Adams House (Harvard University)

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For other buildings with similar names, see Adams House (disambiguation).
The Adams House dining hall

Adams House is one of the twelve undergraduate houses at Harvard University, located between Harvard Square and the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Named to commemorate the Adams family, including John Adams, the second president of the United States, and John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, Adams House is often regarded[who?] as Harvard's most historic House.[citation needed] It celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007.


All but one of the buildings of Adams House were originally private "Gold Coast" dormitories built around 1900 to provide luxurious accommodation for rich Harvard undergraduates. They, along with the white clapboarded Apthorp House (1760), one of the most distinguished Colonial residences of Cambridge – now the Master's residence – predate the rest of Harvard's Houses by several decades.[1] The current main entrance hall, Russell, which contains the common rooms, library, kitchen and dining areas, as well as the C-entry suites, was added to link the various disparate structures together when the house system was initiated in the 1930s. Although officially inaugurated in 1931, Adams was not completed until 1932.

Surprisingly, given the House’s current appeal, Adams was not popular initially; the Victorian era rooms of the Gold Coast buildings seemed dark and "Germanic" to 1930's taste, and many students preferred the entirely up-to-date neo-Colonial structures of Eliot, Winthrop and Dunster Houses.[2] Adams' location, however, (it is the closest of all the Houses to Harvard Yard) and its reputation for good food (it is one of the few Harvard Houses that doesn't share a kitchen) soon overcame any perceived architectural deficiencies. In fact, some of these same “deficiencies” turned out to be quite handy: students in the 1940s and 50s wishing to avoid the College's strict nightly curfews and parietal rules came to greatly value Adams' multiple and unguarded entries, unlike the central, monitored portals of the newer undergraduate residences. Today, of course, such stringent measures are long gone, and the various buildings that comprise Adams House are considered some of the most interesting and architecturally significant structures in the University system.

Adams is also home to one of two Presidential Suite Memorials at Harvard. Franklin D. Roosevelt lived in Westmorly Court (now B-17) from 1900 to 1904. The FDR Suite Restoration Committee at Adams House (FDR Suite at Adams House, Harvard University) has largely restored the 32nd President's Harvard quarters to their 1904 appearance, as the only memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of early-20th-century Harvard student life. The Suite is open by appointment to University members, members of the press, and other accredited guests. A virtual museum, allowing anyone to tour the Suite and understand more about day-to-day Edwardian-era living at the College, is planned.

Emblem and Motto[edit]

Like all the other Houses at Harvard, Adams possesses its own coat of arms: Adams' is derived from an 1838 seal ring of John Quincy Adams. James Finney Baxter, the House's first master, changed the background to gold to symbolize the Gold Coast, and added four additional oak sprigs to the original one to represent the five buildings of Adams House. Its official heraldic designation is: "Or, five sprigs of oak acorned in saltire, Gules." The House motto, "Alteri Seculo," is taken from Cicero's Tusculan Disputations: "He who plants trees labors for the benefit of future generations." ("Serit arbores quae alteri s[a]eculo prosint.") (The alternate, late-Latin spelling, 'seculo' in lieu of the more normal 'saeculo' was noted at the House's founding in 1932. A letter to Master Baxter, now in the Adams House Archives, indicates that Adams himself had thus spelled the word in his signet, and therefore this spelling would be maintained for posterity in the House's official motto.)

Reputation & Traditions[edit]

Before Harvard College opted to use a system of randomization to assign living quarters to upperclassmen, students were allowed to list housing preferences, which led to the congregation of like-minded individuals at various Houses. At first, in the 30s, 40s and 50s, Adams was the athletic house; then, during the late 60s, that reputation changed, and Adams became a center for student activism. Later, under the aegis of Masters Bob and Jana Kiely (1972–1999) Adams became an artistic and literary haven; during this period, Adams also became widely regarded as the most gay-friendly house, in an era before equal rights for people of different sexual orientations were even considered a viable alternative at Harvard. Adams, under the Kielys, was also the first Harvard House to become fully co-ed.[3] Vestiges of that avant-garde reputation still remain today, protected and promoted by the House's current masters, Judy and Sean Palfrey, and embodied in many of the House's unique facilities, including the Pool Theater, a converted swimming pool (a change much lamented by alumni mourning the many late night trysts and other quasi illicit activities that were reputed to have occurred there, like coed nude swimming); the recently restored Coolidge Room (the site of artist Edward Penfield's famous murals) and the Gold Room, Adams' Moorish gilded vestibule to the world. Adams also boasts the Bow and Arrow Printing Press which is located in the former house grill in B entry, and the Adams Art-Space (previously the House's squash courts.)

The House has continued to uphold its most beloved traditions, including Halloween's Drag Night and Masquerade; a Winter Feast, which features a black-tie reading of Winnie-the-Pooh; the Winter Waltz; the Spring Swing; and Friday afternoon Masters' Teas that are well known throughout the University. House events like Carpe Noctem are coordinated weekly by the Adams House Committee.

Effusive House spirit, architectural beauty, and convenient location continue to make Adams a highly desirable residence for undergraduates and tutors.

The current masters of Adams House are Dr. Judith Palfrey and her husband Dr. John "Sean" Gorham Palfrey VI.

Alumni Magazine[edit]

Alone among the Harvard Houses, Adams has its own alumni Magazine, called the Gold Coaster. Published in e-zine format twice a year, the Gold Coaster features stories on Adams House history, famous residents, alumni profiles, student submissions, and news of upcoming alumni events.

Notable residents[edit]

Other notable residents include John Brademas, Amy Brenneman, E.J. Dionne, Martin Feldstein, Lauren Greenfield, Andre Gregory, Fred Gwynne, Adam Hamilton, Alan Keyes, Bernard Law, Donal Logue, William P. Perry, Alison Rogers, Peter Sellars, Courtney B. Vance, and Michael Weishan.

General John Burgoyne was imprisoned in Apthorp during the American Revolution. Additionally, John F. Kennedy (political rival to aforementioned Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr) met with his senior thesis adviser in the Coolidge Room. Aaron Copland lived in the House as a guest. Coordinates: 42°22′19″N 71°06′59″W / 42.371810°N 71.116314°W / 42.371810; -71.116314

Further reading[edit]

  • Bainbridge Bunting, Margaret Henderson Floyd, Harvard: An Architectural History, Harvard University Press, 1985.
  • Shand-Tucci, Douglass, Harvard University: An Architectural Tour, Princeton Architectural Press, 2001
  • Roosevelt, Franklin D.; Roosevelt, Elliot, ed. FDR: His Personal Letters (4 vol., 1947); volume one covers Roosevelt's years at Groton and Harvard; pg 371 gives a physical description of FDR's Suite at Adams House, and includes Roosevelt's own drawing of the floor plan; subsequent letters describe the rooms' decor and furnishing.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Garrett, Wendell D. (1960). Apthorp House, 1760-1960. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-1258189914. 
  2. ^ Shand-Tucci, Douglas (2001). Harvard University, an Architectural Tour. Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 978-1568982809. 
  3. ^ Harvard University Gazette. 17 December 1998.