Birthplace: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
Death: January 06, 1943 (86)
Boston, Suffolk, MA, United States
Place of Burial: Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Augustus Lowell and Katherine Bigelow Lowell
Husband of Anna Parker Lowell
Brother of Percival Lowell; Katharine Roosevelt; Elizabeth Lawrence Putnam and Amy Lawrence Lowell
Half brother of Private User

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Abbott Lawrence Lowell

Lowell graduated from Noble and Greenough School in 1873 and went on to attend Harvard College. He graduated in 1877 with highest honors in mathematics, and from Harvard Law School in 1880. He practiced law from 1880 to 1897 in partnership with his cousin, Francis Cabot Lowell, with whom he wrote Transfer of Stock in Corporations (1884).

Lowell also wrote Essays on Government (1889), Governments and Parties in Continental Europe (2 vols., 1896), Colonial Civil Service (1900; with an account by H. Morse Stephens of the East India College at Haileybury), and The Government of England (2 vols., 1908).

In 1897, Lowell became lecturer, and in 1898, professor of government at Harvard.

Lowell succeeded his father as Trustee of the Lowell Institute in 1900. And in 1909, he succeeded Charles William Eliot as president of the university. In the same year, he became president of the American Political Science Association.

Lowell's election as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters reflects the regard in which he was held in his own lifetime.

Lowell served as president of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933 (24 years), a span only surpassed by his predecessors Charles William Eliot (40 years) and Edward Holyoke (32).

As president, Lowell continued pressing for the evolution of "concentrations" (Harvard's name for academic majors), which he had begun to develop while still a professor. His predecessor, Charles W. Eliot, had replaced the single standardized undergraduate course with a plethora of electives; Lowell encouraged, and eventually required, students to concentrate the bulk of their studies in one academic field. Although headed in very different directions, both Eliot's reforms and Lowell's had wide impact on higher education throughout the US.

Lowell is remembered for establishing the Harvard Extension School and creating Harvard College's residential house system (see Harvard College#House system), which today remains a central part of the undergraduate experience. He also co-founded the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Among the new campus buildings of Lowell's tenure is the President's House (today Loeb House) at 17 Quincy Street, which Lowell commissioned from his cousin Guy Lowell (Harvard 1892); it remained the residence of succeeding Harvard Presidents until 1971.

Lowell's contributions to Harvard and to American society have been revisited in the years since his death. Many have denounced Lowell for a wide variety of actions and statements which reflected his apparent bigotry towards homosexuals, women, Jews, African-Americans, and other ethnic minorities.

In 2005, a small group of students, calling themselves the Lowell Liberation Front, lobbied unsuccessfully to have two likenesses removed from Lowell House, a Harvard house named for Lowell's family.
He graduated from Harvard Law School and later was President of Harvard from 1909-1933.
Abbott Lawrence Lowell was a U.S. educator and legal scholar. He served as President of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933.

With an "aristocratic sense of mission and self-certainty," Lowell cut a large figure in American education and to some extent in public life as well. At Harvard University his years as president saw a remarkable expansion of the university in terms of the size of its physical infrastructure, its student body, and its endowment. His reform of undergraduate education established the system of majoring in a particular discipline that became the standard in American education.

His progressive reputation in education derived principally from his insistence on integrating social classes at Harvard and preventing students of wealthy backgrounds from living apart from their less wealthy peers, a position for which he was sometimes termed "a traitor to his class." He also recognized the university's obligation to serve the surrounding community, particularly in making college courses available to and putting college degrees within the reach of local schoolteachers. He took the progressive side on certain public issues as well. He demonstrated outspoken support for academic freedom during World War I and played a prominent role in urging the public to support American participation in the League of Nations following the war.

Yet his Harvard years saw two public disputes in which he argued for compromising basic principles of justice for the sake of his own personal vision of Harvard's mission with respect to assimilating non-traditional students. In one instance, he tried to limit Jewish enrollment to 15% of the student body. In the other, he tried to ban African-American students from living in the Freshman Halls when all Harvard's new students were required to room there. In both cases the Harvard Board of Overseers insisted on the consistent application of liberal principles and overruled him.

One historian summarized his complex personality and legacy with these words: "He played many characters—the rich man of simple tastes, the gentleman who loathed gentlemanly C's, the passionate theorist of democracy whose personal conduct was suavely autocratic." The interplay of democratic and patrician instincts, and especially his insistence on defending his positions when others found then indefensible, made him hard for his contemporaries to grasp. As one historian posed the question: "How could a consensus form around one who exasperated his friends as often as he confounded his enemies."

