Mr. Sidney Willard
The son of Harvard President Joseph Willard, Sidney Willard was born in Beverly on Sept. 19, 1780, graduated from Harvard in 1798, and prepared for ministry. During his time at Harvard he had been the librarian, a position he continued after his graduation. (Harvard Library is pictured here.) He was approved as a preacher in 1801, and was invited to settle in Wiscasset, but refused that call. He was not ever settled in a church, having his heart set on college employment.
In 1806 he moved from his position as librarian to the Hancock Professor of the Hebrew and other Oriental Languages. While often peripheral in today’s curriculum, a Hebrew oration at commencement was required at Harvard until 1817. A book of Harvard Reminiscences speaks of his teaching: “No man could have shown more patience than he manifested in the class-room: but nine-tenths of his pupils studied Hebrew solely because they were going to be ministers, and it was then discreditable to a minister to be utterly ignorant of Hebrew; while the general endeavor was to minimize the knowledge of it to the lowest degree.” While the Hebrew grammar he wrote was light-years better than the previous standard, the same source also records, “But the proportion of grateful students — I will not say scholars — in the Hebrew tongue was, and I suppose still is, less than the one thankful leper bore to the ten that were cured.”
Latin was also added to his curriculum in 1827, and with a burden too overwhelming, he resigned his professorship four years later. He also spent three years as mayor of Cambridge and was several times a member of the House of Representatives. A member of the Anthology Society, he also started the North American Review and the American Monthly Review. Sidney Willard died on December 6, 1856.