Skip to main content
Select Source:

Henry Dunster

Henry Dunster

Henry Dunster (ca. 1609-1659), an English-born American clergyman, was distinguished as the innovative and forceful first president of Harvard College.

Henry Dunster was born in Bury, Lancashire, England, the fifth child of a yeoman farmer. At 17 he entered Magdalene College at Cambridge University and, upon completion of requirements, received a bachelor of arts degree. He returned to Bury as a teacher and curate, studied Oriental languages, and in 1634 was granted a master of arts degree from Cambridge. Under spiritual stress, Dunster gravitated to Puritanism and emigrated to New England.

Although relatively unknown, Dunster was chosen president of Harvard College upon his arrival in Boston in 1640. He revived an institution that was virtually defunct, reuniting the scattered student body and establishing degree requirements. With Cambridge and Oxford as models, he was determined to put Harvard on secure foundations. The college laws were first codified in 1646, a charter obtained in 1650, and the holdings of the library increased through gifts. Dunster and Thomas Shepard, the eminent Puritan and theologian, petitioned the New England Confederation for contributions from the inhabitants, obtaining £250 in gifts of wheat by 1653. Dunster advocated 4 years residence for the bachelor of arts degree, and although protesting students refused to pay commencement fees, he successfully instituted the change. Edward Johnson in his Wonder Working Providence (1654) observed that "the learned reverend, and judicious Mr. Henry Dunster [was] fitted from the Lord for the work."

In 1641 Dunster married Elizabeth, the widow of Jose Glover. Marriage brought President Dunster financial security and also Glover's printing press. Operated for years in Dunster's house, this press was the first one in the Colonies and was later acquired by Harvard. His wife's death in 1643 led to conflict between her children and Dunster over the estate. In 1644 he chose a second wife, Elizabeth Atkinson, who outlived him.

While a member of the Cambridge church, Dunster refused to have an infant son baptized. Public hostility to his Baptist views led to demands for his resignation from Harvard. On Oct. 24, 1654, he resigned, later becoming a minister at Scituate in Plymouth Colony. He died there in 1659.

Further Reading

Jeremiah Chaplin, Life of Henry Dunster: First President of Harvard College (1872), is the standard biography. Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of Harvard College (1935), gives an excellent account of Dunster's presidency. Two informative background works are Morison's Builders of the Bay Colony (1930; rev. ed. 1958) and Louis B. Wright, The Cultural Life of the American Colonies, 1607-1763 (1957). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Henry Dunster." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Henry Dunster." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-dunster

"Henry Dunster." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-dunster

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Dunster, Henry

Henry Dunster, c.1612–1659, first president of Harvard, b. Lancashire, England, educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge (M.A., 1634). He emigrated to New England in 1640 and was almost at once (Aug. 27, 1640) appointed president of the new college. He formulated its rules and patterned its procedure after the English schools, worked actively for its support, and gave freely of his meager salary for its success. Because of his adoption of Baptist principles he was forced to resign in 1654, and he spent the remainder of his life as a pastor in Scituate, Mass.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Dunster, Henry." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Dunster, Henry." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dunster-henry

"Dunster, Henry." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/dunster-henry

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.