Rule (Breaking) & Religion

Clay pipes from Harvard Yard.
Late 17th–early 18th-century tobacco pipe from Colonial Harvard Yard. Photo by Mark Craig.

Like any school, Harvard has always had a lot of rules. Yet, unlike today, Harvard’s 17th and 18th century rules were religious in nature, stemming from Harvard’s and Massachusetts’s Puritan origins. The College Laws forbade drinking and smoking as counter to Puritan sobriety and even forbade certain types of adornment, such as gold buttons, as they were outside Puritan notions of modesty. These rules applied to a student body different than today’s, as only males could attend early Harvard, and most students began their college degrees around the age of fifteen.

We started to wonder what the students actually did despite the laws. The archaeological materials become critical, as they show the discrepancies in the written record. Looking at fragments found underground at Harvard Yard, we discovered that breaking rules has a long history.