Academic, Educator. He is remembered as the president of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and served in that position from 1869 until 1909, having the longest term as president in the university's history. Born into a wealthy family, his father served in the US House of Representatives and Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts for one term each, and he was the grandson of Boston banker Samuel Eliot. He graduated from Boston Latin School in 1849 and from Harvard University in 1853. The following year he was appointed a tutor in Mathematics at Harvard and studied chemistry with Josiah P. Cooke. In 1858 he was promoted to Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Chemistry. He taught competently, wrote some technical pieces on chemical impurities in industrial metals, and looked for ways to reform Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School. After failing to attain the Rumford Professorship of Chemistry, he left Harvard in 1863 and spent the next two years studying the educational systems of the Old World in Europe, focusing on the relationship between education and economic growth. In 1865 he returned to the US and accepted an appointment as Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the newly founded Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1869 he was elected president of Harvard University and at the age of 35, he was the youngest president in the history of the nation's oldest university. During his tenure, he transformed the provincial college into the preeminent American research university, applying the principles he had learned during his travels to Europe several years earlier. Under his leadership, Harvard adopted an "elective system" which vastly expanded the range of courses offered and permitted undergraduates unrestricted choice in selecting their courses of study, with a view to enabling them to discover their "natural bents" and pursue them into specialized studies. It became a worldwide university, accepting its students around America using standardized entrance examinations and hiring well-known scholars from home and abroad. He was an administrative reformer, reorganizing the university's faculty into schools and departments and replacing recitations with lectures and seminars. During his 40-year presidency, the university vastly expanded its facilities, with laboratories, libraries, classrooms, and athletic facilities replacing simple colonial structures. A monumental expansion of Harvard's graduate and professional school and departments facilitated specialization, while at the same time making the university a center for advanced scientific and technological research. Accompanying this was a shift in pedagogy from recitations and lectures towards classes that put students' achievements to the test and, through a revised grading system, rigorously assessed individual performance. He was an articulate opponent of American imperialism, although he was opposed to the education of women, labor unions, and strongly supported racial segregation. While president, he opposed the sport of football and tried unsuccessfully to abolish the game at Harvard, calling it "a fight whose strategy and ethics are those of war." He also made public objections to baseball, basketball, and hockey, and was quoted as saying that rowing and tennis were the only clean sports. He also initiated repeated attempts to acquire the fledgling Massachusetts Institute of Technology, even after he left Harvard, but the merger never materialized. He died at the age of 92. Eliot House, one of the seven original residential houses for undergraduates at Harvard, was named in his honor and opened in 1931. In 1940 the US Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor as part of their Famous Americans Issue.
Bio by: William Bjornstad