Harvard College, originally for men, was founded in 1636 with a grant from the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1638 it was named for John Harvard, its first benefactor. During the 1640s the college expanded despite inadequate finances, and in 1650 it was incorporated and chartered by the General Court. Intended to be an institution for the education of Puritan ministers, it grew to be an institution of general education, and new and more liberal subjects and policies were introduced.
In the 18th cent., particularly under John Leverett (1708–24), enrollment and campus facilities increased and the religious attachment to Congregationalism declined. Systematic theological instruction was inaugurated in 1721 with the establishment of a professorship of divinity, and by 1827, with the opening of Divinity Hall, Harvard became a nucleus of theological teaching in New England. In its early years the college was largely supported by the colony and the New England community as a whole, but support soon came in the form of gifts, and in 1823 the last state grant was received. Under Charles W. Eliot, the college became a great modern university. Its physical plant and curriculum were expanded, the graduate school was established, and the law and medical schools were reorganized. Eliot is also noted for his introduction of the elective system at Harvard.
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