One might say that the decade of the 1910's marked a definite change in America's attitudes. No longer was the United States satisfied with the seamy side of capitalism, nor with the oligarchic rule of the Mark Hannas. Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom instituted wide domestic reforms, and the cries of the muckrakers led to an intensity of anti-trust action. Only the Supreme Court seemed reluctant to sweep away the horrors of long-hours and child labor.
To those 662 members of the Class of 1913 who registered at Harvard on September 20, 1909, the College must have seemed a fortress of security against the omens of changing times. