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Lawrence Scientific School


LAWRENCE SCIENTIFIC SCHOOL, established at Harvard University in 1847 by a gift of $50,000 from industrialist Abbott Lawrence, who wished to support applied science in eastern Massachusetts. The school existed until 1906 but enjoyed only mixed success, since Harvard presidents Edward Everett and Charles W. Eliot did not favor applied subjects in their liberal arts university. Everett thought the school would be a means for bringing a German university to Cambridge and from the start tried to direct the school into advanced studies of pure science. He hired Eben N. Horsford to teach pure and applied chemistry and Louis Agassiz, the eminent Swiss naturalist, to teach zoology and geology. The school was most popular as an engineering school under Henry L. Eustis. Many of his students went on to have important careers in railroading and mining around the world. Other scientists, such as Simon Newcomb, Harvey W. Wiley, Charles F. Chandler, John D. Runkle, and Thomas M. Drown, also attended the school.

The school had an uneven history. It began with high hopes but had only modest enrollments in the 1850s, declined in the 1860s, and did not recover until the late 1890s. As it was unable to compete with the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), then in Boston, Eliot tried repeatedly to transfer its programs to MIT. Nathaniel S. Shaler, a Lawrence alumnus and Agassiz's successor on the faculty, became dean in 1891 and devoted himself to building up the school. Despite his success (the enrollment reached 584 in 1902, an all-time high) and a 1903 bequest of approximately $30 million from manufacturer Gordon McKay, Eliot tried another merger with MIT in 1904. To protect the new endowment and to preserve a place for applied science at Harvard, Shaler agreed in 1906 to dissolve the Lawrence Scientific School and send its remaining undergraduate programs to Harvard College in return for a new Graduate School of Applied Science, which survives.


Elliott, Clark A., and Margaret W. Rossiter, eds. Science at Harvard University: Historical Perspectives. Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press, 1992.

Hawkins, Hugh. Between Harvard and America, The Educational Leadership of Charles W. Eliot. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

M. W.Rossiter/a. r.

See alsoEducation, Higher: Colleges and Universities ; Engineering Education ; Harvard University ; Science Education .

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