Harvard Swim Test

Every freshman at Harvard University must pass a swim test. Supposedly, this is because Eleanor Elkins Widener made this a condition of the massive endowment she gave the University to build the Harry Elkins Widener library.

Harry Elkins Widener was Eleanor’s son, and a student at Harvard, who went down with the Titanic in 1912. After her son’s death, Eleanor supposedly imposed the swim test condition on her endowment, so that no student should suffer the same fate as her son.

Joe and nearly every Harvard University undergraduate heard this story before he had to take that swim test. It is a story unique to Harvard. Yet, there is no documentation or legal record of any such condition with the library endowment. The story has been passed down through the years by the student body, and is attached to the initiation of being a Harvard freshman.