Benjamin Wadsworth – Harvard University President

Benjamin Wadsworth was born in Milton, Massachusetts to Captain Samuel Wadsworth and Abigail (Lindall) Wadsworth in 1669. A monument near Sudbury, that Benjamin erected to his father’s memory, designates the spot where he the Captain fell in battle with the Narragansett Indians.

After graduation at Harvard in 1690 Benjamin studied theology and earned a Masters of Arts degree in 1693. He was licensed to preach, became assistant teacher in the First church in Boston in November, 1693, and on 8 September, 1696, was made its pastor, at the time considered one of the most important positions in New England. Wadsworth was considered religiously moderate and his sermons were popular with his congregation. He remained Pastor at the First Church for over thirty years. He published numerous essays and sermons, which include “An Artillery Election Sermon” (1700) and “Five Sermons” (1711), the first, dated 30 September, being the last sermon that he delivered in the old meetinghouse in Boston.
On 7 July, 1725, he was inaugurated as the eighth president of Harvard college, holding the post until his death. Wadsworth was considered a kindly, intelligent, and learned man whose even-tempered nature helped reconcile the various factions within the Harvard College administration. Moreover, Wadsworth attempted to maintain cordial relations between Harvard College’s two governing bodies and the colonial administration.

Benjamin Wadsworth’s administration was responsible for improving record keeping at the college, separating faculty and student records and maintaining graduate records. During his tenure he recovered property that had been forfeited or neglected by past administrations. He rewrote college laws, and improved the curriculum. Under Wadsworth’s stewardship, Isaac Greenwood became the first Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, keeping Harvard College in step with contemporary social and intellectual developments. Finally, in 1726, a new president’s residence was built, later known as Wadsworth House.
This house included a garden, orchard, and stable, and served as the presidential mansion for over a century. The house still stands today, until recently housing Harvard’s Alumni Association. The house also holds the distinction of receiving an overnight visit from George Washington. I’m unsure if there is a plaque anywhere that reads, “George Washington slept here”.

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