Dunster House is one of the first two dormitories constructed under President Lowell’s House Plan, and one of the seven Houses given to Harvard by Edward Stephen Harkness. The House was named in honor of Henry Dunster, who became the first President of Harvard College at the age of thirty-one, immediately after his arrival in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1640. He held the office during the early years of the Colony, and left the College in 1654 after it had become a well-established institution.

The House was completed in 1930 and began operations in the fall of that year under the leadership of Master Chester N. Greenough, English Professor and former Dean of Harvard College. One of Greenough’s primary concerns was the Dunster Library. Through a gift of $25,000 in memory of Alexander Moss White (1892) and numerous other donations, the library had over 11,000 books by the end of the first year.

Dunster’s¬†Faculty Deans are Sean Kelly,¬†Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy, and Cheryl Chen, Senior Lecturer on Philosophy. Michael Uy serves as the Allston Burr Resident Dean.

Dunster is located on the banks of the Charles River, next to the John W. Weeks Footbridge. The tower of Dunster House is inspired by the famous Big Tom Tower of Christ Church, Oxford. Above the east wing is the Dunster family crest. Dunster’s mascot is the moose, inspired by the three golden elk on the Dunster family crest.
Famous inhabitants of Dunster House have included Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones, who were roommates there in the late 1960s. Other notable Dunster alumni include Al Franken, Norman Mailer, Caspar Weinberger, and Deval Patrick. For many years Dunster was reputed to have the highest grade-point average (GPA) of any house.

The Early Years

In the fall of 1928, rumors spread across the Harvard campus about a proposed design of the College dormitory system. The so-called “House Plan,” conceived by University President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, called for the development of seven dormitories near and along the Charles River to separate upperclassmen from the freshmen, who would remain in Harvard Yard. With a generous gift from Edward Stephen Harkness, the project became a reality.

For help to put the House Plan into operation, President Lowell turned to Chester Noyes Greenough (’98), who had just recently submitted his resignation as Dean of Harvard College to return to his post as English Professor. During his eight years as Dean, Greenough had instituted many significant changes to undergraduate advising and the relationship between students and the rest of the University, including the initiation of “Freshman Week,” a week-long orientation for freshmen before the start of their first school year. President Lowell asked Greenough to be Master of one of the Houses; after some hesitation, Greenough decided to accept the position.

Two Houses were scheduled to be ready by the autumn of 1930, and Greenough was to be Master of Dunster House, named after Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard (1640-1654). Dunster was a graduate of Magdalene College in Cambridge, England. Enriching the relationship between the two universities, two stones were sent from Magdalene College to Dunster House and were placed in the wall near the doors to J-entry.

One of Greenough”s primary concerns was with the Dunster Library. Through a gift of $25,000 in memory of Alexander Moss White (’92), and numerous other donations, Greenough”s hopes were fulfilled. By the end of the first year, the library had 11,000 books, and Greenough was already considering expanding the facility. In honor of the White contribution, a motto was inscribed over the fireplace in the library.

Dunster in the Public Eye

Read about Dunster in the Harvard Gazette!