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Harvard. Alumnus Economics Ph.D. Canadian Prime Minister, W. L. Mackenzie King. 1909



In the continuing series, Get to Know an Economics Ph.D., we meet W. L. Mackenzie King who made his way to Harvard via the Universities of Toronto and Chicago. In a quick internet background check I stumbled upon the fact that this most distinguished Harvard alumnus was also someone who consulted crystal balls and regularly attended seances to communicate with the dead. These odd  facts only became known upon the publication of his diaries that can be consulted online at the Libaries and Archives Canada website. In this post I provide a 1921 report from the Harvard Alumni Bulletin and the excerpt from his diary describing his first day at Harvard.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography Vol. XVII (1941-1950).
Library and Archives Canada. Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King.


A Harvard Prime Minister.
W. L. Mackenzie King, A.M. 1898, Ph.D. 1909

To W. L. Mackenzie King, Prime Minister. A.M. ’98, Ph.D. ’09, who led the Liberals to victory in the recent Canadian elections and now becomes Prime Minister of the Dominion, we are glad to extend our felicitations. Harvard men have had seats in the Cabinet at Ottawa on several previous occasions, but this is the first time that the University has had one of her graduates at the head of the ministerial table there.

After taking his undergraduate course at the University of Toronto, Mr. King came to Harvard in September, 1897. He had already acquired an interest in labor problems and his chief purpose in coming to Cambridge was to study economics under the guidance of Professor Taussig. His strength of intellect and his vigorous personality soon made an impression, both in the classroom and out of it; Mr. King was generally regarded as one of the ablest among the graduate students of his day. After receiving his master’s degree in 1898 and spending a further year in work leading to the Ph.D. degree in economics, he was awarded the Henry Lee Memorial Fellowship for study abroad, and spent the winter of 1899-1900 in Europe, chiefly at the London School of Economics.

Returning from London in the summer of 1900, Mr. King was offered an instructorship in economics at Harvard and was on the point of accepting it when a new development caused him to shift his plans. The Canadian government, just at this time, had decided to establish a Labor Bureau, and, casting about for a capable young man to take charge of it, offered the post to Mr. King, who accepted it with some misgivings because he had set his ambitions upon an academic career. At any rate, the Department of Economics had to find another instructor while King went to Ottawa where he became Deputy Minister of Labor and filled that post with such conspicuous success that in 1909 he was made a member of the Laurier Cabinet. With the defeat of the Liberals in 1911 he went out of office, but not out of public life, and on the death of Sir Wilfred Laurier he became the leader of the Liberal party. Now, at the age of forty-seven, he has reached the top rung of his political ladder.

During the twenty years since he left the University, Mr. King has never lost touch with Harvard. Among Harvard graduates in Canada he has been one of the most loyal and enthusiastic. From time to time he has looked in upon us during brief visits to Boston and we count him no stranger here. He has our best wishes for a successful administration.

Source: Harvard Alumni Bulletin. Vol. XXIV, No. 13 (December 22, 1921), pp. 285-286.


 First Day at Harvard
from W. L. Mackenzie King’s Diary

Tuesday, September 28, 1897.
(Handwritten—p. 271)

…We arrived at Boston about 10.30 got off at Huntingdon St. & was greatly taken with the first glimpse at the city, everything so clear, like an English city, the names etc. not so much smoke or rush, took a street car for Harvard square & went at once to the College yard.

After looking about for a while I met Prof. Ashley & gave him the letter from Mr. Smith. He was very kind in showing me the library & taking me to the Episc. Theol. Seminary, where he sd. he hoped I wd. get a room as the life there was more like the Oxford life than anything in Cambridge. He tried to find the Bursar, pointed out to me the Washington Elm & the Craigie House, which are both close by, told me about other points of interest. I am much taken with the beauty of Cambridge, it is an ideal college town—the trees are beautiful, people live as well as exist here. I met Mr. Jno. Cummings during the afternoon. He is quite a young fellow & not just the man I expected. Spent a good part of the afternoon waiting upon the Bursar of the Epis. Theol. Seminary. May be able to get a room there. Went on a search for other rooms. About tea time got a place at 14 Millar St., Mrs. Morrison, where I could room & board till I get settled. The woman told me all her sorrows at the table. After dinner, after helping some girls with a bicycle, I called on Prof. Taussig—short call. I went for a stroll after dinner met a young girl was anxious to talk with some one lonely a little & restless. We walked about awhile together. Had I read my diary before going out I wd. not have gone so far—returned about 10. Went to bed tired & sorry at the mistake I had made.

Met Prof. Peabody who was very kind in offering to be of any service to me. Prices are very high here. Saw a room on 14 Sumer St. I like very much too high, 150 wd. come down 10.

Source:  Libraries and Archives Canada. Diaries of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, MG26-J13. Item: 1650.

Image Source: William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1899. Wikipedia.

Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier