Inspired by Christopher Wren's Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford, England, Sanders Theatre is famous for its design and its acoustics. A member of the League of Historic American Theatres, the 1,000 seat theatre offers a unique and intimate 180 degree design which provides unusual proximity to the stage. The theatre was designed to function as a major lecture hall and as the site of college commencements. Although Sanders saw its last Harvard College commencement exercise in 1922, and its final Radcliffe College commencement in 1957, the theatre continues to play a major role in the academic mission of Harvard College, hosting undergraduate core curriculum courses, the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, and the annual Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony. Many of the most venerable academic, political and literary figures of the nineteenth and twentieth century have taken the lectern at Sanders Theatre including Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sanders is presently home to several undergraduate choir and orchestral groups and also serves as a venue for many professional performance ensembles including Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Chamber Music Society, Christmas Revels, Masterworks Chorale and Boston Baroque.
The statue on the left side of the stage by Thomas Crawford is of James Otis. The colonial era patriot is depicted speaking in the old state house of Boston in February, 1761 against the British Writs of Assistance which empowered customs house officers to search any house for smuggled goods. The statue on the right by William Wetmore Storey depicts Josiah Quincy, Mayor of Boston (1823-1828) and President of Harvard (1829-1845).