The Ingersoll Lectures date back to the year 1893. The original bequest (of $5,000) was made by Miss Caroline Haskell Ingersoll carrying out the wishes of her father George Goldthwaite Ingersoll, a Harvard alumnus. Born in Boston in 1796, Reverend Ingersoll led parishes in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire until his death in 1863. The lectures were initiated by then Harvard president Charles W. Eliot in 1896.
Ms. Ingersoll stipulated in the terms that the lecture ‘not form a part of the usual college course’ and was ‘not to be delivered by any Professor or Tutor as part of his usual routine of instruction.’ The Ingersoll lecture was to be given once a year; the choice of the lecturer was not to be restricted to any one denomination or profession. Miss Ingersoll further directed that the lecture should be made available to the public gratis in written form.
Extract from the will of Miss Caroline Haskell Ingersoll, who died in Keene, County of Cheshire, New Hampshire, January 26, 1893:
"First. In carrying out the wishes of my late beloved father, George Goldthwait Ingersoll, as declared by him in his last will and testament, I give and bequeath to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass, where my late father was graduated, and which he always held in love and honor, the sum of Five thousand dollars ($5,000) as a fund for the establishment of a Lectureship on a plan somewhat similar to that of the Dudleian lecture, that is - one lecture to be delivered each year, on any convenient day between the last of May and the first day of December, on this subject, 'the Immortality of Man,' said lecture not to form a part of the usual college course, not to be delivered by any Professor or Tutor as part of his usual routine of instruction, though any such Professor or Tutor may be appointed to such service. The choice of said lecturer is not to be limited to any one religious denomination, nor to any one profession, but may be that of either clergyman or layman, the appointment to take place at least six months before the delivery of said lecture. The above sum to be safely invested and three fourths of the annual interest thereof to be paid to the lecturer for his services and the remaining fourth to be expended in the publishment and gratuitous distribution of the lecture, a copy of which is always to be furnished by the lecturer for such purpose. The same lecture to be named and known as 'the Ingersoll lecture on the Immortality of Man.'"
This fund was increased by a bequest under the will of Mary S. Rauber.
On May 21, 1979, it was voted "until further order of the board, to transfer the Ingersoll Lecture Fund (1894) from Non-Departmental to the endowment of the Divinity School as to both principal and income."
Information about past Ingersoll lectures can be found in the Excel sheet below.
HARVARD DIVINITY SCHOOL LIBRARY