Institute History

In 1795, twenty-one Harvard juniors crowded into the dorm room of one Nymphas Hatch to establish a new on-campus society. The members pledged to maintain the Club’s secrecy and “to cultivate the social affections and cherish the feelings of friendship and patriotism” amongst them. Most importantly, they mandated that “the members in alphabetical order shall provide a pot of hasty pudding for every meeting.”

Organization History

On September 1st, 1795 twenty-one Juniors from Harvard College crowded into the dorm room of Nymphas Hatch and together founded the Hasty Pudding Club. As part of the Club’s original constitution, the Members pledged to “cultivate the social affections and cherish the feelings of friendship & patriotism […] “. But there was another provision within that original charter that proved even more important to the founding. At the turn of the 18th century, Harvard dining halls were notorious for serving unappetizing meals. Taking matters into their own hands, the Pudding’s founders mandated that “the members in alphabetical order shall provide a pot of hasty-pudding for every meeting.” And so it was that each meeting of the Club was heralded by the arrival of two undergraduates lugging an enormous cast iron pot– much like the one drawn by Washington Allston above– across Harvard Yard.

While hasty pudding may seem like an obscure dish in today’s culinary landscape, it was quite traditional to the Puritan palates of post-colonial New England. Originally an English dish made by boiling milk and wheat flour with a dash of salt, the dessert took on a new life in the American colonies. Here, wheat flour was replaced with corn flour. For further flavor, our ancestors took advantage of the booming molasses trade in Boston. The variations on the dish have given it many nicknames from Indian Pudding to mush to the Yellow Goddess. The pervasive porridge became so popular in fact that Joel Barlow wrote an epic poem dedicated to it in 1793, making it into a symbol of patriotism and sociability in the young republic. Of course, we still eat our eponymous dessert to this day– and we’ve discovered that it tastes best with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. But we digress.

The Pudding quickly became beloved by its Members. At this point there were very few clubs on Harvard’s campus. The rules were quite strict, making diversion hard to come by: mandatory study hours, curfews, laws against theater, even restrictions on the number of books you could borrow from the library. Even starting a club was a small act of rebellion, but what else would you expect from college students born during the Revolutionary War? In fact, George Washington– still alive at the time– became an early hero of the Pudding. On February 22nd, 1796 the Pudding had a dinner and celebration with many odes to President Washington delivered to celebrate his birthday. This tradition, now expanded to include the 5 Presidents of the United States, who were once Pudding Members, continues to this day.

Always looking for new ways to make dreary college life more fun, the Pudding meetings quickly grew more elaborate. By 1801, a new constitution decreed that there must be two trials at each meeting. These trials began as simple roasts of fellow Members, consisting largely of joke indictments and ad hominem attacks. They grew quickly into scripted judicial procedures with various Members playing parts. At first, these trials were still concerned with local Cambridge happenings and indiscretions of the College faculty. But as the years went on the Pudding’s court heard cases against Brutus, Queen Elizabeth I, Cortez, and even the study of mathematics. In 1837, the Pudding took on the case Abby Roe v. Richard and started a tradition from which we never turned back on. The case was a relatively common trial of break of promise. However, when the Member playing Abby Roe arrived –played by none other than James Russell Lowell– he was dressed from head to toe as a woman. Drag had finally found its home amongst our Members.

It was only seven years later that the most monumental shift in Pudding history occurred. The next Pudding meeting was scheduled to be in the room of Lemuel Hayward. Hoping to surprise the Club, he took a small group of Members into his confidence. His plan was to eschew the usual mock trial format of meetings. Instead, this covert group would stage a musical in Hayward’s room. In the days leading up to the meeting, the clandestine cohort made their own costumes, built sets, constructed footlights, and learned the lines to a popular English burlesque. And thus, on Friday the 13th, December 1844 the Members staged Bombasts Furioso and the Hasty Pudding Theatricals were born.

With the exception of a small library space in Holworthy Hall, all of the aforementioned Pudding activities took place in rotation amongst the Members’ rooms. It wasn’t until 1849 that we petitioned the College for a permanent home on the top floor of Stoughton Hall, rooms 29 & 31. It almost certainly helped our appeal for space that the recently elected President of Harvard, Jared Sparks, had been in the Pudding during his undergraduate days. A regular meeting place allowed Pudding shows to be taken more seriously and by 1854 –only a decade after our premiere of Bombastes Furioso– we gave our first public performances around Boston. In 1867, Edward J. Lowell penned two original plays for the Pudding, beginning a student-written precedent that’s lasted to this day. With the quality of the shows still increasing we decided to have our rooms in Stoughton completely redone into a theater and for the first time, the Pudding had its own stage.

