The Living Harvard Force

A Harvardian who's who, who's where, who's what: The Alumni Directory at 90 documents a population explosion.

The first in what is now a 90-year series of alumni directories came into the world in 1910. Then known as the Harvard University Directory, it had taken almost six years to compile and sold for $2 a copy. Its alphabetical section listed the names of 32,188 alumni and current students: geographic data showed that two out of five lived in Massachusetts. Within the alumni body, almost one out of five was a lawyer. The next largest occupations were education and medicine. Only 384 of those listed--just over 1 percent of the total--were classified as retired.

With two wartime exceptions, new directories appeared at three-to-five-year intervals for the rest of the century. This year's millennial edition, out this fall, is the twentieth. Its two volumes run to more than 2,000 pages, and contain the names, addresses, and occupations of 255,764 alumni. Massachusetts still has the most Harvardians, but it now claims fewer than one in four. California has broken the state of New York's historic hold on second place. The incidence of lawyers is less than one in 10; the single largest vocational category is business/industry. The second-largest occupational grouping, accounting for almost 14 percent of all alumni, consists of the retired. Their increased presence correlates with other geographic shifts: Florida, home to 51 Harvardians in 1910, now has the fourth-largest contingent. The Crimson cohorts in other Sunbelt states are among the fastest growing. The Harvard population in rust-belt areas is declining.

The Harvard of 1910 was a relatively cosmopolitan place. The registrar's rolls listed students from all 48 states, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Philippines, and 30 foreign countries, including Brazil, China, India, Siam, Japan, and Russia. More than a thousand alumni lived outside the United States. Ninety years later, the tally of international alumni is approaching 36,000.

Twentieth-century advances in life expectancy have changed the composition of Harvard's alumni body. In 1910 only 4 percent of Harvard College alumni were 70 years of age or older. The median age was 34. In the year 2000, an estimated 16 percent of College alumni are 70 or over; the median age has risen to 49.

For obvious reasons, most directories begin to go out of date before the ink dries, and in a utilitarian sense, it is true that each new edition renders the preceding one obsolete. But as a matched set, the directory's 20 volumes have lasting archival value. They are a mine of data about an era in which Harvard's alumni constituency increased dramatically. No other statistical source traces so faithfully the growth of what President Charles William Eliot called "the living Harvard force."

Though the first Directory made its appearance in 1910, Harvard had been tracking its alumni since 1674, when the College issued a broadside listing 173 living graduates. Class lists were initially arranged in order of social standing, and names were Latinized. Francis Foxcroft, class of 1712, compiled the first alphabetical catalog in 1764; new editions appeared roughly every three years until 1875, when the venerable librarian and record-keeper John Langdon Sibley, class of 1825, extended the publishing interval to five years. Thus was launched the stout Quinquennial Catalogue of Harvard University. The given names of graduates were still Latinized: Quinquennials of the 1880s list Radulphus-Waldo Emerson, class of 1821, Carolus-Guilielmus Eliot, class of 1853, and Theodorus Roosevelt, class of 1880. In 1890--four years after the faculty's controversial decision to drop the Greek requirement for College applicants--the Quinquennial began listing graduates' names in English.

The Quinquennial was a valuable resource, but it did not provide addresses--a lack that was increasingly felt as the alumni body grew and began to disperse itself westward. A national network of Harvard clubs was taking shape; by the turn of the century, more than two dozen local and regional clubs were flourishing. An "ardent band" of Midwestern alumni had organized the Associated Harvard Clubs in 1897; meeting in Louisville in 1905, delegates approved a proposal to create a directory of all living men who had ever enrolled at Harvard. The Alumni Association endorsed the project, and the secretary to the Harvard Corporation, Jerome D. Greene, class of 1897, was put in charge.

