Fineable Offenses for Naughty 18th-Century Students at Harvard

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
April 25 2014 1:30 PM

Fineable Offenses for Naughty 18th-Century Students at Harvard

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

Published in the 1856 book A Collection of College Words and Customs, by B.H. Hall, this list describes offenses punishable by fining at Harvard College in the mid-18th century, and specifies maximum finable amounts in pounds (£), shillings (s.), and pence (d.). The list gives an interesting sense of the major student sins of that time, from card-playing to absenteeism to firing guns on the quad.

Hall, a lawyer, author, and Harvard graduate, included the list in his book out of antiquarian interest, noting that the practice of disciplinary fining, while “formerly customary … in many of the colleges in the United States,” was “now very generally abolished.”

Advertisement

Writing on the subject of fines in 1825, the year that the college abandoned the practice, Harvard professor George Ticknor noted that Harvard had collected $11,392 in fines in the previous 17 years. This was “ a large sum certainly, but the most unpleasant circumstance about it is, that such fines do little or no good at any College”:

As far as [fines] were noticed at all, they had the unfortunate air of seeming to be compensations for moral offences, rather than punishments; and fell on the parent at a remote time, instead of falling all at once on the offender himself.

Interestingly, the list doesn’t name hazing as a specific term, though Harvard College has records of undergraduates being fined for hazing first-year students in 1657. The word became much more popular in the mid-19th century, which may account for the omission. “Sending Freshmen in studying time” (in other words, sending first-year students on errands when they should be working) and “Fighting or hurting any person” might be reasonable stand-ins.

Offense No. 19, "Cutting off the lead," seems to refer to the lead on the college building's roof. Lead was once used for roofing material (especially for more expensively constructed buildings), and such buildings suffered from the depradations of thieves who would steal the lead and sell it. It's unclear, in this case, whether the students were cutting off lead for profit or for simple mischief.

HarvardFinesList

From B.H. Hall, A Collection of College Words and Customs, on Open Library.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.