After this precipitous climb, disaster struck in 1876. A fire in a dorm room, held by another organization, led to Harvard banning all clubs from using school buildings for their meetings. Dejectedly, we moved out of our home to a building just north of Harvard, across a muddy field. The building, which Teddy Roosevelt referred to as “the Shed”, was unpopular amongst the Members. However, the allure of the shows kept Members and alumni dedicated to the Pudding. With all efforts thrown into the production of the Pudding shows, we mounted our first tour to New York in 1879. But it was our production in 1882 written by Owen Wister, Dido and Aeneas, which catapulted the Pudding to prominence. From this show on, the Pudding became considered a professional-quality theater organization and grabbed the attention of the nation. The success of this show also justified the plans to build our own theater. Through alumni donations, mainly solicited by John C. Ropes, we raised the money to build Farkas Hall on 12 Holyoke Street in Harvard Square. Our first show there, Constance; or, The Beau, the Belle, and the Bandit, opened on April 3rd, 1888.

It was around this time that the Pudding began developing a stronger satirical voice. At the same time nationally, the American voice was coming into its own and slowly becoming less derivative of England’s. It may come as a surprise to learn that many Pudding productions from the 1880s and 1890s were quite proto-feminist, despite being a drag show put on in staunchly conservative New England. The Pudding men of the day weren’t afraid to parody the mores of the day and of their own culture. This trend continued well into the 20th century, even as the Pudding began to rely more on a patroness system to fund the shows. In fact, 1910’s Diana’s Debut was set in Boston and directly satirized the audience who was supporting the show. However it was during this stride that America was finally called into World War I. In 1917, at a Pudding meeting to plan the annual production, all the Members unanimously voted to enlist instead. Thus, the Pudding took its first hiatus. It lasted for two years and during that time 12 Pudding men were wounded and 15 died. The Pudding would again be called to action in World War II and similarly took another two year hiatus.

1924 saw a major shake-up in the Membership of the Pudding. Throughout its history, Membership to the Pudding had only been open to Juniors and Seniors. At a joint meeting of the Hasty Pudding Club and the Institute of 1770 towards the end of 1923 sought to alter that. The Institute of 1770– you can guess its founding year– was a club open to Sophomores of Harvard. As it so happened, many Institute members ended up joining the Pudding in their later college years, creating a strong overlap in membership. In fact, for the brief period that we were located in “the Shed” in the 19th century, the Pudding rented the top floor of the building, while the Institute occupied the ground floor. As a result of this shared membership and similarities between the two organizations, we decided to join together into one. This decision also necessitated building a third floor onto Farkas Hall to increase the dining room. Eventually, this new floor became home to Upstairs on the Square.

During the rest of the 20th century, the Pudding became more stabilized, leading to an increase in both popularity and prominence. However, it wasn’t completely without its changes. In 1946, four Pudding men who liked to sing and socialize at Farkas Hall founded the Harvard Krokodiloes. In 1951, HPT named Gertrude Lawrence their first Woman of the Year– the men would have to wait until 1967 when Bob Hope was declared the first Man of the Year. In between, the Theatricals took their show to Bermuda for the first time in 1964 and hasn’t imagined a Spring Break away from the sunny island since. The Pudding became co-ed in 1973 and in 1986 elected our first female President, Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Most recently, the Hasty Pudding Club, Theatricals, and Krokodiloes codified the Hasty Pudding Institute in 2012, which is an umbrella organization dedicated to philanthropy and furthering the arts. With the formation of HPI, a new award was conceived, the Order of the Golden Sphinx, which was first given to Michael Lynton in 2013. And with a new millennium, came a few new HPClubhouses: at 2 Garden Street, 96 Winthrop Street (on the site of the original House of Blues) — and most recently — our current home at 45 Dunster Street. As for the rest of the 21st century, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Hasty Pudding Theatricals have presented their unique brand of student-written theater every year since 1844, the only exceptions being for World Wars I & II and during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic.