Transcribing data on index cards, Greene and his assistants combed class reports, telephone books, and professional and municipal directories for addresses. A series of mailings confirmed addresses and secured vocational information. By any standard, the response rate of 91 percent was spectacular. More than 29,000 alumni and students replied; in the end, only 1,656 alumni--fewer than 6 percent--were classified as "lost." The first name in the new University directory was that of Talat Sam Sen Aab, of Bangkok, Siam, a member of the class of 1913; bringing up the rear was Arnold Anton Ferdinand Züllig, a former graduate student living in Watertown, Massachusetts.

The Alumni Directory came into its own in the thirties. In a Depression-era austerity measure, the President and Fellows of Harvard College had killed the Quinquennial in 1933. David Washburn Bailey '21, the University's publication agent, was now responsible for the Directory. Struck by its increasing size, Bailey prefaced the 1934 edition with an array of statistics. In 24 years, the alumni body had more than doubled, from 29,200 to more than 66,200. Its growth reflected the marked expansion of the College and the graduate schools under A. Lawrence Lowell, who had succeeded President Eliot in 1909. Lowell had built new residential facilities and doubled the teaching faculty; the average size of an entering College class had risen from 500 in Eliot's latter years to a thousand in the 1920s and 1930s. Though undergraduate education was his chief interest, Lowell's administration had nurtured new graduate schools of business, education, architecture, and public health. Graduate enrollment had grown almost 200 percent. When Lowell retired in 1933, graduate students accounted for almost two-thirds of total enrollment--approximately the proportion existing today.

Bailey's figures showed that alumni in the New England states had grown 56 percent since 1910. But in 10 other states--New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and California--the Harvard population had more than trebled. California had pulled ahead of Illinois and Ohio to take over fourth place, trailing third-place Pennsylvania by a mere 25 alumni. The number of alumni living abroad had risen from 1,200 to 3,000.

Bailey, who later became secretary to the Corporation, evaluated these changes in a humorous Harvard Alumni Bulletin article replete with tables and footnotes. Rejecting the stereotype of a provincial Bostonian, he postulated a "composite alumnus" who

was graduated from the College as recently as 1916. He is less than forty years of age. He lives somewhere between Scarsdale and Tarrytown, N.Y. His office is below 42nd Street on Manhattan. The chances are one in three that he is a lawyer, or else works for a financial house; perhaps he combines law and finance....In five cases out of six he is married and the father of two children, or maybe three. Oftener than not, he pays his dues to the Harvard Club of New York City. He revisits Cambridge at intervals of two or three years, either to see a football game against Yale or to join in a reunion of his classmates. He makes a modest contribution now and then to the Harvard Fund. His interest in university education in general or in Harvard University in particular is likely to end there.

As Bailey conceded, his composite was in fact "a creature of statistical shreds and patches, masquerading in a variety of borrowed clothing, in whom there is no breath of life." The first seven names in the 1934 directory offered a more authentic sampling of Harvard's changing demography. Heading the list was T.S.S. Aab '13, A.M. '14 (now known as Raktaprachit Aab), in government service in Bangkok. Then came a Denver high school teacher, a Pittsburgh manufacturer, a New York lawyer, a public health official in Sofia, Bulgaria, a retired physician in Winter Park, Florida, and an architect in Plainfield, New Jersey.

In the 1940 directory, alumni and alumnae at last met on equal terms. Women's names had not appeared in the early directories. Radcliffe College was regarded as institutionally separate; the Extension School and the Division of Education, which did not grant degrees, were the only other programs accepting women. After the opening of the Graduate School of Education in 1920, the 1923 directory set aside a separate section for the 98 women who had taken doctorates or master's degrees in education. The 1940 directory finally listed women in proper sequence with men. "Truth, like Justice, has usually been personified as a woman," David Bailey wrote in his preface, "and the University which is dedicated to the search for the one might soon have been found wanting in the scales of the other if it had continued much longer to deny equal status in its records to those whose full participation it invited in the professional fields." But "full participation" in professional training had not yet arrived. Except for the schools of Education and Public Health, graduate education at Harvard was still staunchly all-male, and the larger schools would not accept women until after World War II.

