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The 3 Lies of Harvard

The John Harvard statue is nicknamed the “statue of three lies.” We reveal the truth behind the landmark.

7/31/2015 | Student Life | 4 minute read

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The John Harvard statue is a mainstay of Harvard Yard. Every day, students rub his toe on their way to class, hoping that it will give them luck on their next hard exam. As tours pass through the Yard, people stop to get a picture with one of the best-known landmarks on campus.

But the statue is not all that it seems. It’s actually nicknamed the “statue of three lies” because of all the inaccuracies inscribed on it. Here we reveal the truth behind the statue.

John Harvard statue at Harvard University
The famous statue

1. That isn’t John Harvard.

Sherman HoarEven though the name “John Harvard” is written in stone on the statue’s base, the likeness is not, actually, that of John Harvard. In fact, there are no living representations of John Harvard.

In 1884, Daniel Chester French created the famous statue, and Sherman Hoar sat as a model for the head of John Harvard. Hoar later went on to serve as a member of Congress and a US district attorney.

2. John Harvard wasn’t the founder of Harvard University.

What? Yes, that’s right. The engraving on the statue states “founder,” but this is also not true. Actually, Harvard didn’t even attend the College. He was the first major benefactor to the University. He donated half of his estate and his library, which consisted of over 400 books.

Harvard University was officially founded by a vote by the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

3. Harvard wasn’t founded in 1638.

Close, but no cigar. Harvard University was founded in 1636. This gives Harvard the honor of being the oldest institution of higher education in the United States.

Harvard was originally called the New College. And its mission was to train clergy. Harvard received its official famous name on March 13, 1639, named for the renowned benefactor seated in “lies.”

Interested in Harvard history? Learn more about the story of the university and understand the meaning behind Harvard’s famous symbols.

The statue has most celebrities beat when it comes to the amount of photos taken with him every day. Post pictures of yourself posing with the man himself on our Facebook page.

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