Henry S. Pritchett
It was more than a hundred years ago that Henry S. Pritchett, the MIT’s fifth president, was inaugurated, the first inauguration ceremony ever for a president of the Institute. As the Institute was still located in Boston, the inauguration took place at Symphony Hall, on October 24th, 1900. A reception was held in the Institute’s library; the room was bedecked with “bay trees in tubs” and “Japanese vases and chrysanthemums” and was attended by thousands of guests. Afterwards, the students proceeded to President Pritchett’s house by torchlight and cheered for the new president and his wife Eva.
This inauguration ceremony seems long ago and remote from the MIT of today. President L. Rafael Reif’s inauguration ceremony on September 21, 2012, bears the theme of “One Community, Together in Service”, and the accompanying symposia cover topics such the global importance of MIT and the future of education. But in 1900, too, very similar topics were on Pritchett’s mind. In his inaugural address he speaks extensively about the perception of higher education at the time. Pritchett pondered, “Is education to have for its object the training of the intellect, or is it to aim at the development of character, or is it to undertake both subjects?.” Unless such a balance is found, Pritchett decides, “that system [of higher education] will not have served the ends which education should serve in a free state and for a free people.”
Towards the end of his address, Pritchett celebrates the global reach of MIT’s alumni, noting that invitations to his inauguration have been sent out “to every country and to every climate. Some are at this moment being borne on the backs of men or on snow sledges to the interior of Alaska, to be read months hence amid the winter snows. Some will be read in the tropics, under the glare of a summer sun […] How far so ever from [MIT’s] halls your path may lead, it can never take you beyond the circle of her affection.” Pritchett’s vision of MIT’s place in the world is in many ways mired in the ethics and politics of 1900, but nevertheless they contain the germ of the spirit of global community that MIT espouses today.
Invitations to the 1900 and 2012 Inaugurations are shown below.
Invitation to President Pritchett's Inauguration
MIT Inaugural Committee Records, 1900-2005, Box 1 AC 36 p 34.
Flexner, Henry S. Pritchett: A biography, pp. 66-73.
MIT Institute Archives