All About Radcliffe: It Ain't Necessarily So
'Annex' Girls Manage In Spite of 63-Year Legend
RADCLIFFE girl get engaged too. It all comes out each year at the traditional Junior-Senior Luncheon, where new betrothees announce themselves and their fiances to a gloating audience. Last May, nineteen girls stood up to receive the wondering applause of their classmates, and six of them called out Harvard names.
That sort of thing happens every year. Thousands of words are written and spoken each month about Radcliffe, and not many from Harvard are complimentary. And yet May rolls around with those Harvard engagements. At any Crimson dance Radcliffe has a larger delegation than any other of the popular supply centers. At football games Radcliffe girls are a good part of the tweed-skirted mob. So they get angry, across the Common, when people say bad things about 'Cliffettes.
Of course, they're used to that kind of prejudice, which is as old as the beginning of the college. First there was Harvardian scorn of the facultyless, unendowed school, but the idea that has stuck longest is the continual refusal of Harvard students to admit that a Radcliffe girl is really feminine. The idea seems mainly to rise from the fact that the girls sometimes wear glasses, often wear saddle shoes, and are usually in earnest. Perhaps Radcliffe has more than its share of seriously interested students; it was founded for the sole purpose of giving women a Harvard education, and for 63 years that purpose has been its guide.
Back in the '80's some indifferent Yardster referred idly to the growing institution on Garden Street as the "Harvard Annex," and that name stuck for years, faintly indicative of the vague scorn with which undergraduates looked on their feminine associates. Somehow Radcliffe never started; it just grew. One day in 1879 there were some girls getting instructed by Harvard teachers. After a while they were a college, and now that college is Radcliffe, and puts on plays with the HDC. In the intervening years poor Radcliffe has come to be a synonym for all that is unattractive in women--the myth is far stronger than the Rheinhardt legend. But the girls that have gone to Radcliffe have always had a pretty good time.
Sisters Under the Sweaters
The Radcliffe that the Freshman girls have come into in the fall of 1942 is not really so different from other girls' college as most Harvard men and some 'Cliffe girls would have one think. A hen party in female Cambridge is probably not much different than one at Northampton or Ann Arbor, except that at Northampton the girls wear pants. The long linoleum floors in the Quadrangle Halls resound to the childish patter of barefoot beauties; along about 11 o'clock botany sinks into the background and Men become the topic. Meows fly fast but a lot of exertion goes to trying to smoke in rooms. It's forbidden, but they manage. But the most exciting event of all was the time last year that a Harvard student tried the fire escape method of entry into Briggs. He got to the second floor before the girls that he wasn't after gave the alarm.
When there's a phone call for a girl in a Radcliffe dorm, the maid downstairs rings a buzzer in that girl's room, sending her to the phone on her own floor. But usually they don't trust the buzzer, and almost anyone is apt to rush to the phone. They yell "Oh hell!" when you ask for someone else. If men don't call and there's not too much work to be done the ladies often drop outside for a coke and tomato and lettuce, or even (oh, not often!) a little farther for a daiquiri. And other week nights are taken care of by forums, which the Radcliffe girl tends to enjoy. Friday and Saturday nights are ready and waiting, and Harvard takes care of a lot of them. The complicated system of signing out, so characteristic of all women's colleges, gets them sore.
But if Radcliffe has fun, it isn't ashamed of its other sides. It was founded and built to raise the level of women's education, and still considers itself primarily an educational institution. Back in 1879 it occurred to some of the better citizens of Cambridge that women might study with Harvard professors; the sponsor wrote Harvard's President Eliot that he hoped to enable women to carry education "further than it is possible for them to do in this country, except possibly at Smith College." (Sic). Harvard professors agreed to help, and a small home at 6 Appian Way soon housed 27 studious young ladies.
They had to get a name for it in '82, and incorporated under the charming title of the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women. The strange title tells a lot, for it shows that Radcliffe, in its infancy, was never intended to be another women's college. There were plenty of those, said Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, head of the Society. "Nothing but the proximity to Harvard justifies the establishment of a women's college there." But after a few years the young ladies got tired of doing Harvard work, with Harvard professors, and getting no diploma at all. So the Society petitioned for the right to award degrees, and got it only when they organized as a college, with the specific proviso that the President and Fellows of Harvard stand behind every Radcliffe degree. The name itself is in honor of Ann Radcliffe, who in 1641 had been the first woman to donate money to Harvard.
