Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,800 undergraduate students and about 14,000 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States’ oldest institution of higher learning and one of the most prestigious in the world.
The Massachusetts Great and General Court authorized Harvard’s founding. In its early years, Harvard College primarily trained Congregational and Unitarian clergy, although it has never been formally affiliated with any denomination. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th century, Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites. Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot‘s long tenure (1869–1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. A. Lawrence Lowell, who succeeded Eliot, further reformed the undergraduate curriculum and undertook aggressive expansion of Harvard’s land holdings and physical campus. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II; he began to liberalize admissions after the war.