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Pritchett, Henry S. (Henry Smith), 1857-1939



  • Existence: 1857 April 16 - 1939 August 28


Henry Smith Pritchett, 1857-1939, AB, Pritchett College, 1875; PhD, University of Munich, 1895, was president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1900 to 1907. Born in Fayette, Missouri, Pritchett was the son of a noted astronomer, Carr Waller Pritchett, and would later work at the US Naval Observatory. There, in 1876, he operated as assistant astronomer to Asaph Hall, best known for discovering the two moons of Mars in 1877.

In 1880 he began work at the Morrison Observatory in Missouri, alongside his father. Afterward, Pritchett served as an astronomer on the Transit of Venus Expedition to New Zealand in 1882. Upon his return to the US in 1883, he became professor of mathematics and astronomy, also assuming the position of director of the observatory at Washington University in St. Louis until 1897.

Pritchett briefly studied in Europe in the early 1890s, where he earned a PhD from the University of Munich in 1894. He was then appointed Superintendent of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1897, resigning the post in 1900 to become the President of MIT.

As President, Pritchett created the office of the dean, also appointing the Institute’s first registrar, recorder, and medical advisor. He abolished intercollegiate football and substituted Field Day for Cane Rush after the annual sophomore-freshman donnybrook resulted in a death. He is perhaps best known for his unsuccessful efforts to negotiate a merger between MIT and Harvard in 1904, defeated by a court decision in 1905. He was President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) from 1906 until he retired in 1930.

Pritchett had three sons with his first wife, Ida P. Williams, married to each other in 1881 until her death in 1891. He would marry again to Eva McAllister in June 1900, and share another daughter together. Henry Smith Pritchett would die on August 28th, 1939 in Santa Barbara, California


Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Dugald C. Jackson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0005
Abstract The collection documents the career of Dugald C. Jackson, a member of the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1907 to 1935. Correspondence, reports, and other materials document Jackson's years as head of the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering, his innovations in the department and the undergraduate curriculum, the establishment of a cooperative education program (course 6-A), and his work on MIT committees. His work as a consulting engineer and inventor is...
Dates: 1878 - 1952

Henry S. Pritchett publications and speeches

Identifier: MC-0558
Scope and Contents

The collection consists of speeches and publications of Henry Smith Pritchett, who was president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1900 to 1907.

Dates: 1891 - 1924

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Inaugural Committee records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AC-0036
Scope and Contents of the Collection The collection consists of records of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) president inaugural committees since 1900. The records are primarily documents with some photographs and memorabilia. The inaugurations of Henry Pritchett, Richard Maclaurin, Ernest F. Nichols, and Samuel Wesley Stratton are documented in notebooks which contain minutes of committee and subcommittee meetings and copies of inaugural addresses. The inaugurations of James R. Killian, Julius A. Stratton,...
Dates: 1900 - 2005

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Office of the President records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AC-0013
Abstract The collection documents the administration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the responsibilities and activities of the Institute's presidents between 1897 and 1930. This was a period of enormous growth and development of the Institute, which was chartered in 1861 and graduated its first class of undergraduates in 1868. There is correspondence about the proposed merger with Harvard University in 1904 and a proposed alliance in 1911. The purchase of land, the planning...
Dates: 1883 - 1941; Majority of material found within 1897 - 1931