Assessing the 1940 directory, the Bulletin's new editor, David T. W. McCord '21, sought to update the composite alumnus imagined in 1934 by his classmate Bailey. "Today he is undoubtedly younger and possibly of the Class of 1923," wrote McCord. "He is still east of the Hudson, but some four miles south of Hyde Park, or two miles south of Poughkeepsie." Some 74,000 alumni were listed in the 1940 edition. California now claimed more than any state outside of Massachusetts and New York. Of those alumni with foreign addresses, Canada, China, and the British Isles had the largest shares. More alumni were living in France than in Arizona and New Mexico combined.

Keeping tabs on Harvard's increasingly far-flung family now occupied more than a dozen members of the Records and Publications Office staff. It was a testimonial to their diligence that the 1940 directory, though compiled in a year of world turmoil, counted only 4.7 percent of the alumni body as lost--the smallest proportion so far.

War on a global level changed Harvard and the world. With Harvard men and women scattered worldwide, the 1945 edition of the Alumni Directory was postponed: the first postwar edition, dated 1948 and listing more than 93,000 names, appeared in the spring of 1949. Physically, the enormous volume was a blockbuster. It weighed nearly seven pounds and contained 2,333 pages--about three and a half pounds heavier and 900 pages longer than a contemporary edition of War and Peace.

With the war's end, the University community had swollen in size. In the fall of 1946, hordes of students had returned from military leave; veterans from nontraditional backgrounds entered college with assistance from the G.I. Bill of Rights. The University's student population soared from 3,600 to 11,700; enrollment in the College, never more than 3,700 in prewar years, jumped to 5,500. Two thousand strong, the freshman Class of 1950 was easily the largest ever. As the veterans graduated, the bulge began to subside, but not completely. President Conant and his deans had resolved in 1948 to "normalize" enrollment in the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) at 4,300 and 1,200 respectively, preserving the prewar ratio. The College almost held the line, but GSAS enrollment rose to more than 2,000.

The alumni body passed the 100,000 mark in 1955. President Nathan Pusey could preface the 1965 Alumni Directory with the observation that "almost the same number of alumni have been added to our rolls in the past decade as comprised the entire Harvard group in 1910. Thus has Harvard been experiencing its own population explosion." The postwar increase in graduate study had driven much of that growth. The professionalization of the American workplace was drawing ever-larger numbers of graduating college students--including more women than ever before--into advanced-degree programs. Soviet Russia's orbiting of Sputnik I in 1957 had led Congress to pump billions into American education, and National Defense Education Act grants helped fund the expansion of graduate-level programs and facilities. During the Pusey administration, from 1953 to 1971, enrollment in Harvard's 10 graduate schools rose from 6,000 to 9,500.

In the early 1970s, almost 80 percent of Harvard College seniors planned to attend graduate school (motivated, in some cases, by the wish to avoid draft call-ups for the Vietnam War). By then Harvard was putting the brakes on enrollment increases. In 1969, worried by graduate-student malaise and lopsided faculty-student ratios, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences had authorized a 20 percent cut in the size of its graduate school. President Pusey's successor, Derek C. Bok, had taken note of studies suggesting that once an institution exceeded a limit of 15,000 students, the upshot would be, as Bok put it, "bureaucracy, inefficiency, and a growing loss of personal attention." The University's student population had already reached 15,500. Bok issued an edict instructing his deans to hold entering classes at existing levels.

In addition to its population explosion, the University was now experiencing the computer revolution, and the Alumni Records Office was in the vanguard. The 1975 Alumni Directory was the first to be typeset from computer files. Its larger trim size, a departure from the standard six-by-nine-inch format, allowed the compilers to move from two-column to three-column makeup, a space-saving switch that permitted them to reinstate the geographical directory--omitted, for lack of space, from the 1965 and 1970 volumes. Computer graphics, illustrating the statistical tables that made up part of the front matter, were another new touch.

