Cambridge, Massachusetts is home to the prestigious private research institution that is Harvard University, which is a member of the Ivy League. It was established in 1636 as Harvard College and was named for its first patron, the Puritan priest John Harvard. Today, it is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and is consistently ranked among the most distinguished in the world.
"Dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust," the Massachusetts colonial legislature authorised the founding of Harvard College. Although Harvard College was never formally affiliated with any denomination, in its early years it primarily trained Congregational clergy. Its teaching methods and student population were steadily secularised during the course of the 18th century, and by the beginning of the 19th century, it had established itself as the primary cultural institution for Boston's upper-class citizens. During the long presidency of Charles William Eliot (1869–1909), which followed the end of the American Civil War, the college and affiliated professional schools were transformed into a modern research university. In the year 1900, Harvard became a founding member of the Association of American Universities. James B. Conant was the president of the university while it went through the Great Depression and World War II, and after the war he made it easier for students to enroll.
In all, there are eight academic faculties at this institution, in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. While the other faculties only offer graduate degrees, most of which are professional, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences provides students with the opportunity to study a diverse array of academic fields at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. There are three primary campuses at Harvard University: the main campus, located in Cambridge and centred on Harvard Yard, which spans 209 acres (85 ha), the adjoining campus, which is located immediately across the Charles River in the Allston neighbourhood of Boston, and the medical campus, which is located in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston. The endowment of Harvard University, which is now valued at $53.2 billion, is the greatest of any academic institution. The money from the endowment helps make it possible for the undergraduate institution to enrol students regardless of their family's ability to pay and to provide considerable financial assistance without requiring them to take out loans. The Harvard Library is the biggest academic library system in the world, consisting of 79 separate libraries that have a combined total of over 20.4 million items.
There have been many Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, members of the United States Congress, MacArthur Fellows, Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars, and Fulbright Scholars among Harvard's alumni, faculty, and researchers. Depending on the metrics that are used to compile a list, Harvard may have produced the most Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, members of the United States Congress, MacArthur Fellows, Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars, and Fulbright Scholar Its graduates include eight former presidents of the United States, as well as 188 living billionaires, which is the highest number of any institution. There have been fourteen people affiliated with Harvard who have won the Turing Award. Students and graduates have been awarded a total of 110 Olympic medals, including 46 gold, 10 Academy Awards, and 48 Pulitzer Prizes. In addition, they have established a large number of successful businesses.