Depression, House System Mark '33's Harvard Years
Football Team Makes Good Record
September, 1929: The country was riding high on a tidal wave which was soon to break hard and sweep away the Big Rock Candy Mountain. That was the month the Class of 1933, nearly one thousand strong, came to Cambridge and Harvard College. President Lowell welcomed the Class to the College, and then followed some serious talk by Delmar Leighton ("Choices of Studies for the Freshman Year") and by an assistant professor of History, Charles H. Taylor ("Freshman Course Requirements").
Harvard College was growing, expanding outward and building inward. The House Plan, once a dream for President Lowell which had been realized through the generosity of a Yale graduate, would be inaugurated the following year when Lowell and Dunster were completed.
An editorial in the CRIMSON, with one eye on the frivolity of Freshman Week and another on the import of the House Plan, cautioned the Class of '33: "But when all this is over, when glittering generalities on the value of a college education, fight talks from the football coach and captain, ecstasy and despair over triumph and defeat have faded into a dim haze in the subconscious mind, the class will gradually realize that with the beginning of their sophomore year they wil be a part of one of the most important social experiments ever attempted in American education."
The rest of the country was also experimenting at that time. From the Protestant countryside had come the call for prohibition, and so the nation tinkered with its way of life and established bootlegging as a going business.
Marx Brothers Visit
In October, 1929, the Marx Brothers came to Boston, and Frere Groucho commented on this Big Experiment: "Do you know what the trouble with prohibition is? Everybody in America is so busy drinking they don't give it a thought."
Groucho's quip could also have been taken as a commentary on the stock market, which could stand only so much experimentation before it toppled over dead on Black Thursday. In an editorial entitled "Taking Stock," the CRIMSON noted that the "activities of the New York stock market in the past week have doubtless lent force to the opinions of the more austere European critics who have so often blamed this country for the lack of the continental finesse in the pursuit of this world's goods."
Football More Important
But Black Thursday was over-shadowed by the dazzling autumnhued Yard which signalled the commencement of another football season. Harvard was hot: it defeated the West Point Kay-dets and then traveled out to Michigan for the first western invasion since 1920 and returned victorious; later it polished her shield with bulldog fur, squeaking by Yale to a 10 to 6 victory.
"Harvard should receive full credit," Yale coach Marvin Stevens commented after the game, "for defeating a team which was supposed to be better than the Crimson. The game was a brilliant one, in which a great team won."
And so it went. Langdell Hall was dedicated as the new home for the Law School; someone in University Hall took a poll, and discovered that economics had edged out English as the most popular field of concentration; and down on Memorial Drive rose the tower of Dunster House, which prompted the CRIMSON to complain that the "general impression conveyed by the tower is that of some exotic ornament, grafted onto a simple New England colonial house."
The new Houses continued to remain a popular subject of discussion, especially when Professor Julian L. Coolidge '95, first Master of Lowell, resigned from the Board of Directors of the Watch and Ward Society because of the "pressure of his new responsibilities." President Lowell's annual report, generating even greater interest, discussed the possibilities of moving freshmen from the river to the Yard as upperclassmen moved into the Houses, and Yale, which had once sent Edward Harkness and his money away, finally relented and accepted his grant for the Quadrangle System.
The Harvard Debate Council was busy in March, when it sponsored a mass meeting in the Union on the always engaging topic of prohibition. Five hundred students were present; only ten favored retaining the 18th Amendment.
The CRIMSON, undoubtedly heartened by this display for lawlessness, conducted a poll in conjunction with fourteen other colleges; results showed that out of 24,000 votes, 15,000 of American college youth were willing to lose their reputation for virtue in order to support repeal or modification of the liquor laws. Pennsylvania, however, was the exception to the rule, and the Quakers registered a majority dry vote. Princeton, naturally enough, had the wettest vote. Over 79 per cent of the Tigers admitted that they drank.