Radcliffe today has the Harvard faculty and signature on diplomas but no other tic-up. And according to President Ada L. Comstock that's the best arrangement. "We have the advantages of close association without the disadvantages of merging," she says, "we have our own college life, the good points of a small college, and the girls get a chance at the extra-curricular leadership that they'd otherwise miss."
The war has touched Radcliffe, although indirectly. McNutt's appointment makes a draft of women easily within the realm of possibility. But more immediate effects are already seen. Early next year a WAVE post-grad school is expected to squeeze onto the Radcliffe grounds, giving supply training to follow indoctrination at Smith. Extra-curricularly the 'Cliffe has of course its full quota of Committees and Boards, and such courses as engineering may soon be added to the curriculum, which contains only Harvard courses and omits just a few. Radcliffe would as soon think of a home economics course as Harvard would one in welding, but the war may bring about even that upheaval. For women are pouring into defense work of all types, and Miss Comstock says they could place each girl five times over in jobs at graduation.
Radcliffe's Yard is familiar enough to Harvard. Agassiz is the organizer's heaven; girls are forever gathering there between classes and signing up for things. The Library takes care of all but the most Widener-loving note-takers, and Long-fellow House, a combination of New Lecture and Sever, is distinguished mainly by its 20-bed "sleeping room" for tired students.
Seven minutes' walk from the classroom sector is the area of homes, the College Quadrangle. The six Halls surround a large very flat space, which is used for such ladylike pursuits as sitting in the sun and playing field hockey.
You can't talk about Radcliffe in 1942 without talking about this Freshman Class. Hardly a person in Cambridge, from the teachers at Brown and Nichols to the Physical Ed department on the 'Cliffe, has failed to notice the Class of '46, No one knows quite why, but they're more attractive, noisier, more lively than genus Radcliffe is wont to be. Probably it doesn't prove anything, but this year's average Freshman is 3 inches taller and 1.6 pounds heavier than last season's. That makes here not five by five, as many claim, but 5 foot 5.2 inches tall and 127.7 pounds wide. One reason for the change may be that lack of transportation has kept Boston area girls in the Boston area, where they belong, but this view is opposed by out-of-towners. The fact remains that when '46ers walk along the street the impression is healthily similar to that of a Cambridge High clique.
The Nine O'Clock Deadline
The young lady's day is apt to start with a dash for the Library to return a book; then Agassiz to find notices and official mail and to sit until class. Classes, tutorial perhaps, a dash back to the dorms (seven minutes, catalogue time) for lunch, another class. There's an hour of athletics twice a week for Freshmen and Sophomores, and although there's no real conditioning the extension to the second year of compulsory was a war move last year. Basketball, swimming, fencing, modern dancing are all possible choices for the potential WAACs.
Investigation shows that the Radcliffe girl is not quite so astonishing as she's built down to be. Teachers at Harvard and the "Annex" agree that there's more conscientious work across the Common, but less originality. Classroom reaction is slower, and a challenging bluebook slams a section man's ideas far less often. There's an old story for that: the lecturer got so darn sick of the plodding, noting, reactionless class that he dove off into a fantastic peroration. His class ended with fancy flying far from fact in a completely imaginative vein. And the Radcliffe students calmly took down every word. But, as Miss Comstock points out, Radcliffe need not worry about its academic reputation, despite the girl who wondered to her professor why she didn't get good marks: "I take absolutely voluptuous notes."
The Radcliffe girls' attitude toward Harvard is by no means antipathetic. They're frank to say that they enjoy Harvard in all its forms, dances as well as classrooms. They realize that they've got a head start on competitors in location if not legendary desirability, and they'll admit a preference for Harvard men. Prejudice toward Radcliffe girls? The pretty Senior shook her head ever so wisely, and said. "I haven't had any trouble."