Student Unrest

Diets and riots : an interpretation of the history of Harvard University / by A. M. Beavis

Harvard Commons Records, 1686-1829 Documents in the collection reflect the tensions between the administration’s efforts to maintain economical efficiency and the students’ complaints about the quality of the food they were served. The 1807 student rebellion, when students walked out of commons, is particularly well documented through student petitions and Corporation Committee reports. A letter from Steward Caleb Gannett, written to the Corporation in defense of the quality of food served, provides excellent descriptions of the usual fare provided and the habits of the kitchen staff.

Records of the Board of Overseers: minutes, 1707-1932 This collection contains the official minutes of the Harvard University Board of Overseers' meetings held from 1707 to 1932. Topics discussed at meetings included food, food service, and student disorders, which often involved alcohol. 

Manuscript copy of the book of Harvard, 1767 The Book of Harvard was written by a Harvard student, likely Asa Dunbar (Harvard College 1767), as a satirical record of the Harvard College Butter Rebellion of 1766: Dunbar led a protest against the rancid butter being served to students in September 1766.

Manuscript copy of the book of Harvard, 1767 Manuscript copy of Asa Dunbar's The Book of Harvard, signed by Joseph Cummings (Harvard College 1768).

Journal of College Disorders, 1788-1797 in the Papers of Eliphalet Pearson, 1768-1819 This journal contains entries about various student "disorders" that occurred during Eliphalet Pearson’s tenure at Harvard, including stealing food and throwing food and utensils during meals.

Minutes of the Harvard faculty, 1775-1781 Events precipitating the American Revolution are evident through the Faculty minutes, including a March 1, 1775 incident in which a group of students drinking India Tea at breakfast caused an uproar. The Faculty noted that those students agreed to stop drinking tea as “the use of it is disagreeable to the people of this country in general."  

Letter from John Tudor Cooper to General John Cooper, October 22, 1808 Cooper provides candid descriptions of the students' dining hall and the occasional chaos that ensued when they were served food of poor quality.

Harvard's long-ago student risings Harvard Gazette article about food-related student disorders, April 19, 2012.