Harvard, America’s first college, is thought of as a bastion of privileged patricians, a place filled with old brick buildings, ivy-covered walls and inscrutable ancient traditions. But it’s also a real college where real young people live, learn, struggle and try to find themselves. In 1813 two boys, Stephen Salisbury and Aaron White, fifteen and sixteen, respectively, left their homes in Massachusetts to become freshmen in the Harvard College class of 1817. The remarkable personal day-to-day accounts both of them left behind illustrate in vivid and sometimes amusing detail what it was really like to go to college in the 1810s. Stephen engages in endless battles with his parents over pocket money and dirty laundry; Aaron in the meantime struggles against depression, feelings of guilt and unworthiness, and his own temptations. Both somehow manage to graduate, but one senses it wasn't easy!
Historian Sean Munger takes a personal and often humorous look at college in the 1810s, and tries to break down the ivory walls that separated 19th century Harvard from the real world. In this episode you’ll figure out why curtains are so essential in an 1810s dorm room, cross swords with Stephen’s insufferable nagging mother, endure Aaron’s seasonal affective disorder, and you’ll learn what a ‘Sulkey Bagg’ is. This could be the most fun episode of Second Decade yet.
Special permission was granted by, and thanks is given to, the Massachusetts Historical Society to quote from the unpublished Aaron White Diaries, 1815-1880.
(Some background music for this episode licensed CC3.0 by Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).