Skip to Main Content

Harvard Divinity School: The First Hundred Years

The Building

Divinity Hall, built on land reclaimed from Cambridge marshes, was the first Harvard building outside the Yard, at a time when the site was surrounded by nothing but rustic woodlands, straggling Harvard outbuildings, and playing fields. The architecture represents a transition between Federal and Greek Revival styles. The design is symmetrical and spare, and the building is "a scarce surviving example of typical nineteenth century institutional building." It [was] used to serve all the functions of the School, housing, the library, chapel, classroom, and student rooms.

... In 1922 the architect Charles A. Coolidge proposed to demolish the building when working on a master plan for President Lowell. At the turn of the [Twentieth] century it was described as "old Divinity Hall, in all its blank monotony--as prosaic a pile of brick as was ever laid up with mortar, but not without its rich associations."

From: Foundations for a Learned Ministry: Catalogue of an Exhibition on the Occasion of the One Hundred Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Divinity School, Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass., 1992.

The new building for the Divinity School was commissioned and paid for by an independent group, the Society for Promoting Theological Education in Harvard College. Designed by Solomon Willard but adapted by Thomas Sumner, who took charge of the commission at an early stage, the building is related to the Bulfinch tradition but with stylistic indications of the approaching Greek Revival. It has in common with University Hall the use of two entrances separated by a middle portion whose long, round-headed windows contrast with smaller rectangular fenestration elsewhere, as well as variation in floor levels and a chapel as the prominent center space. Quite dissimilar to University Hall, however, is the manner in which the pedimented center of Divinity Hall breaks free of the block.

From: Bunting, Bainbridge. Harvard: An Architectural History completed and edited by Margaret Henderson Floyd. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985.

Early photographs of Divinity Hall

An early photograph of Divinity Hall.   A man stands in the foreground and Farlow Hall is barely visible in the background.

Photograph of Divinity Hall.  The trees surrounding the building are partially bare, suggsesting it is Autumn.

Photograph of Divinity Hall covered with ivy.

Photograph of front of Divinity Hall.   There is a picket fence in the foreground, running along Divinity Avenue,

Photograph of Divinity Hall in what appears to be winter or early spring.  Melting snow is on the ground and surrounding trees are bare.

         Harvard Diviity School shield   

45 Francis Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 617.495.5788

my.hds   |   Harvard University   |   Harvard Library   |   Privacy Policy   |   Trademark Notice   |   Reporting Copyright Infringements
Copyright © 2015 President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.