Butter rebellion

Butter rebellion

The Great Butter Rebellion, which took place at Harvard University in 1766, was the first recorded student protest in the United States. As colonists were gearing up for the American Revolution, the spirit of the Sons of Liberty trickled down to their sons, many of whom were in college at the time, whereupon they formed the group "The Sons of Harvard."

Since the opening of Harvard's gates in 1636, food service had been an issue. Despite periodic attempts at improving the service, the quality of the butter remained exceptionally poor. One meal with particularly rancid butter lead Asa Dunbar (the grandfather of Henry David Thoreau) to jump upon his chair and proclaim: "Behold, our butter stinketh!— give us therefore, butter that stinketh not." The cry was adopted by fully half the student body as they rose together and exited the Commons in protest.

In reaction to this incident, the university president acted as parliament and demanded a confession. As no student stepped forward, he suspended half the student body until the guilty party stepped forward. None of the students would out the instigator, and instead insisted that they be readmitted without penalty. Their defense: "That the Butter was bad and unwholesome no one can deny: had it been the first time, or had it happened rarely, we should have been content. This, however, was not the case." Eventually, the students won.

The Great Butter Rebellion was not the last food riot at Harvard. It was followed by the Bread and Butter Rebellion of 1805 and the Cabbage Rebellion of 1807. Other such protests have continued throughout Harvard's history. The last large-scale protest arose in 2003, in opposition to the Iraq War. CNN, in seeking to cover the protest, mistakenly recorded footage of the celebration of housing lottery results, which started 30 minutes earlier and took place nearby.


*Bethell, John T., Richard M. Hunt, & Robert Shenton. "Harvard from A to Z." Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA. 2004.
*Buettner, Cynthia K. "Parties, Police, and Pandimonium: An exploratory study of mixed-issue campus disturbances." Dissertation, Ohio State University, 2004. [] (Accessed: November 18, 2007)
*"Butter." "Time," March 23, 1925. [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,881464,00.html] (Accessed: November 18, 2007)
*Lepore, Jill. Lecture at Harvard University for her course: "Liberty and Slavery, the History of an American Paradox." October 18, 2005.
*Poitier, Beth. "The alpha and omega of Harvard lore" in "The Harvard Gazette," June, 2004. [http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/06.10/13-harvard_a-z.html] (Accessed: November 18, 2007)
*Wood, Sandy & Kara Kovalchik. "College protests in America began in the 1960s, right? Not quite. Back up a couple hundred years," in "Mental Floss," April 6, 2003. [http://www.mentalfloss.com/trivia/facts/2003/04/] (Accessed: November 18, 2007)

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