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 our 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 hominum 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 it’s 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 precedence 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 new HPClubhouse located at 96 Winthrop Street on the site of the original House of Blues. As for the rest of the 21st century, we’ll have to wait and see.