|Ezra Ripley Thayer (Credit)|
Between 1915 and 1925, Harvard University conducted the first national public fund-raising campaign in higher education in the United States. At the same time, Harvard Law School attempted the first such effort in legal education. The law school organized its effort independently, in conjunction with its centennial in 1917. The university campaign succeeded magnificently by all accounts; the law school failed miserably. Though perfectly positioned for this new venture, Harvard Law School raised scarcely a quarter of its goal from merely 2 percent of its alumni. This essay presents the first account of this campaign and argues that its failure was rooted in longstanding cultural and professional objections that many of the school's alumni shared: law students and law schools neither need nor deserve benefactions, and such gifts worsen the overcrowding of the bar. Due to these objections, lethargy, apathy, and pessimism suffused the campaign. These factors weakened the leadership of the alumni association, the dean, and the president, leading to inept management, wasted time, and an unlikely strategy that was pursued ineffectively. All this doomed the campaign, particularly given the tragic interruptions of the dean's suicide and World War I, along with competition from the well-run campaigns for the University and for disaster relief due to the war.