Class of 1959: Emphasis On Houses, Academics
From 'Miss Radcliffe' To Class Marshals, '59 Had Distinction
Considered as a group, the Class of '59 may be chiefly remembered by Harvard historians as marking a break-down of the conception of the Class as a meaningful social unit. The more cynical may think that the Class never was a meaningful social unit, but merely an Administrative device to elicit alumni loyalty and contributions. Before the advent of the Houses, however, in the days when Seniors lived together in the Yard, there is good reason to believe that the Class did play an important part in the life and memories of the Harvardman.
The extent to which the Houses have become the main focus of Harvard life is illustrated by the fact that the Class of '34, the first class to progress completely through the House system, has initiated reunion activities on a House basis as well as the usual class-wide functions. At this time, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first House class, the Houses have become an even more important focus of undergraduate life.
Added to the increased importance of the Houses, two other factors tend to decrease the importance of the Class. The first and probably most important of these is the increasing academic proficiency and competition of the College. This situation forces many to spend less time in social and extra-curricular activities and more time studying, especially during the freshman year when class spirit might develop. The less time-consuming House activities benefit at the expense of the more taxing college-wide activities. The second factor decreasing the importance of the Class as a unit is the ever-increasing diversity and size of the Harvard undergraduate body. When Harvard College was built on a New England, private-school basis, the student body was more homogenous than it is today. '59 was more geographically diversified than any class preceding it. '59 contained a decreased number of New Englanders, but an increased number from west of the Appalachians and south of the Potomac.
This diversity and size was distinctly lighted in the Class Marshal elections of the Class of '59. For the last few years it has not been unusual for the First Marshal to be elected with only a fifth of the votes in his Class. However, in the Class of 1959, the First Marshal was thought "unrepresentative" by several hundred of his classmates. Ironically enough, the Class of 1959 was brought to unified Class action because of its extreme diversity.
For the first time in history, the CRIMSON editorialized that the Class Marshal positions should be abolished. The CRIMSON argued: "As things stand at present, although one may regret the growth of the College into such a large, impersonal body, one can scarcely deny that the election of a symbolic leader for a Harvard Class is a rather meaningless proposition," and concluded: "Since the actual responsibility of the Marshals is quite small, and since the House system has changed the make-up of the "old Harvard" to a very considerable degree, it would seem best to remove the anachronism of Class Marshals in favor of a purely House-elected body." Several University administrators seemed to receive the idea favorably.
Whether the Class of 1959 will be the last Class to elect Marshals remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the internal dissension of the Class of '59 after the Marshal elections was the most tangible manifestation of the breakdown of the Class as a meaningful unit. The Class of '59 marked yet another turning point in the history of Harvard Classes. It became immortalized by being the last class to hold a Freshman Smoker. Although special precautions were made, '59's Smoker proved too hectic for University Hall. As Dean Von Stade tersely reported to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences: "As the class increased in size after the war, the Smoker was moved to Sanders and became something far too close to a Bacchanalia for anyone's comfort. Attempts were made, over the past few years, to initiate various measures to make the Smoker a pleasant outlet for mid-winter tensions without running the risk of loss of control of the situation. These attempts failed, and the Smoker has been abolished." The University had apparently failed to establish the desired kind of atmosphere at the Freshman Smoker, an atmosphere that one Administrator had described as "A Smoker to which any student would feel free to invite his parents."
Administrative fiat also forced the curtailment of another more recent Harvard institution. The Class of '59 was the last class to have the pleasure of having a "Miss Radcliffe." After Miss Radcliffe '59 had been chosen, the Radcliffe Administration ruled that Radcliffe girls would no longer be allowed to participate in the event. Apparently, involvement in a college-wide beauty contest had not been beneficial to the later academic standing of several of the girls selected.
The Class of '59 had several other distinctions. It was the last Class to escape the $10 admission application fee. It was not, however, fortunate enough to escape a tuition increase of $450 during its undergraduate career, from $800 to $1250, an unparalleled tuition rise for one Harvard class. Harvard was also the first class in which the Advanced Standing Program was implemented. Although Advanced Standing did not have a large beginning in the Class of '59, the Program has seemed a successful one, and appears to be playing an increasingly larger part in the composition of the College. '59 was also the first class to receive the General Motors Scholarships. In the first year of the establishment of these scholarships, Harvard received twenty of the seventy national winners.