Lowell was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the second son of Augustus Lowell and Katherine Bigelow Lowell. His siblings included the poet Amy Lowell, the astronomer Percival Lowell, and Elizabeth Lowell Putnam, an early activist for prenatal care. They were the great-grandchildren of John Lowell and, on their mother's side, the grandchildren of Abbott Lawrence.

Lowell graduated from Noble and Greenough School in 1873 and attended Harvard College where he presented a thesis for honors in mathematics that addressed using quaternions to treat quadrics[5] and graduated in 1877. While at Harvard, he was a member of the Hasty Pudding and was later made an honorary member of the Phoenix S.K. Club.[citation needed] He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1880 and practiced law from 1880 to 1897 in partnership with his cousin, Francis Cabot Lowell, with whom he wrote Transfer of Stock in Corporations, which appeared in 1884.[6] On June 19, 1879, while a law student, he married a distant cousin, Anna Parker Lowell in King's Chapel in Boston and honeymooned in the Western U.S.

In 1897, Lowell became lecturer, and in 1898, professor of government at Harvard. His publishing career continued with the appearance of Colonial Civil Service in 1900, and The Government of England in two volumes in 1908. In December 1901, Lowell and his wife donated funds anonymously to erect a building housing a large lecture hall, a facility the university lacked at the time. It became the New Lecture Hall (later renamed Lowell Lecture Hall), at the corner of Oxford and Kneeland Streets, and held a 928-seat auditorium as well as 8 meeting rooms.

From relatively early in his professional career, Lowell worried about the role of racial and ethnic minorities in American society. As early as 1887, he wrote of the Irish: "What we need is not to dominate the Irish, but to absorb them.... We want them to become rich, and send their sons to our colleges, to share our prosperity and our sentiments. We do not want to feel that they are among us and yet not really part of us." He believed that only a homogeneous society could safeguard the achievements of American democracy. Sometime before 1906, he became an honorary vice-president of the Immigration Restriction League, an organization that promoted literacy tests and tightened enforcement of immigration laws. In 1910, he wrote approvingly in private of excluding Chinese immigrants entirely and of Southern states that denied the franchise to black citizens. Publicly he consistently adopted assimilation as the solution to absorbing other groups, limiting their numbers to levels he believed would allow American society to absorb them without being changed itself, a stance that "fused liberal and racist ideas in making the case for exclusion."

In 1909, he became president of the American Political Science Association. That same year, he succeeded Charles William Eliot as president of Harvard University, a post he held for 24 years until his retirement in 1933.

Lowell immediately embarked upon a series of reforms that were both academic and social in nature. Under his predecessor, Charles W. Eliot, Harvard had replaced the single standardized undergraduate course with a system that allowed students free choice of electives. That was a logical extension of the trend in U.S. education that had modeled the university on the German system, including the German principle of student freedom in choosing courses. So dominant was Harvard's role in American education that all large American colleges and universities had adopted the elective system by 1904. It appealed to all student types, those intellectually curious and energetic as well as the lazy without intellectual ambition.

On admissions, Lowell continued Eliot's attempts to broaden the backgrounds of the entering class. Eliot had abolished the requirement in Greek (1886) and Latin (1898) so that students from schools other than elite preparatory schools could gain entry. Lowell in 1909–10 added a new admission procedure that allowed students to qualify through a new examination process designed to admit "the good scholar from a good school that does not habitually prepare for Harvard." The numbers of students from public schools grew steadily, forming a majority by 1913.

Educational practices were only one side of the crisis Lowell saw at Harvard. He analyzed the social divisions of the Harvard students in similar terms. As the admissions process changed over the years, Lowell recognized that the student body was divided sharply socially and by class, far from the cohesive body he remembered from a few decades earlier. Student living arrangements embodied and intensified the problem. As long ago as 1902 Lowell had decried the "great danger of a snobbish separation of the students on lines of wealth," resulting in "the loss of that democratic feeling which ought to lie at the basis of university life." Harvard had not built new dormitories even as the size of its undergraduate enrollment grew, so private capital constructed living quarters designed to serve as dormitory-like accommodations for those who afford it. That produced two classes, the underprivileged living in Harvard Yard in out-of-date buildings and the upper crust living on the "Gold Coast" of Mt. Auburn Street, the "centre of social life."

