Dunster House

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The central tower of Dunster House.

Dunster House, built in 1930, is one of the first two Harvard University dormitories constructed under President Abbott Lawrence Lowell's House Plan and one of the seven Houses given to Harvard by Edward Harkness. In the early days, room rents varied based on the floor and the size of the room. Dunster is unique among Harvard dormitories for its sixth-story walk-up (it has no elevators); these rooms were originally rented by poorer students, such as Norman Mailer.

The House was named in honor of Henry Dunster, a "learned, conscionable and industrious man," who became the first President of Harvard University. He was appointed to the Harvard presidency at the age of thirty-one, immediately after his arrival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640. He held the office during the early "troublous" years of the Colony and left the College in 1654 after it had become a well-established institution.

The tower of Dunster House is inspired by, but somewhat smaller than, the famous Tom Tower of Christ Church, Oxford. Above the east wing is the Dunster family coat of arms, and above the west wing is the coat of arms of Magdalene College, Cambridge, where Henry Dunster matriculated in 1627.[1] Magdalene College commemorated the relationship between the two universities by sending medieval tracery stones from the First Court of Magdalene; these are now set in the wall near the doors to J-entry of Dunster House.[2]

Dunster is located on the banks of the Charles River next to the John W. Weeks Footbridge, which links Harvard's Allston and Cambridge campuses. From above, its architectural shape, unusual among the River Houses, resembles a branching flowchart due to the odd trapezoidal footprint of the land on which it was built. Dunster is slated for a "full House renewal," a comprehensive renovation that will begin in June 2014.[3]

Dunster, like many of the Harvard Houses, has many yearly traditions, including Keg Races in the fall, Messiah sing-a-long in the winter, the Goat Roast in the spring, and the yearly Dunster House Opera. It is known as one of the more social houses at Harvard, boasting popular Stein Clubs and formals in either the beautiful dining hall or courtyard.

Dunster's current Masters are Roger Porter, who served in the White House during the administrations of both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and Ann Porter. The House's first master was Chester N. Greenough (Harvard Class of 1898), English Professor and former Dean of Harvard College. Former masters include Raoul Bott and Sally Falk Moore. Carlos E. Diaz Rosillo currently serves as the Allston Burr Resident Dean.[4]

Famous inhabitants of Dunster House have included Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones, who were roommates there in the late 1960s. Other notable Dunster alumni include Al Franken, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Durang, Susan Faludi, Roger Ferguson, David Halberstam, Lindsay Hyde, Jean Kwok, Norman Mailer, Lisa Randall, Erich Segal, Caspar Weinberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Deval Patrick. For many years Dunster was reputed to have the highest grade-point average (GPA) of any house. There was a murder-suicide in Dunster House in May 1995 in which Sinedu Tadesse murdered her roommate, Trang Ho;[5] the previous month, April 1995, two Dunster-affiliated students, Kathryn L. Tucker '94 and Ansgar Hansen '97, committed suicide.[6]

Dunster's mascot is the moose, inspired by the three golden elk on the Dunster family crest.


  1. ^ "Dunstor, Henry (DNSR627H)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ "Dunster House: History". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Manning, Colin (30 January 2014). "Dunster Reimagined". Harvard Gazette. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Resident Dean Dunster House". Harvard University. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  5. ^ "Satan Goes to Harvard". Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  6. ^ "Psychiatric Staff Tripled to Aid Grieving Students". Retrieved 2010-01-02. 

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Coordinates: 42°22′07″N 71°06′57″W / 42.36871°N 71.11593°W / 42.36871; -71.11593