The Class of '59 did equally well four years after admission in receiving grants for foreign and domestic study. Members of '59 received 32 Woodrow Wilson Fellowships, two Marshall Scholarships, one Fiske, at least 13 Fulbrights, and five Rhodes Scholarships. Thirty-two Rhodes Scholars are selected each year from all over the United States. This year Harvard received more Rhodes Scholarships than any other college in the country except West Point, which also received five. '59 received more Rhodes Scholarships than any class in the history of Harvard.
Academic accomplishment suggests the main shared value of all modern Harvard classes--that of scholarship. '59 was "brighter" than any Harvard class which preceded it. Its average scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests were higher, as was its predicted academic performance. '59 quickly fulfilled its predictions: in its Freshman year, it placed a higher number of people on Dean's List than preceding classes.
The increased academic competition that characterizes the College today achieved a symbolic turning point in '59's successful efforts to keep the doors of Lamont open. Coerced mainly by the Freshmen of '59, who complained that they could not study as well in their rooms, the University lengthened library hours in Lamont during the fall term of 1955. Instead of closing on Sunday, Lamont is now open for eight hours of study. Several freshmen of '59, including a later President of the Student Council, offered their voluntary services for an hour a week to keep the library open until midnight. Their services were declined, but Lamont was opened.
But the Class of '59 did not spend all its time trying to open libraries during its Freshman year. The Union Committee staged an attempt to gain separate but equal parietal hours with those of the upperclassmen. Like most attempts to change parietal hours, this too was unsuccessful. During the fall of its freshman year, '59 also participated in one of the more spirited riots undertaken by Harvard undergraduates. After a pep rally preceding the Yale game, students demonstrated, then charged to Radcliffe. Once at Radcliffe, however, the group suffered from lack of purpose and dismissed after wandering around the Quad without acquiring any Radcliffe lingerie.
The Class of '59 lived through a changing era in Harvard-Radcliffe relations. "The urge to merge" Radcliffe and Harvard organizations reached its high point in the last two years of '59's tenure. The autonomy of Radcliffe organizations was even more a thing of the past with the mergers of the Yearbook, dramatic activities, and political organizations.
The Class of '59 is one of a series of increasingly more academically proficient Harvard classes, a trend that has become quite noticeable since the Korean War. The Class of '59 does not differ markedly from the classes immediately preceding or following it. Thus, one would not expect the post-graduation plans of the Class of '59 to differ markedly either. On the basis of a 73 per cent return in a study of the immediate plans of the Class of '59 the following break-down is reported: 15 per cent plan to get a job, 7 percent plan to travel or study, 21 per cent intend to fulfill military obligations, and 2 per cent are indefinite. By far the largest number, 55 per cent, plan to enter graduate school immediately. In addition, many of those listed in other categories, especially those in the military, will go to graduate school. Of the 55 per cent of the Class planning immediate graduate study, 33 per cent intend to enter GSAS, 30 per cent plan to study medicine, 20 per cent law, 6 per cent business, 3 per cent education, 3 per cent design, 2 per cent theology, 1 per cent dentistry, and 2 per cent plan to enter special schools. This breakdown is roughly equivalent to that of the Class of '58, except that it represents an almost 50 per cent increase over the Class of '58 in the percentage of graduates entering medical schools. The Class of '58 also sent a higher proportion of its graduates to medical school than the class preceding it. The Class of '58 had one significant change from the classes preceding it: It sent a far higher proportion of its members to GSAS. '59 continues this increased interest in the academic profession.
However, it is too early for '59 to predict its success in its chosen professions. The Class of '59 will be in a good position to evaluate such judgments at its twenty-fifth reunion when it returns to the Harvard of 1984. Until it can, the Class can rest content with the judgments of two of the University's top administrators. Dean Bender has said that the Class of '59 contains "an extraordinary number of extraordinary characters." And Dean Monro thought that '59 will prove itself "one heck of a good class." The Class of 1959 can reserve its own judgment until it returns to Harvard in 1984.