In 1795, twenty-one Harvard students crowded into a dorm room to celebrate the establishment of a new on-campus society. Members pledged to maintain the club’s secrecy and “to cultivate the social affections and cherish the feelings of friendship and patriotism.” Most importantly, they mandated that “the members in alphabetical order shall provide a pot of hasty pudding for every meeting.” With this ritual, the Hasty Pudding club found its namesake, and the theatrical organization of today found its simpler roots.

The turn of the century saw the introduction of a new tradition into club meetings. In response to increased rowdiness and anarchy, a mock criminal court was improvised to try club members for “insolence” and “contempt of the club.” These trials were a great success, and the club constitution was amended to incorporate these dramatizations into every club meeting. No figure was safe from condemnation by this amateur court system — Cortez was convicted for “massacres and cruelties,” the British Parliament stood guilty for its beheading of Charles I, and the college administration was indicted for “compelling the whole body of students to pursue the dry, repulsive . . . study of mathematics.” Through the years, these productions became more elaborate, with the addition of costumes and eventually scripts. In 1844, Harvard senior Lemuel Hayward broke with tradition and secretly arranged the production of an opera, Bombastes Furioso, instead of the expected mock trial. Thus, the first Hasty Pudding show was born, starting a tradition that has continued for 160 productions, interrupted for only four years by the two World Wars.

The first productions were adapted shows from the professional theatre of the era; by the 1860’s, the Pudding was producing student-written shows. Productions were initially performed exclusively for club members, but as their popularity grew, audience exclusivity waned. Harvard granted theatre space to the Hasty Pudding in 1876, opening the shows to a general audience. The space was a dingy little building on the edge of the athletic field that the club secretary, Theodore Roosevelt, referred to as “the shed.” In 1882, the club produced a landmark show that attracted national attention. Dido and Aeneas was a burlesque adaptation of Virgil’s classic text, and was so popular that the Pudding was offered the opportunity to tour New York and Philadelphia. This national attention and financial success allowed the Pudding to construct the current clubhouse in 1888, and set the gold standard for all Pudding shows that were to follow.

The modern Pudding show has evolved into a spectacle beyond anything ever envisioned by the founders of the original secret society. Undergraduates are now provided guidance by theatrical veterans in all aspects of the production while sets and costumes rival those of many professional shows. The group also donates thousands of dollars each year to the arts programs of Cambridge Public Schools, maintaining its presence in the community.

Still, the show remains in its essence a no-holds-barred burlesque. With the introduction of the Woman of the Year celebration in 1951, and the Man of the Year in 1967, the Pudding has gained a truly international audience. Despite these factors, the Pudding remains at its heart an organization driven by the enthusiasm and exuberance of its undergraduates. This year’s 172nd production, HPT172: Mean Ghouls continues in this long and illustrious tradition that can only be described as uniquely ‘Pudding.’ The Hasty Pudding Theatricals have presented their unique brand of student-written theater every year since 1844, the only exceptions being for World Wars I and II.

The Kroks are rooted in the Hasty Pudding Club, tracing its earliest roots back to 1770 and recognized as the oldest collegiate social organization in the United States. The club was built upon traditions of brotherhood, wine, and verse, a combination which led four of the more musically minded members, in 1946, to carry those traditions into the world of close harmony. Inspired by the stuffed crocodiles mounted upon the wall of the Pudding’s Upstairs Bar, these pioneering songsters adopted the Greek word for crocodile, and the Krokodiloes were born.

Since then, this group of twelve undergraduate men has been bringing the popular music of the the Great American Songbook, as well as more traditional aires, to audiences across the country and around the globe. The Krokodiloes pride themselves on their musical excellence and professional approach to their performance. Their fine musicianship and youthful energy, combined with their unique blend of snappy choreography and witty humor, have made them instant crowd-pleasers wherever they roam.

Among the luminaries the Kroks have entertained are Ella Fitzgerald, Yo-Yo Ma, Princess Grace and Princess Caroline of Monaco, King Bhumibol of Thailand, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Roberts, and Leonard Bernstein, ’39 (who composed music for the group). They have performed on National Public Radio, “Good Morning America,” “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” and on television internationally.

The Krokodiloes also have a long library of recordings dating back to the inception of the group. Their musical repertoire has varied somewhat in the group’s seventy-year history, and today, the Kroks proudly pursue a repertoire loosely defined by “the Great American Songbook and beyond.”