In 1900, Lowell succeeded his father as Trustee of the Lowell Institute, which Lowell's great-grandfather founded to subsidize public lectures and popular education programs. Throughout the 40 years he headed the Institute, Lowell's selection of topics and lecturers for the public series reflected his conservative tastes. Topics tended to history and government, with some science and music upon occasion. He ignored contemporary literature and current social trends. Typical were "The War of 1812," "The Development of Choral Music," "The Migration of Birds," and "American Orators and Oratory." A balanced series on "Soviet Russia after Thirteen Years" was an exception.

When the schoolteachers asked why they were not entitled to the same bachelor's degree as the Harvard College students, Lowell defended the distinction. Though courses were comparable, the programs and requirements were different, since the many specialized courses required of the College students could not be offered in the Extension Program. He meant the Associate in Arts degree to be distinctive. When Lowell learned in 1933 that other American schools had begun to award the Associate in Arts degree to students after the equivalent of just two years of work, he felt betrayed. He wrote: "the name of Associate in Arts has been degraded, probably beyond recovery, by wicked, thievish, and otherwise disreputable institutions." Harvard responded with a new Adjunct in Arts.[23]

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis, a private attorney renowned as a liberal opponent of monopolies and proponent of social reform legislation, to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As public opinion on the nomination divided along ideological lines, Lowell joined the Republican establishment, particularly that of his Boston Brahmin class, in opposition. He joined 54 others in signing a letter claiming that Brandeis lacked the requisite "legal temperament and capacity." An editorial in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin criticized him for needlessly involving the university in a political dispute. Some students organized their own petition in favor of the nomination. Though some opposition to Brandeis was rooted in antisemitism, Brandeis himself viewed Lowell's opposition as driven by social class prejudice. Writing in private in 1916, Brandeis described men like Lowell "who have been blinded by privilege, who have no evil purpose, and many of whom have a distinct public spirit, but whose environment—or innate narrowness—have obscured all vision and sympathy with the masses."

At a convention in Philadelphia's Independence Hall on June 17, 1915, with former President William Howard Taft presiding, one hundred noteworthy Americans announced the formation of the League to Enforce Peace. They proposed an international agreement in which participating nations would agree to "jointly use their economic and military force against any one of their number that goes to war or commits acts of hostility against another." The founders included Alexander Graham Bell, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, and Edward Filene on behalf of the recently founded U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Lowell was elected to the Executive Committee.

Harding as president disappointed proponents of the League, but Lowell never regretted his decision to endorse him. He did view the work of the League to Enforce Peace more critically. Its oratory had failed to engage the public at large, he thought, so public opinion remained "indifferent" to its call for muscular internationalism, leaving isolation or at least inaction to win the day.

During World War I, when American universities were under great pressure to demonstrate their unambiguous commitment to the American war effort, Harvard under Lowell established a distinguished record of independence. The New York Times later wrote that Lowell "steadfastly refused to accede to the demands of the hysterically patriotic that German subjects be dropped from the curriculum." When a Harvard alumnus threatened to withdraw a ten-million-dollar bequest unless a certain pro-German professor was dismissed, the Harvard Corporation refused to submit to his demand. Lowell's uncompromising statement in support of academic freedom was a landmark event at a time when other universities were demanding compliant behavior from their faculty.

In 1920, the brother of a student who had recently committed suicide brought evidence of ongoing homosexual activity among the students to the College's Acting Dean Chester N. Greenough. After consulting with Lowell and under his authority, the Dean convened an ad hoc tribunal of administrators to investigate the charges. It conducted more than 30 interviews behind closed doors and took action against eight students, a recent graduate, and an assistant professor. They were expelled or had their association with the university severed. Lowell proved particularly opposed to readmission for those who had been expelled only for associating too closely with those more directly involved. He eventually relented in two of four cases. The affair went unreported until 2002, when Harvard President Lawrence Summers called the affair "part of a past that we have rightly left behind."

"We owe to the colored man the same opportunities for education that we do to the white man; but we do not owe it to him to force him and the white into social relations that are not, or may not be, mutually congenial." African-American students had lived in Harvard’s dormitories for decades, until Lowell changed the policy. Freshmen were required to live in the Freshman Halls beginning in 1915. Two black students did live there during World War I without incident. When a few were excluded after the war they raised no protest.

