Charles Hall

Prior to formal integration of the faculty of Far Eastern Languages into the larger personnel administration of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, a long process that spanned the 1960s to early 1980s, virtually every faculty member of the department was paid with funds from the estate of Charles Hall.  The endowment established from this estate continues to fund the operational expenses of the Harvard-Yenching Institute and Harvard-Yenching Library, the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, and the Visiting Scholars, Doctoral Scholarship, and other fellowships offered by the Harvard-Yenching Institute. It is thus no exaggeration to say that Charles Hall provided the necessary conditions for the prominence of Harvard in the field of East Asian studies.

Image of Charles Hall

A chemist by training, Charles Martin Hall (1863-1914) perfected a cost-effective electrolytic process for separating aluminum from bauxite. Together with Alfred Hunt, he founded the Aluminum Company of America , popularly known as ALCOA, which by the early twentieth century was the world’s leading manufacturer of aluminum. The holder of twenty-two US patents for metallurgical processes and a prominent shareholder in ALCOA, Hall had amassed a considerable fortune at the time of his death. Unmarried and childless, he left the vast majority of this fortune to charity. The child of a devout Congregational family with links to the international Protestant missionary movement, Hall shared the missionary zeal for promoting education in the less Christianized regions of the world. His will stipulated that approximately one third of his roughly $30 million estate be used to support British or American education institutions (which were primarily run by missionaries) in Japan , Continental Asia, Turkey , and the Balkans.

After meeting with a number of prominent figures affiliated with Harvard and Yenching Universities, including Leighton Stuart, Dean of Yenching University, Wallace Donham, Dean of the Harvard Business School, Langdon Warner, Professor of Fine Arts and prominent scholar of East Asian art at Harvard, and James Woods, a scholar of Buddhist philosophy and chair of Harvard’s Philosophy Department, the Trustees of the Hall Estate decided to create an institute under the joint administration of Harvard and Yenching Universities to take charge of those educational efforts in China to be funded by the estate. Formally established in January 1928 as the Harvard-Yenching Institute, it was this organization, under the tripartite trusteeship of Harvard, Yenching, and the Hall Estate Trustees, that recruited Serge Elisséeff and provided the financial and institutional backing for the creation of the Department of Far Eastern Languages.