Our motto, known to Kroks and their alums worldwide, was established by alum and once-time Music Director Stuart Patterson ’79: Nunc Est Cantandum! (Now is the time to sing!)

Clubhouse History

CAMBRIDGE, MA (September 2018) – The five years in our old clubhouse at 96 Winthrop Street have sped by. They also mark a great period of change for the Pudding, including the creation of the Hasty Pudding Institute; the return of giving all HPT and Kroks members automatic membership to the Club; the hiring of our Steward, Pam McCutcheon; the creation of the Order of the Golden Sphinx Gala, which serves as our main fundraiser every year; the revitalization and massive expansion of our philanthropic giving and support; the resuscitation of Club activities, such as regular lunches, dinners, Members’ Nights, Lectures Lunches, etc; and, of course, our most recent move to a gender-inclusive cast in next year’s HPT production.

But with the Pudding’s successful revitalization and increased activities, it was time to move into a space large enough for and befitting of the Pudding. And so we’re moving to 45 Dunster Street, which is at the corner of Dunster Street and Mount Auburn. 45 Dunster Street was most recently occupied by the Bee Club and J. Press. For those wondering, the Bee moved out last summer, having officially merged with the Delphic Club.

45 Dunster Street lies in the historic heart of Harvard Square and Cambridge itself. Dunster Street was the original main street in the Square and was home to the first tavern and thirteen of the town’s fifty-seven houses. In 1632, on the same plot of land as number 45, the first meeting house in Cambridge (and eighth in the entire Massachusetts Bay Colony) was built, which we find very fitting for the oldest social club.

Records are murky for the next few centuries. But from 1820 to 1917, the address served as a bakery and “fancy cake store”. It was run by William Wright from 1853 until 1898. In 1869, Wright tore down the existing structure and built a new building, which looks surprisingly similar to the current one. Eventually, his son, George Wright, took over the business and became the first president of the Harvard Square Business Association. After his death, the building fell into disuse and became dilapidated. Eventually the land was purchased by the D.U. Club for a new clubhouse in 1930 – the D.U. having decided that the clubhouse they had just built in 1914, directly across from Pennypacker at 396 Harvard Street, didn’t have quite the right location. They hired the firm Perry, Shaw & Hepburn to build a grand Georgian Revival style clubhouse. You may recognize the firm’s work from Colonial Williamsburg, Houghton Library, or the Harvard Coop. The D.U. Club occupied the building until merging with the Fly Club in 1996. A short time later, the Bee Club took over the space until this past summer.

While the lease negotiations were made very quickly with the Fly – after all space in the Square is scarce – we are taking care to turn the building into our true home. Most importantly, we added a small stage and performance space in the building’s top floor banquet hall in order to solidify the Pudding’s home as an on-campus center for the arts and creative expression. We opened the doors of our new clubhouse to the undergraduates and our alumni on the first day of the Fall 2018 semester.

CAMBRIDGE, MA (April 2013) – The Pudding celebrated the 125th anniversary of its ancestral home, located in the middle of the Harvard campus at 12 Holyoke Street. With the exception of its famous neo-Georgian façade, today’s theater has seen a lot of change since it was first erected in 1888. In 2005, the building was completely renovated, breathing new life into an old structure in need of an update. It was renamed Farkas Hall in 2012 and is now one of the primary performing arts centers at Harvard.

Our theater was originally funded by alumni donations raised by alumnus John C. Ropes of Ropes & Gray and was designed by Peabody and Stearns, the firm best known for the Customs House Tower in Boston. The building opened on April 3rd, 1888, just in time for the Pudding’s annual show.

Since then, the building has become a site of historical importance in its own right. This is the building where a young Franklin D. Roosevelt took Eleanor for dances before they were married, and where classmates John F. Kennedy and Alan Jay Lerner would stay up all night playing pool. It holds the stage where Jack Lemmon first wore heels, where George Plimpton got his first taste of “professional amateurism” before founding the Paris Review, and where some of the biggest celebrities of the day remember what it is like to be a kid again.

Even in its new iteration, it continues to pulse with the spirit of the Pudding. Feathers and glitter coat the dressing rooms, the peacock blue lobby has been dedicated as the “Hasty Pudding Lobby” – a permanent museum of original artwork and ephemera from the Pudding’s illustrious past – the auditorium rings with groans and laughter, and passionate people grace the stage, wings, orchestra, office, and auditorium seats.