Union for Freshmen
In April the Corporation acted on Lowell's recommendations and voted to use the Union as a freshman dining hall when the Yardlings eventually moved to the Yard, and later that spring names for the rest of the new Houses were voted on by the Corporation.
On the second of May, Bliss Perry, Francis Lee Higginson Professor of English, gave his last lecture and retired. A great light of the Golden Age had dimmed.
"His students will remember him," the CRIMSON noted, "for the human quality which he never sacrificed for pedagogical catch-word or scholastic obscurity, for his ability to give life to past greatness, and for his capacity for enthusiasm."
The Great Depression crept slowly westward during the fall of 1930, but great men were speaking of an upturn, and optimism still gripped the public mind. Black Thursday was a year old, Europe seemed to be heading for hell, and Carl Joachim Friedrich, then an assistant professor of Government, stated "There is no probability at all of the establishment of a dictatorship in Germany."
If the world was falling to pieces, few students at Harvard were bothered, or even noticed. Collegiate life went on as it always had in the past, except upperclassmen were now living in Lowell and Dunster Houses, and College life began to orient itself about the Houses.
The two upper floors of the IAB were opened at about the same time compulsory physical exercise was to begin for the freshmen. The new pool, the gift of one Alumnus Aquaticus, drew over 350 people a day to its waters. At Dunster House, it was reported, the students daily consumed the production of fifty cows and one hundred hens.
In November of that fall Lowell challenged Dunster to a football game. This was the first effort towards inter-House athletics, and the course of future inter-House athletic rivalry was set as Dunster defeated the Bell Ringers, 7 to 6.
Sophomore year for the Class of 1933 was also a year of considerable activity in athletics. Barry Wood '32 sparked a 13 to 0 victory over Yale, and Edward Casey '19 replaced Arnold Horween '20 as varsity head coach.
A four and one-half year athletic separation between Harvard and Princeton was terminated in February. Relations between Harvard and Princeton had been severed in 1926, following the Harvard-Princeton football game in Cambridge, which the Tigers won. Charges of dirty playing, a particularly violent issue of the Lampoon, the announcement that Harvard was planning to adopt a rotating schedule policy, and a growing feeling of hatred had brought about this break. The 1931 "accord" signalled the resumption of all contests but football.
In 1931, as in 1958, Memorial Church was the center of a storm of controversy. The church had not been completed then, yet considerable opposition to the construction of such a memorial existed; a petition, sponsored by the CRIMSON, was signed by some three hundred students, graduates, and faculty members who were "unalterably opposed to the present plans for a memorial in the form of a chapel."
An anonymous group of graduates and undergraduates, in addition, circulated a broadside attacking the Chapel as a "useless memorial." The broadside claimed that "it is preposterous to believe that Jews, agnostics, and others can have any honest sympathy in a Protestant Memorial," and noted that "followers of the Roman Catholic faith are forbidden to worship in any but a formally dedicated church." Feeling ran high for a short time and then died down as the University maintained silence.
In the spring of 1931 a sophomore named Harry Levin won first place in the Bowdoin Prize Contest for his essay entitled "The Broken Column." The following fall, Levin's essay, along with three other theses, were published by the Harvard University Press under a grant by Herbert Nathan Straus '03.
Also in the fall of 1931 the nation had begun to take the depression seriously, despite the cheerful optimism of the Great Engineer. The Student Council, in an attempt to raise money for the unemployed, sponsored a series of collections at home football games. The $7,000 collected at the Holy Cross game exceeded by $1,000 the amount collected at the Dartmouth game, and when Yale bounced into town to hand the Crimson its only loss of the season in a close 0-3 game the fans donated nearly $13,000.
Depression despair was abated in December as President Lowell celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday. Almost a year later, however, the College was saddened when it was announced that Charles Townsend Copeland, the beloved Copey, was moving from his Hollis 15 suite to a new home on Concord Avenue in Cambridge. At the age of seventy-two, the man who had read his way