You are here

Veterans and Harvard University

November 8, 2013—Thousands of Harvard students and alumni have served and sacrificed in the military from the 1600s to the current day. The slideshow below explores veterans and Harvard, using material from the Harvard University Archives, the Radcliffe Institute, Houghton Library and the Law School Library. To learn more about Harvard and wartime, explore resources from the Harvard University Archives.


Harvard Campus 1784

During the American Revolutionary War, Harvard College fled from Cambridge to Concord and turned its campus over to the American army. Its buldings housed about 1,600 soliders, tents and barracks were installed in Harvard Yard and soldiers built defenses on the high ground where Lamont Library now stands. During the army's stay on campus, they tore off Harvard Hall's metal roof and melted it into bullets, and removed brass doorknobs and locks for the same purpose. Approximately 20 Harvard students and alumni died in the war. The sketch above, by Joshua Greene, Class of 1784, shows Harvard a few years after the war ended.

More than 1,600 Harvard students and alumni served in the American Civil War for both the Union and the Confederacy. More than 200 gave their lives. One of the fallen was Henry Ropes (pictured above), Class of 1862, who enlisted eight months before he was due to graduate. He was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. The deep impact the Civil War had on Harvard is still evident today--Memorial Hall and Soldiers Field both commemorate Harvard's Civil War losses. 

More than 10,000 Harvard students and alumni served in WWI. More than 350 gave their lives, and Harvard's Memorial Church was built in 1932 in commemoration. Brayton Nichols (pictured above), Class of 1915, served as a lieutenant in the 166th Aero Squadron of the American Expeditionary Force, and was killed in a plane crash in Germany in April 1919. 

Ruth Holden (pictured above), from Attleboro, MA, graduated from Radcliffe in 1911. She served as a nurse in WWI and died in service in France in 1918. Two other Radcliffe alumnae, Lucy Nettie Fletcher, Class of 1910, and Helen Homans, who attended from 1908 to 1911, also died while serving as nurses during WWI. Since they attended Harvard's sister school, they were not commemorated when Memorial Church was built in 1932. However, a tablet was installed in Memorial Church in their honor in 2001.

More than 27,000 Harvard students, alumni, faculty and staff members served in the armed forced during WWII; 697 lost their lives. On the home front, the campus mobilized to support the war effort. Harvard scholars researched night vision, explosives, aerial photography and the atomic bomb. The University dedicated itself to military training, with ROTC members drilling in the Yard, and classified research occurring in Austin Hall and Hemenway Gymnasium. The picture above from Commencement 1943 shows the heavy military presence on campus.