Harvard Society of Fellows

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The Harvard Society of Fellows is a group of scholars recognized for their extraordinary academic potential, upon whom are bestowed distinctive opportunities for individual growth and intellectual collaboration. Appointed by senior fellows, junior fellows receive a stipend for three years, during which they conduct independent research at Harvard University in any discipline, without being required to meet formal degree requirements.[1] The only stipulation is that they remain in residence at Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the duration of their fellowship. Membership in the society is for life.


As early as 1925, Harvard scholars Henry Osborn Taylor, Alfred North Whitehead and Lawrence Joseph Henderson met several times to discuss their dissatisfaction with the conditions of graduate study. They believed that the most able men required amble scholarships, as to not be distracted by financial worries, fewer formal requirements, and the ability to freely choose whatever object of study attracted them in order to produce great research.[2]

They soon found an ally in then Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell, who in 1926 appointed a committee, with Henderson as chairman,[3] to examine the nature of an institution that might improve the quality of graduate education. The committee's report recommended the establishment at Harvard of a Society of Fellows, modeled partly after the Fondation Thiers in Paris and partly on the Prize Fellowship at Trinity College.[2] Henderson hoped that such a society would encourage not only "isolated geniuses, but men who will do the work of the world".[4]

After years of trying to attract funds from charitable foundations, Lowell finally decided to fund the Society of Fellows with his own money as a last major institutional act before he resigned as president in November 1932.[2] The donation was made by Lowell anonymously and despite the fact that this was an open secret, it was never discussed in the presence of Lowell himself.[5] After Lowell's death in 1943, the identity of the donor was officially made public and, in memory of his wife, is known as the Anna Parker Lowell Fund.[5][6]

The society had its first meeting at the beginning of the fall term of the 1933 - 1934 academic year, as an alternative to the Ph.D system, granting fellows freedom to pursue lines of inquiry that transcended traditional academic disciplinary boundaries. Because the core belief in the importance of informal discussions between scholars in different academic fields, both senior and junior fellows have met for dinner every Monday night during term-time.[6] They are frequently joined by visiting scholars and fellows are encouraged to bring guests.[7]

Originally headquartered in a two-room suite at Eliot House, one of the university's twelve residential colleges, the society was closed to women until 1972, when Martha Nussbaum was selected as the first female junior fellow.

Notable members

The society has contributed numerous scholars to the Harvard faculty. Among the original senior fellows of the society were biochemist Lawrence Joseph Henderson, philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, literary critic John Livingston Lowes and legal scholar Abbot Lawrence Lowell, who remained in the society after he resigned as president.[2]

Some of its best-known members over the years have been philosopher W. V. Quine; behaviorist B. F. Skinner; double Nobel laureate John Bardeen; sociologist George C. Homans, economist Paul Samuelson; historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.; presidential adviser McGeorge Bundy; historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn; linguist Noam Chomsky; biologist E. O. Wilson; cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky; former dean of the Harvard faculty, economist Henry Rosovsky; philosopher Saul Kripke; Fields Medal-winning theoretical physicist Ed Witten; and writer, critic, and editor Leon Wieseltier.

See also


  1. ^ "About the Society of Fellows". sites.fas.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  2. ^ a b c d Homans, George Caspar (1984). Coming to My Senses: The Autobiography of a Sociologist. New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers. p. 119. ISBN 9781412819879.
  3. ^ Bloom, Samuel William; Bloom, Samuel W. (2002). The Word as Scalpel: A History of Medical Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 299. ISBN 9780195149296.
  4. ^ Henderson, Lawrence Joseph (1970). Barber, Bernard, ed. L. J. Henderson on the Social System: Selected Writings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 7. ISBN 0226326896.
  5. ^ a b Brinton, Crane, ed. (1959). The Society of Fellows. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 21.
  6. ^ a b "Harvard University Society of Fellows". Harvard University. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  7. ^ Homans, George C.; Bailey, Orville T. (1949). "The Society of Fellows at Harvard University". American Scientist. 37 (1): 91–106 – via JSTOR.

External links

  • Official website
  • About the Society
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