Putting out the Alumni Directory had always been an exacting and serious business. But for readers with a statistical bent, or a flair for wordplay, the listings could afford a bit of sport. In 1940, the editor of the Alumni Bulletin had calculated that the new directory listed 772 Smiths, 363 Johnsons, 342 Davises, 306 Whites, 234 Browns, 220 Taylors, and 211 Joneses (along with 18 Kirklands, 13 Mathers, 13 Lowells, 3 Quincys, and 2 Leveretts). The compilers of that directory even cooked up a "suggested Harvard menu," confected of such surnames as Coolbroth, Herring, Woodcock, Greenleaf, Pfankuchen, Sauerwein, and Coffee. Two generations later, Christopher S. Johnson '64, a contributing editor of Harvard Magazine, undertook to speed-read the 1980 directory's 1,957 pages. In the magazine's "College Pump" column, he shared some of his findings:

Here, some 220,000 strong, are names to conjure with (like Ala and Kazan); names to drop (like Spillum, Bump, Bopp, Cronk, and Bang); names to trade on (Sale, Profit, Asset, and Cash); and even four people whose name is Mudd.

Here are bite-size names, like Ha and Ho and H'ng; names that make ruminative mouthfuls, like Gumrukcuoglu and Chunhaswasdikul and Satkunananthan. Here are names from Blessing, Joy, and Comfort to Angst and Apathy. Names from Evers to Tinker to Chance. Lock, Stock, and Barrel; Ragland, Taggart, and Bobskill; the whole Kita and Caputo....

There is no dearth of strangers we'd like to introduce: Ambush to Pray; Scissors to Shear; Gobbel to Chew; Fiery to Melting; Dapper to Cute; or Kukuck to Kchouk. No lack of individuals we'd like to set up in partnerships: Ezzo, Eze, Everding, and Erf. Fliflet, Fligler, Flotten, and Freeth. Fruzy, Frum, and Fybish. Booger, Bagger, and Borababy. Countermine, Shirk, Delay, Forget, and Vanish. Madrigal, Musick, and Earwaker. Loose, Libertine, Lusted, and Lyeth. Dearworth, Golly, and Goodheart. Haymaker, Papermaster, and Woolfolk. Greenhouse, Grotto, and Herbsman. Solberg, Sailor, Tinker, Tailor; Richman, Poorman, Beckerman, Thieck; Doctor, Lawyer, Ingraham, Cheek. The More the Marier....

The 1980 directory was noteworthy not just for the variety of the names it contained, but also for their sheer number. There were now 209,000 living alumni, and the totals would continue to soar. The next directory--timed to coincide with Harvard's 350th anniversary in 1986--pegged the number of alumni at 234,000. More than 75 years had passed since the publication of the first directory, but Raktaprachit Aab still headed the list. The terminal position had passed from Züllig to Ziskind, Zylstra, and Zyzniewski, and now belonged to the former Nancy Jean Zytkewick '72 (who was also listed, less conspicuously, under her married name, McLucas).

When the 1990 directory appeared, the first name was that of Christopher Aaberg, M.B.A. '87, of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Raktaprachit Aab had died in 1989, aged 96. As a slimming measure, the 1990 directory was split into two volumes, alphabetic and geographic. Subsequent editions would follow suit.

No less notable than Harvard's unabated population growth was the institution's directed effort to extend its geographic outreach. While preserving much of its New England character, twentieth-century Harvard largely realized President Eliot's vision of attracting a national student body. Eliot had thought it vital, "for the safety of Harvard College, and for the welfare of the country, that the College draw its material not from Massachusetts or from New England alone; but from the whole country." In 1905 he argued his faculty into accepting the new College Entrance Examination Board tests as a means of extending the catchment area for high-school applicants to the College. Regional Harvard clubs helped out by recruiting energetically, and by raising scholarship funds for students from the hinterlands.

In 1934, President Conant created "national scholarships" for promising students in small towns and rural areas where Harvard was not a byword. He later appointed Wilbur J. Bender '27, who hailed from Elkhart, Indiana, as the College's dean
of admissions. Under President Pusey, a native of Iowa, that post was held by alumni from Idaho and Utah. Applications from the heartland rose steadily, and the College's core enrollment area shifted gradually from New England to the mid-Atlantic states.

