History

Winthrop House is named for two John Winthrops. The first John Winthrop came to America in 1630 and served as a leader of the Massachusetts Bay Company and the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for 16 years. The second John Winthrop. (AB 1732), the great, great grandson of Governor Winthrop, was the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy and was highly regarded as the first American astronomer.  He also served as President of Harvard in 1773 and received the first honorary LL.D. awarded by the university.  

The House crest is the Winthrop family coat of arms, a lion on a shield with three chevrons in the background.  Descended from people who had first lived in England as far back as the Norman Conquest, the Winthrops first achieved prominence through Adam Winthrop (1498-1562) who became lord of the Manor of Groton (Suffolk) and Patron of the Church under Henry VIII and was granted arms and the rank of Gentleman under Edward VI. John Winthrop (1588-1649), the grandson of Adam Winthrop, sold his home at the age of forty-one, left a relatively settled way of life and sailed for the unknown wilderness of New England.

The Architecture

Today, John Winthrop House consists of three buildings, Beren Hall, Gore Hall and Standish Hall. Originally, the buildings were established in 1914 as separate freshmen dormitories.  At this time, the current Library served as the Dining Room for Standish residents. The Architects for the houses, Coolidge, Shepley and Rutan, used opulent English precedents for architectural accent when designing the houses. Gore Hall was based on Sir Christopher Wren's late-seventeenth-century garden facade of Hampton Court. Two gates connect Gore and Standish Hall. In the front entrance is the Winthrop Gate, which has the Winthrop family coat of arms welded prominently in the front. Facing the Charles River is the Fly Club Gate. Built on a more human scale than some of the other river gates, the gentle inward curve of this English Baroque gate conveys a sense of friendly beckoning. Its size and form mimic the Winthrop Gate, executed in the same year. In the Fly Club Gate, the judicious use of brick and picturesque wrought-iron detailing render the entrance less forbidding than, for example, the massive stone entrance and wrought-iron gate at Dunster House. The symbol of the Fly Club, the panther, is centered within the once polychromed ironwork above the entry. Inscribed below the symbol is the dedication: "For Friendships Made in College the Fly Club in Gratitude has Built this Gate."

The House System

The two halls were unified as John Winthrop House under the implementation of the House system and through a generous gift to the college by Edward S. Harkness (Yale 1897), heir to a Standard Oil fortune. Harkness was long interested in education and supported the creation of a house system similar to that of Oxford colleges. When Yale stalled in its efforts to enact a new housing plan Harkness could fund, Harkness turned to President Lowell. When Lowell described his plan, Harkness offered a gift of $11 million to fund seven new residential houses. The final arrangement of the River Houses then incorporated the earlier freshman dorms, creating Winthrop House from Standish and Gore Halls.

The original construction of the freshmen river halls, Standish and Gore, was intended to combat growing social and class schisms in the student community of Harvard. Under President Lowell, the University hoped to create a sense of solidarity in students through concentrated housing. 

No two design plans were alike for the new houses. Exteriors and interiors bespoke elegance. "One ought to eat only venison, drink only champagne in the...dining room," wrote undergraduate columnist George Homans '32 of the new houses. The seven Houses' titles evoked Harvard History. Dunster, Eliot, Kirkland and Leverett bore the names of former presidents. Adams, Lowell and Winthrop honored families long involved with the College. When the houses were finally opened, nearly 90% of the student body elected to live in them. The House system was widely hailed as a forward step in American higher education.

Standish and Gore Halls

Standish Hall honors Captain Miles Standish (c. 1584-1656), a professional soldier and one of the few non-Pilgrims on the Mayflower. Mrs. Russel Sage, one of his descendants, donated the funds for this building as a freshman hall. Gore Hall, regarded by many as one of Harvard's most beautiful buildings, celebrates Christopher Gore (A.B. 1776), a Harvard Fellow, Massachusetts Governor, Senator and longtime benefactor of the college library.  Christopher Gore was born in Boston in 1758, the tenth of thirteen children of Frances and John Gore. Christopher served in the Continental Army as a clerk with the artillery regiment of his brother-in-law Thomas Craft.   Christopher Gore's public service began in 1788 when he was elected to represent Boston at the Philadelphia constitution to ratify the new United States Constitution. A year later, George Washington appointed Gore as the first United States Attorney for Massachusetts. President Washington again appointed Gore to a diplomatic position in 1796. The Gores travelled to England and remained there for eight years while Christopher served on the Jay Commission that negotiated mercantile claims for American ships seized or destroyed during the war with Britain. Gore also spent two months as charge d'affaires in London after his good friend Rufus King resigned from his post and before James Monroe, the new ambassador, arrived.

Beren Hall

Built during the Winthrop House Renewal, a five-story addition, Beren Hall, is named for Winthrop alumnus Robert M. Beren ’47.  Beren Hall is a state-of-the-art building with student housing, conference rooms, classrooms, the Lion’s Den lounge, Winthrop House Grille, fitness center and the fifth-floor rooftop common room.  One of Winthrop’s new and popular venues, the 5th floor Beren Rooftop Room has floor-to-ceiling windows and incomparable views of Boston and the Charles River. The words of Governor Winthrop adorn the room: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Distinguished Alumni

Winthrop  alumni include US President John F. Kennedy, US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, US Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Former US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Conservative Activist Alan Keyes, Anti-Tax Reformer Grover Norquist, US Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Nuclear Weapons Pioneer J. Robert Oppenheimer, US Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Chairman Emeritus of Goodwin Procter LLP Regina M. Pisa, and Stanford Professor and Hoover Institution Fellow Amy Zegart.