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Harvard University (U.S.)


Last modified: 2015-01-11 by rick wyatt
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[Flag of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts] image by Joe McMillan

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Description of the flag

The oldest university in the United States, founded in 1636 as Harvard College, named for its principal early benefactor, John Harvard. Harvard coat of arms is Gules three open books proper inscribed VE, RI, and TAS (spelling out "veritas," Latin for "truth." The coat of arms first appears in a sketch in the records of a meeting of the college's Overseers in 1644. A version with a white chevron between the three books (now used as the arms of Harvard College as the undergraduate element of Harvard University) appears on the institution's 1650 charter from the Massachusetts Great and General Court (legislature). However, the arms fell out of use and were lost to memory thereafter until they were rediscovered and returned to use as a result of research in preparation for Harvard's bicentennial celebrations in 1836. For that event a white banner was made with the shield on it. Harvard now uses a banner of the arms for both daily flying and ceremonial use. In addition, the components of the university including Harvard College, specialized schools, and undergraduate residential houses have their own arms as well as flags that mostly consist of the escutcheon on a crimson or other solid field.
Joe McMillan, 11 March 2004

Harvard Houses

Houses and colleges are the terms used by both universities for the residential arrangements for undergraduates. They were established at both universities in the first half of the 20th century in an attempt to replicate the environment of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, which are more or less federations of separately endowed and chartered colleges. The houses and colleges at Harvard and Yale differ from the dormitories at most other American universities in that they have faculty members affiliated with each house/college and (as Lewis Nowitz makes clear) are central to the student's identity during and after his/her student days.

Both Harvard and Yale, like most other American universities, are also divided into colleges and schools that are actual academic units rather than social/residential ones. At both places, these units also have their own coats of arms, flags, and banners.

Adams Or five oak leaves palewise in saltire slipped and fructed gules.
Cabot - No information.
Currier Gules an apple tree surrounded at its base by a bench or, in chief a bar engrailed sable fimbriated argent.
Dudley Or a lion rampant vert armed and langued gules within a bordure of the same.
Dunster Azure three stags heads caboshed or.
Eliot Argent a fess gules between two pairs of barrulets gemels wavy azure.
Kirkland Gules on a cross sable fimbriated three mullets in fess argent.
Leverett Argent a chevron between three leverets [i.e., young hares] courant sable.
Lowell Sable a dexter hand couped at the wrist clutching three arrows points in base all argent.
Mather - Ermine on a fess gules three lions passant or (? - conjecture based on partial view of banner of arms)
Pforzheimer - Per bend gules and sable four lozenges conjoined in bend counterchanged.
Quincy Gules seven mascles conjoined, three, three, and one, or.
Winthrop Argent three chevronels gules overall a lion rampant sable.

Joe McMillan, 12 March 2004

Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, part of Harvard University, was formerly a separate college for women, Radcliffe College. Chartered in 1894 it always had a close association with Harvard University. Over the years the two institutions increased their cooperative efforts until finally merging completely in 1999. The flag of the Radcliffe Institute can be seen at

The flag is white, with narrow red stripes on the top and bottom top and bottom edges. On the white field two black engrailed diagonals run from upper hoist to lower fly. The flag is based on Radcliffe's arms, a shield argent, bordered gules, two bends engrailed sable- see Those arms may be based on actual arms of a Radcliffe family. I found several examples of such a coat of arms, minus the red border, on some commercial heraldry sites but have made no judgment on their reliability.
Ned Smith, 19 January 2006