Early signs of change had appeared in the 1948 Alumni Directory: geographic data revealed that more alumni now lived outside New England and New York than within the seven-state area. An Alumni Bulletin item reported that for the first time, the composite alumnus was domiciled west of the Hudson River: "John Harvard, now a member of the Class of 1928, lives across the Susquehanna in the neighborhood of York, Pa., where he is probably a lawyer or manufacturer, enjoys his shoofly pie and gemixte pickles, and belongs to the Country Club. The Alleghenies lie ahead. Who knows who or where he will be a decade from now?"

Perhaps surprisingly, the present-day answer appears to be: not much further west. Geographic data in the newest directory show a quarter of the alumni living in New England, 22 percent in mid-Atlantic states, and 39 percent beyond the Alleghenies--with another 14 percent outside the United States. The median puts the composite alumnus, now a member of the Class of 1972, just west of Altoona, Pennsylvania. That he hasn't strayed far from York, where he was said to be in 1948, is explained by the fact that the Harvard population of the New England and mid- Atlantic states doubled over the past half-century, largely offsetting the substantial increases in states west of the Alleghenies.

Wherever the median strip lies, significant population shifts continue. Massachusetts remains the most populous state, with 47,598 Harvard residents; next--almost neck-and-neck--come California (which has almost five times more alumni than it had in 1948) and New York, with 28,467 and 28,054 respectively. Florida, ranked twentieth in 1948, is now in fourth place, ahead of Pennsylvania. Old-line industrial states are slipping: since the last alumni census, in 1995, the Harvard populations of Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Missouri have each declined between 7 and 12 percent. In addition to Florida and California, the 10 fastest-growing states include Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Georgia--suggesting that light industry, new technology, and retirees are all moving in the same direction.

Alumni living outside the United States are the fastest-growing branch of the Harvard family. From 1910 to 1948, when Harvard enrolled the most foreign students of any American university, the ranks of international alumni trebled. Over the past half-century, their number grew tenfold. Jet travel obviously helped. Mr. Aab wrote in his fiftieth-reunion report that in his student days the trip from Bangkok to Cambridge had taken six weeks; he had recently made it in two days.

England, with 4,330 alumni, has displaced Canada as the foreign country with the most Harvardians. After Canada come Japan, France, Germany, Australia, and Switzerland. Europe still has the largest proportion of international alumni (39 percent), but the Pacific Rim now claims 18 percent and is moving up fast. Collectively, the Harvard population of Japan, Taiwan, the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Malaysia has nearly quintupled over the past quarter-century.

Within the international group, graduate and professional school alumni predominate. While the College's international component has remained at 10 percent or less since the 1950s, graduate school percentages have continued to climb. A quarter of the students at the Business School and the School of Arts and Sciences now come from other countries. Overall, the proportion ranges from a low of 6 percent at the Medical School to more than 30 percent at the schools of Design and Government.

The 1910 directory discovered alumni in almost 60 countries. By 1948, that number had grown to 97. In the current directory, 184 nations are represented. You can still find a few without resident Harvardians (think Bhutan, think Suriname, think Central African Republic). Nineteen have only a single Harvard inhabitant. Cuba has five, Belarus four, Cambodia three, Laos two, Serbia one.

Trends in vocational callings can't be charted with much reliability. The directory didn't gather such data in certain years, and its classifications have shifted. The 1910 directory included categories like "diplomatic," "forestry," "library," and "transportation," which fell into disuse. "Social service," introduced in 1975, vanished 10 years later. "Wife/mother," new in 1975, has been corrected to "Home management."

In 1910, the most populous occupations--in descending order--were law, medicine, business, education, and finance. Midcentury directories omitted occupational tables; by 1975, business and industry ranked first. Law had slid to third, behind education. "Retired" ranked fifth. In 2000, business still heads the list, with "retired" a surprisingly close second. Then come education, law, and health and medical services.

