The Harvard Club has been blessed with a rich and colorful history. Even the manner in which the Club was founded provides an interesting story. A group of alumni gathered in 1908 to discuss the idea of forming a Harvard Club in Boston. Since an earlier attempt had failed it was decided that it was an inopportune time to begin such a venture. However, on their railroad ride home that evening three members of that group, in a mutinous frame of mind, made plans to establish a Harvard Club anyway. One month later they gathered with 19 other alumni, signed the articles of association, set the dues at $5.00 a year and the Harvard Club of Boston was born. Within a year there were almost 1,200 members.
The first president, Major Henry L. Higginson, class of 1855, founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra. A leader in the cultural and society life of the city he would bring his love of Harvard, a record of philanthropy and "his forceful personality" to assist in the critical early days of the Club.
In 1909, the Club established a scholarship program, giving out five grants of $200 each to local high school students attending Harvard. One of the first recipients would become Harvard's 23rd President, James B. Conant '14. This tradition continues today--last year, the Club awarded over $260,000 in scholarship funds to worthy young men and women.
With no dedicated facility for the Club, the early years found members meeting at various local hotels. It became increasingly apparent that a permanent clubhouse was necessary and in 1912 and 1913 the Main Clubhouse on Commonwealth Avenue was built. At the dedication, Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell lit the fire in the grand fireplace and declared "I hope this fire will burn every winter evening, and that it will burn long for comfort and for light."
Over the next several decades the Club would take on a familiar pattern: concerts, lectures, informal "smokers," dinners honoring the Harvard athletic teams, and other activities for the members. World events had an impact on the Club, just as they did on the rest of the world. During World War I the Club became, in effect, Boston's Army and Navy officers' club. The Great Depression found the Club acting as an employment agency, posting a list of positions needed by members who were out of a job. During World War II, cots were set up in the squash courts as lodging for junior officers at $1.50 a night.
With the building of eight squash courts in 1925, the Club's long association with squash and fitness began. Today, with an extensive facility featuring ten squash courts (including four International Courts and one doubles court) and a state-of-the art-fitness center, athletics continues to be a vital part of Club life.
One constant thread of club life over the years has been the list of dignitaries who visited the Club: Eleanor Roosevelt at a dinner in her honor...Robert Frost reading his poetry to a large and appreciative audience...Professor Henry Kissinger speaking on "Strains in the Western Alliance"...William Taft, John Foster Dulles, Walter Lippman, to say nothing of the many notable members who were or became famous writers, political figures, or business leaders.
There were many physical improvements to the Club over the years, but one that surely stands out was the establishment of the Downtown Club in 1976. This gave members who worked in Boston's financial district a place to eat breakfast and lunch and host meetings. Located on the 38th floor of One Federal Street, the Downtown Club provides a spectacular view of the city---and is renowned for the best seat in town for the Boston July 4th fireworks.
Though times have changed, the Club's original mission is as viable today as it was then: to "encourage the social, intellectual, and athletic interests of its members, promote the welfare of Harvard University, assist worthy students with financial aid, and foster the Harvard spirit in all Harvard men and women."