The Harvard Presidency – Insignia of the Office

The insignia of the office of the Harvard presidency includes: the charter granted to Harvard College in 1650 by the General Court of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay; the oldest surviving record book, known as College Book 1, dating back to the early years of the 17th century; the Harvard seals of 1650, 1843, and 1885; and the ceremonial keys made in 1846.

The symbolic transfer of the insignia of the office has been a prominent feature of the installation ceremony for every Harvard president for over 300 years. The use of insignia in the inaugural ceremony is documented back to the installation of President John Leverett in 1708, but is presumably a custom established much earlier.

In Leverett’s ceremony, the College “Buttler” carried the College keys and “the Library keeper” carried the Charter, seal, and records. The insignia were presented to the incoming president by the governor of the colony, and then, after the establishment of American independence, by the governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After the University ceased to be under the Commonwealth’s control, the outgoing Harvard president and members of the Board of Overseers made the presentation.

After receiving the insignia of the office, the incoming president sits in the president’s chair. This part of the ceremony has been part of every presidential installation since that of Samuel Locke in 1770. Crafted of ash and oak in Wales in the early to mid-18th century, the president’s chair was acquired by the College in the mid-1700s.

See also the Harvard University Archives research guide "Harvard Presidents & Inaugurations"