Posted on March 26, 2019

Renovated Lowell House Will Not Display Portrait of Controversial Former University President Abbott Lawrence Lowell

Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Delano R. Franklin, Harvard Crimson, March 25, 2019

Lowell House will not display portraits of former University President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877, and his wife Anna Parker Lowell when it reopens in the fall, incoming Faculty Deans David I. Laibson ’88 and Nina Zipser announced in a Friday email to House residents.

Lowell’s tenure as University President — which stretched from 1909 to 1933 — was marked both by the major changes he instituted at Harvard and by his racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. Laibson and Zipser said students should not have to see images of the two Lowells — after whose family the House is named — in such a prominent space.

During his tenure, Lowell created the house system and worked to integrate students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. He also sought to cap the number of Jewish students at Harvard and excluded African-American students from living in Harvard Yard. Alongside former Dean of the College Chester N. Greenough, Class of 1898, he led a purge of gay students — the “Secret Court” of 1920 — connected to at least one suicide.


Laibson and Zipser wrote that they did not want to erase part of Harvard’s history and that they plan to host discussions on the Lowell family’s legacy. They also wrote they will invite students to view another portrait of Lowell in University Hall.


Laibson and Zipser also announced they would add several paintings by University portraitist and Lowell Senior Common Room member Stephen E. Coit ’71 to the renovated dining hall, including a portrait of outgoing Faculty Deans Diana L. Eck and Dorothy A. Austin. A portrait of former Radcliffe College administrator and Lowell Senior Common Room member Florence C. Ladd will also be added.

Laibson and Zipser added that they would reinstall portraits of some other members of the Lowell family in the renovated dining hall.


University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Sacks’s remarks.