In absolute numbers, the period 1975-2000 saw only a slight net increase in alumni in educational fields. Business and law showed proportional declines. Finance--now dubbed "financial services"--has been stable at 6 to 7 percent since 1910. The ministry, which would have led the occupational list in Harvard's earliest days, accounted for 3 percent in 1910 and has hovered just above 1 percent in recent decades. As you'd expect, newer fields--communications, information services, nonprofit institutions--are the ones on the rise.

It's obvious that the size of a given graduate or professional school has much to do with the proportion of alumni in certain callings. The Business School, with an annual enrollment in its regular programs of 1,500, has by far the largest alumni base--67,200, including graduates of six-week mid-career programs. The Law School enrolls 1,850 students per year and has an alumni body of 36,600. The School of Education, enrolling almost 1,200, has 21,300 alumni. Ranked by the size of their alumni bodies, these are the Big Three. In comparison, the total number of Harvard and Radcliffe College alumni stands at 91,085.

The increase in retired alumni is the most notable short-term change in occupational patterns. From 1990 to 1995, when members of Harvard's post-World War II generation began to reach their mid sixties, the roll of retirees shot up from 15,000 to almost 28,000. Current data show a slight numerical decline, but the numbers will rise steeply again in the next decade, as the retirement-age cohort expands to include the men and women whose numbers caused a 58 percent increase in the size of Harvard's graduate and professional schools during the 1960s. Coupled with increasing longevity, this new bulge could redouble the ranks of the retired by 2010.

Each new Directory attests to extended longevity. In his preface to the 1970 edition, President Pusey noted that "more than a hundred graduates of the College currently living count seventy years to their Commencement. More than a thousand Harvard men are sixty years out of college, and almost 4,000 have fifty years behind them." In the year 2000, more than a thousand members of 13 College classes (including some 300 Radcliffe alumnae) count 70 years since their Commencements. About 5,500 alumni are 60 years out, and more than 15,000 are 50 years out. Though the College alumni body as a whole has grown almost 70 percent since 1970, extended longevity is still the enabling factor behind these striking numbers. Taking a longer-term view, here are the comparative survival rates for the Harvard College classes that were 70, 60, and 50 years out in 1910, and in 2000:


Original Size

Surviving in 1910


Original Size

Surviving in 2000

























The list of Harvard's oldest graduates, published annually in Harvard Magazine, is another index of longevity. In 1910, the senior alumnus was 93. In 1970, the 10 oldest ranged from 93 to 99. Since 1993, all those listed have been 100 or over.

The Harvard family went forth and multiplied in the twentieth century, at a rate five times that of the United States population. Spawning 100,000 alumni took 313 years; getting to 200,000 took less than a quarter-century. Two decades later, we are closing in on the 300,000 mark. Note that the newest directory's projection of 292,344 living alumni includes 15,246 names classed as "lost, being traced," and 21,334 that are simply "lost"--a startlingly large grouping, as against the 4,763 "losts" reported as recently as 1990. Where are all these new "losts"? Transferred too briskly to leave forwarding addresses? Deceased? Just hiding out? Whatever the explanation, if at least 256,000 alumni now walk the earth, their ranks are seven times greater than the total number of Harvard alumni who lived and died between 1642 and 1910.

And the numbers keep growing. Each year's graduation adds more than 6,000 new degree-holders to the rolls. Death removes just over 2,000 annually. At that rate, the Alumni Directory will list 300,000 verifiable addresses by 2010.

For half a century, compressing ever-expanding listings into volumes of manageable size has challenged the directory's compilers. They've coped by shrinking type faces, using thinner paper, enlarging the physical size of the book. Computer-based technology has enabled editors and designers to experiment with format changes, has made it easier to tease more names onto a page, has sped up the production process. In publishing, as in science and technology, one thing inexorably leads to another. An on-line directory makes its debut this fall.


John T. Bethell '54, author of Harvard Observed: An Illustrated History of the University in the Twentieth Century, was editor of the Harvard Alumni Bulletin and Harvard Magazine from 1966 to 1994. In those years the alumni body increased from 134,000 to 240,000. This essay is based in part on his introduction to the Harvard Alumni Directory 2000.




Read more articles by: John T. Bethell

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