Following Lowell's earlier reform of Harvard's admissions process to increase the admission of public school students, the Jewish proportion of the student body rose from 6% in 1908 to 22% in 1922, at a time when Jews constituted about 3% of the U.S. population. Lowell, continuing to focus on the cohesiveness of the student body, described a campus where antisemitism was growing and Jewish students were ever more likely to be isolated from the majority. He feared—and recent developments at Columbia University supported him—that the social elite would cease sending its sons to Harvard as Jewish enrollment increased. He cited what he saw as the parallel experience of hotels and clubs that lost their old membership when the proportion of Jewish members increased. He proposed limiting Jewish admissions to 15% of the entering class. His attempts to persuade members of the Harvard Board of Overseers to adopt his views were already failing when the plan was leaked to the Boston Post in May 1922. The idea was immediately denounced by Irish and black groups and by the American Federation of Labor.

Lowell continued to argue both in private correspondence and in public speeches that his rationale was the welfare of the Jewish students. "It is the duty of Harvard," he said, "to receive just as many boys who have come, or whose parents have come, to his country without our background as it can effectively educate." If higher Jewish enrollment provoked greater prejudice against them, he asked, "How can we cause the Jews to feel and be regarded as an integral part of the student body?" He also suggested that Harvard would not be facing this issue if other universities and colleges would admit Jews in similar numbers: "If every college in the country would take a limited proportion of Jews, I suspect we should go a long way toward eliminating race feeling among the students."

The question was turned over to a faculty committee: the Committee on Methods of Sifting Candidates for Admission. In the course of the internal campaign to influence that group's work, Lowell sought to exploit divisions within the Jewish community. Despite the basic divide between the older Jewish immigrants, usually of German origin, and the lower class of more recently arrived Eastern European Jews, Lowell found no ally there who would articulate his view of "desirable" and "undesirable" Jews. The faculty committee eventually rejected Lowell's proposed quota. Instead, Harvard's new guiding principle in admissions would be the top seventh rule. Harvard would reach out to youths in smaller cities and towns, even to rural communities, with the guideline that the student place in the top seventh of his class. It would seek "to pick out the best pupils from good schools, here, there, and everywhere." Though some suspected this was nothing but a covert way to decrease Jewish enrollment, the policy had the opposite effect. The numbers of non-Jewish students attracted from the South and West could not match the larger numbers of Jews admitted from the Middle Atlantic and New England states. By 1925, Jews made up 28% of the entering class.

Lowell then found another way to accomplish his goal, this time less publicly. He first won approval from the Harvard Board of Overseers for a new policy that would, in addition to traditional academic criteria, use letters from teachers and interviews to assess an applicant's "aptitude and character," thus introducing discretion in the place of the strict top seventh rule. He even persuaded one doubtful Overseer that this would not support discrimination against Jews as a group, but merely "careful discernment of differences among individuals." When Lowell gained final approval of these modifications in 1926 and appointed a compliant Admissions Committee, he had won his way. When Lowell left his position in 1933, Jews made up 10% of the undergraduate population.

Lowell's health declined slowly and his lifelong hearing problems worsened. He resigned his position as Harvard's president on Nov 21, 1932, and served through the following summer. During his years as president, enrollment at the College expanded from 3,000 to 8,000 and its endowment grew from $23 to $123 million. Lowell's construction projects, some based on the Freshman Halls and the College system, but including Widener Library, the Memorial Church and many others, had transformed the university's infrastructure. Also among the new campus buildings of Lowell's tenure was the President's House (later called Loeb House) at 17 Quincy Street, which Lowell commissioned from his cousin Guy Lowell. It remained the residence of succeeding Harvard Presidents until 1971.

Lowell is remembered as well for a donation of one million dollars to help found the Harvard Society of Fellows. Years before, he had given $10,500 to purchase a 13-inch telescope for his deceased brother Percival's Lowell Observatory, which in 1930 gained fame as the Pluto Discovery Telescope.

Lowell's wife of 51 years, Anna Parker Lowell, died in the spring of 1930.

In retirement from Harvard, he lived on Marlborough St. in Boston's Back Bay and in Cotuit on Cape Cod. He owned Conaumet Neck along the shores of Mashpee Pond. He headed the Boston Municipal Research Bureau and chaired a Committee on the Reform of Judicial Procedure under the auspices of the Boston Chamber of Commerce. He also became head of the Motion Picture Research Council, a group established to promote studies of the social values of motion pictures. He published frequently in such periodicals as The Atlantic and Foreign Affairs.

He died at home on Marlborough Street on January 6, 1943. Funeral services were held at Harvard's Memorial Church.

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Abbott Lawrence Lowell's Timeline

December 13, 1856
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, United States
January 6, 1943
Age 86
Boston, Suffolk, MA, United States
Cambridge, Middlesex, Massachusetts, United States