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Conferring of Honorary Degrees
The tradition of bestowing honorary degrees began in European universities in the Middle Ages. In the seventeenth century there were very few special awards given at Harvard. In 1692, William Brattle, John Leverett, and Increase Mather received ceremonial sacred theology degrees for their stewardship of Harvard College. However, recognizing the contributions to the world outside of the University, the first true Harvard honorary degree awarded is generally considered to be the Master of Arts conferred in 1753 on Benjamin Franklin.
Also notable, in April of 1776, the governing boards of Harvard awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws to General George Washington. Today the governing boards grant as honorary degrees the Master of Arts (A.M.) and Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), the Doctor of Science (S.D.), Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.), Doctor of Literature (Litt.D.), Doctor of Music (Mus.D.), Doctor of Divinity (D.D.), and Doctor of Arts (Art.D.).
Sixteen presidents of the United States have received honorary degrees from Harvard, some before they became president. They include George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and George Herbert Walker Bush.
Harvard News has covered many past Harvard honorary degree recipients. Please visit here to learn more about their coverage of one of our oldest traditions.
Please send all inquiries and correspondence regarding Honorary Degrees to:
Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees
Office of the Governing Boards
17 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138