Life in a Do-It-Yourself
Radcliffe's Cooperatives Blend Duty, Freedom
For an undetermined portion of the Harvard undergraduate body, the prospect of getting up early to prepare breakfast for 20 people is so unattractive that it is instinctively relegated to the realm of things that go bump in the night. Yet the recent report of the Overseers' Committee to Visit Harvard College points toward cooperative life as a foreseeable replacement for the relatively idyllic existence in the Houses.
But at Radcliffe--where cooperatives have been an important part of the dormitory system since 1934--life in such small off-campus houses has its distinct advantages. Not only does it offer an opportunity to save money on board expenses, but it allows for a way of college living that differs markedly from the more confining restrictions of the Quad dormitories. And, face it, it gives girls some rather valuable experience in running a household.
Variety off the Campus
At Radcliffe, the term "off-campus" includes a variety of living arrangements that serve as expedient solutions to the problems of housing--from rented frame houses on Massachusetts Avenue far from the college's brick centre, to the private homes where where four or five girls board, to stately old Gilman and Saville Houses (actually on the Quad) and the three cooperatives, Everett, Edmands, and Parker.
In these three houses, approximately 200 girls can eat breakfast in their pajamas, entertain in small, comparatively private living rooms, and live much more intimately with other girls than in the eight brick dormitories. The rooms are huge in comparison with those on the Quad and boast fireplaces and out door balconies. And concurrent with their responsibilities, their freedoms are much greater, although they must observe the honor system and regular parietal hours.
For many of the residents of cooperatives, the financial saving is the most important reason for their not living in dormitories. Girls can save up to $300 yearly by preparing and serving their own meals and paying for only those they actually eat. At the same time, they can bear the combined responsibility for their co-op's success, competing to spend as little as possible for meals and getting the equivalent of "a home economics course for free," as one girl put it.
In controlling the co-op's budget, the college allows each girl to spend 50 cents a day on staples--flour, coffee, and other non-perishable products--and 30 cents for dinner. Out of this sum, the girls prepare breakfast in the house and eat dinner on a per capita basis. And with clever shopping, the small dinner allotment can be cut, as it was in Everett last year to 20 cents. Occasionally, such economy requires a drive to the open-air market in Haymarket Square for bulk purchases.
And since girls in the cooperatives have chosen this kind of life, they are generally enthusiastic about their home-making experiences. Since many have little conception of how to cook at the beginning of the year, unusual fare is the frequent result, but most girls feel that on the whole they have better and certainly hotter food than the dorm kitchens serve. And of course there is the inestimable advantage of being able to invite men to come in and share in the cooking.
To keep the cooperative house running, each girl has to take turns at various tasks--cooking and washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen and mechanical appliances every ten days. A maid cleans the halls and living room, while each girls is responsible for her own room.
Cooking involves taking turns in preparing a buffetstyle breakfast, marketing, and cooking dinner--the one common meal of the day. Within budget limitations, co-op residents can usually afford to eat one egg, three glasses of milk and a glass of juice per day, as well as bread, peanut butter and jelly from their supply of staples. Some buy lunch in the Square--thereby considerably adding to their expenses--but most manage to get along on the house staples.
The entire administration of this work program is under student supervision, with a house president, work chairman, and house proctor having responsibility for keeping the system running smoothly. There is also a graduate student resident in each house, but she has few administrative duties.
Occasionally however, these responsibilities can become an irritating burden. Last year, for example, on the night of the Spring Formal, Everett's dishwasher broke down and Jini Coggi '57, the social chairman, had to spend the evening bailing out the flooded kitchen. But, generally, the machines are pretty regular, imposing a uniform degree of responsibility on each girl, usually born with a certain amount of cheerfulness. Around examination time, however, tensions frequently rise, and the advantage in having a few close friends instead of many nodding acquaintances can come up for serious second thought.
The normal intimacy and familiarity in cooperatives in most apparent in the small parties and dinners that they are able to give. Square dances, Hallowe'en parties, and