John Winthrop House is one of twelve undergraduate residences at Harvard College and home to slightly under 400 students.
Commonly referred to as Winthrop House, it consists of two buildings, Standish Hall and Gore Hall. Both were built in 1912 as separate freshman dormitories. In 1931 they were joined as John Winthrop House, one of the seven original Harvard houses in which students reside from their sophomore until their senior years. Historically, Winthrop was also one of the first Harvard houses open to Catholic and Jewish students. Winthrop House maintains an affiliation with Davenport College at Yale University.
The house's name honors two notable men who shared the name "John Winthrop"—the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as well as his descendant, an 18th Century astronomer who was both a Harvard professor and president of the university. The house shield is from the Winthrop family coat of arms: a lion with three chevrons in the background. In heraldric language, the blazon of the house shield is "Argent three chevrons Gules overall a lion rampant Sable."
The two John Winthrops
The first John Winthrop (1588-1649) was a member of the English gentry. In 1630, at the age of 41, Winthrop sold his home and sailed for New England, recording his visions that the New World could be a "city on a hill." He served as leader of the Massachusetts Bay Company, then later became the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a position he held for over sixteen years.
His great-great-great-grandson John Winthrop (1714-1779) was the Hollis Professor of Mathematicks and Natural Philosophy from the age of 24 until his death at 65. Regarded as the first American astronomer, Winthrop also served briefly as the president of Harvard from 1773-1774.
The two halls which would become Winthrop House were built in the same year and share many attributes. Both are four-story U-shaped buildings surrounding courtyards, with a gated open side facing the Charles River. Both have fifth floor living spaces at their central axis only. The facade of Gore Hall is based on Sir Christopher Wren's late-17th-century garden wing of the Hampton Court Palace.
Gore Hall contains the Winthrop House dining hall in a below-street-level space at its center. In the corresponding spot, Standish Hall contains the Winthrop House Library, which holds the largest private collection of John Singleton Copley portraits. When Standish was still a stand-alone dormitory for freshmen, what is now the library was then its dining hall.
Two gates at opposite ends of the Yellowwood Courtyard, both built in 1914, connect Gore and Standish Halls. The front entrance, facing Mill Street, is the Winthrop Gate. The house shield is welded in the front.
On the river side stands the Fly Club Gate, an English Baroque structure named after one of Harvard's male-only final clubs whose members provided a grant to build it. The panther symbol of the Fly Club is centered within the ironwork above the entry, and inscribed is the dedication: "For Friendships Made in College the Fly Club in Gratitude has Built this Gate."
Stein Club is a themed event featuring beer and snacks for Winthrop Residents every other Thursday evening. It is usually held in Winthrop's Junior Common Room. Winthrop House sells beer steins annually with the house crest on them to be used at the stein clubs, though having one is not required to partake. Recent Stein Club themes include "Kung Fu," "Comedy Night," "Oktoberfest," "Regatta," and others. Stein Club is one of the most well attended events held in the house. Although many believe that Edward Kennedy began Winthrop's Stein Club tradition, this is not true. The origin of this apocryphal story is a humorous article that appeared in the Harvard Independent.
The Winthrop Arbella Ball is the house's annual spring formal dance. It is named after the Arbella, the ship upon which the first John Winthrop ventured to the new World. The ball typically features a swing band playing before a temporary dance floor set up in the Gore Courtyard, and a DJ in the Winthrop Junior Common Room.
The Debauchery Ball, Winthrop's Spring "informal" dance, is an innovation of the 1990s that has been revived in recent years. Attendees are given "Debauchery Dollars" or "Bauch Bucks" — essentially, Monopoly money — when entering the dance. Throughout the night, individuals pay fellow dancegoers to do certain things, such as remove clothing or kiss others. At the end of the evening, the dancegoers with the most money win prizes.
In recent years, due to pressure from the Office of Student Life at Harvard College, the dance has been re-branded "Keep it Klassy." "Bauch bucks" are no longer permitted, but the organizers of the dance rent human cages to allow students to dance in the old tradition of the event.
Thropstock is Winthrop's annual spring carnival, held in late April or early May. Thropstock typically features blow-up rides and games in the courtyard, a picnic lunch, cotton candy, and live music by Harvard student bands. Recent performers include Plan B for the Type A's, So Long Princess, and others.
Winthrop House's most famous former inhabitant was President John F. Kennedy. Harvard University maintains Kennedy's former senior year dorm room in Gore Hall as a private room for guests of the university, especially political notables who visit the Kennedy School of Government. The room has been renovated and redecorated by the Institute of Politics in order to make it more accommodating to visiting guests. The study is furnished with a plaque commemorating the late President Kennedy, a leather couch, and a large rug, along with framed photographs of Kennedy. The Kennedy Suite's bedroom has two twin beds, as well as a shelf of books written by and about President Kennedy.
Other notable Winthrop alumni include United States Massachusetts Senators Edward Kennedy(D) and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr (R; He lost his seat to the aforementioned JFK. He was actually a resident of Standish Hall, which is now part of Winthrop House); Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke; CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein; UCLA professor and national security expert Amy Zegart; Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin; United States Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.); conservative African-American activist Alan Keyes; conservative anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist; Nixon administration cabinet official and Watergate figure Elliot Richardson; Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson; Minnesota Speaker of the House Paul Thissen; and Beauty and the Geek Season 3 winner Alan "Scooter" Zackheim. During his freshman year, the nuclear weapons pioneer J. Robert Oppenheimer lived in Standish Hall. Author James von der Heydt served as Resident Dean of Winthrop House in 2006.
- Bird, Kai and Martin Sherwin. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. p.29
- Von Der Heydt, James. "A Jeremiad for an American School". Retrieved 24 May 2012.