The "Harvard Annex" for women's instruction by Harvard faculty was founded in 1879 and chartered as Radcliffe College by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1894. It is named for Lady Ann (Radcliffe) Mowlson, who established the first scholarship at Harvard in 1643. The first president was Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, widow of Harvard professor Louis Agassiz.
During World War II, Harvard and Radcliffe signed an agreement which allowed women to attend classes at Harvard for the first time, officially beginning joint instruction in 1943. Starting in 1963, Radcliffe students received Harvard diplomas signed by the presidents of Radcliffe and Harvard, and joint commencement ceremonies began in 1970. On October 1, 1999, Radcliffe College and Harvard University officially merged, with Radcliffe College becoming the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.