July 17 Mother & myself have had a very quiet forenoon
Some expected Cassander Gilmore here but they
have set so many times that Im thinking they will
not come at all. About 4 Oclock I went to N. Bridge
water with Mrs Sarah Ames & Mrs Mitchell to carry
Fred to the cars for Cambridge to be examined for
the Sophomore year
Cassander Gilmore, the relative who was mentioned as a “no-show” visitor today, was a prominent shoe manufacturer in Raynham, Massachusetts. His failed visit was incidental to the bigger news of the day: Frederick Lothrop Ames’s departure for Cambridge.
Barely sixteen years old, Fred Ames visited Harvard College today “to be examined” for acceptance. He had just completed a year (or more) at Phillips Exeter Academy and, despite his young age, was seeking entrance to college. Harvard was the place for just such a bright fellow.
Fred seemed both prepared and motivated for college, and his parents, Sarah Lothrop Ames and Oliver Ames Jr., supported the idea of higher education for him, perhaps for a variety of reasons. This was an age, according to Henry Adams, when parents “began sending their children to Harvard for the sake of its social advantages.”* Sarah and Oliver Jr. were ambitious for their only son, but the question remains why they – or he – requested entry for the sophomore rather than the freshman year.
With his future riding on the examination ahead of him, Fred must have been at least a little anxious about the trip. His mother and Aunts Evelina and Harriett may have sensed some apprehension on his part, and tried to bolster his spirits as they rode along to the train station in North Bridgewater. They may also have simply been exercising their right to behave as many fond relatives behave when their young ones leave for school: with overt affection. Fred may have been relieved, actually, to wave goodbye to them at the depot.
* Ronald Story, The Forging of an Aristocracy: Harvard and the Boston Upper Class, 1800-1870, Wesleyan University Press, 1980.
3 thoughts on “July 17, 1851”
Probably his advanced prep school studies at P/E, gave him a chance to skip his freshman year, if he could pass an exam.
Dwight, I suspect you’re correct, that there was a mechanism in place for students to enter Harvard as sophomores, provided they qualified. However, I still wonder WHY Fred or, more likely, his parents, opted for three years of college instead of four. Had he tried to enter earlier and not met the criteria? Was the 3-year plan based on finances? Were the parents aware of the tough razing that upperclassmen enacted on Harvard freshmen? What set of choices led to this particular solution?
Maybe “bragging rights.” I know it would be for me as a parent.