Riot & Rebellion

The statutes of Harvard College have always been very specific about the matter of undergraduates gathering in great and opinionated numbers for purposes not altogether academic. The law is a good deal more lenient now than it once was but overt disruptions have remained officially unacceptable for three centuries.

Almost every springtime the attention of the student body is brought, in some way or another, to a little pamphlet entitled "Regulations for Students in Harvard College," in which appears the notation: "A student who is guilty of an offense against law and order at the time of a public disturbance or unauthorized demonstration or who disregards the instructions of a proctor or other University officer at such time may have his connection with the University served. The mere presence of a student at a disturbance or unauthorized demonstration makes him liable to disciplinary action."

This is no bemused tongue-in-cheekery: punishment through the ages has been rather stringent. In the times of Harvard's earliest classes, as often as not, it consisted of floggings at the cane of the Headmaster. In recent days it has been little less harsh though slightly more subtle--tear gas bombs have been gently lobbed into the midst of revelers, and the most rebellious have been carted away in the Black Marias of the local constabulary.

The history of stern reprisals is long but the history of riot and rebellion has been longer.

Sour Butter


In the middle of the 1700's, the food served in the College dining rooms produced notable discontent among the undergraduates, then a gentlemanly and tasteful lot. In 1766, this dissatisfaction incited Harvard's first real insurrection, the Great Butter Rebellion. Prompted by the serving of sour butter which President Edward Holyoke at first declined to replace, the disturbances settled unto action were not entirely settled until action was taken by the Board of Overseers.

The Faculty was certain that their defense of the President and his rotten butter was quite well taken but the undergraduate body was even more self-righteous. The rebellion, once over, was eulogized by one of the insurrectionaries in a Biblical epic called the Book of Harvard:

"And it came to pass in the ninth Month, on the 23rd day of the Month, the sons of Harvard murmured and said,

"Behold! bad and unwholesome Butter is served out unto us daily.

"Then arose Asa, the Scribe, and went unto Butter stinketh, and we cannot eat thereof; now give us, we pray the, Butter that stinketh not.

"And Belcher the Ruler said, trouble me not, but begone unto thine own Place; but Asa obeyed him out.

"So when Belcher and others of the Rulers departed, the Sons of Harvard clapped their Hands, & hissed & cried, aha! aha!

"Then Edward the Chief Ruler and the other Rulers consulted together and said,

"Behold Asa the Scribe hath risen up against us, & the Sons of Harvard have hissed & clapped in Derision of us.

"Now therefore let us punish Asa the Scribe, & make him confess before all Harvard.