Dr. James Walker (Harvard 1814) was a prominent Unitarian preacher, religion professor, and president of Harvard University (1853-1860). The founder of the American Unitarian Association, President Walker was active in student religious groups, serving as a preacher in the college chapel. During his presidential tenure, music was added as a subject to the course curriculum. Upon his death in 1874, he left a large collection of books and a donation of $15,000 to the college and, according to The Papers of James Walker, "a personal reputation of modesty and good humor."
In January 1883, this memorial sculpture of him was unveiled in a ceremony. Then-President Eliot spoke at the service of his gratitude to Dr. Walker for his "invaluable advice and kindness." The monument was designed by the architects of Memorial Hall, Henry Van Brunt and William Robert Ware. The bust itself is an Italian marble replica of a bust of Dr. Walker made by Anne Whitney. Whitney was an American sculptor and poet known for her marble busts of political figures, including a bust of Samuel Adams that now stands at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.