Carter Harrison and Yale’s Campus (the Old Brick Row) in 1843

The letters of Carter Henry Harrison (Class of 1845) of Lexington, Kentucky, written to his mother, Caroline E. Harrison, while he was a student at Yale College, provide a fascinating glimpse into student life at Yale in the middle of the 19th century. Carter’s letters, a small part of the Yale Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection (MS 1258, Box 9, Folder 343), comprise eight letters written between 1842 and 1845.

The letter dated 15 January 1843 is especially poignant because it reports the death in the college the previous week of an unnamed student who was Carter’s “only intimate acquaintance at this place … one of the most amiable boys [he] ever saw.” The student had “been sick eleven days (that is in bed) with the billious fever.” He discusses his own feelings about this sudden death of a fellow student, and reports that the boy’s father had not yet even arrived at Yale following notification of his son’s illness. Carter’s sentiments and his reassurances to his mother about his own well being are reminders of the profound physical and emotional distances from home experienced by many Yale College students in past centuries.

Carter also discusses at length the preaching and religious considerations that were a part of the Yale College curriculum at the time, reflecting a very different educational and social environment than that encountered by Yale students from the latter 19th century to the present. The first page of the letter contains a contemporary woodcut of the Yale campus, the Old Brick Row, to which Carter has added a legend identifying the buildings. He closes his letter with information to his mother about how some of these buildings function in his daily routine as a student. While his labels under the buildings in the woodcut are correct, he has gotten north and south reversed in his listing of the buildings in the legend. A typed transcription of the letter is available.

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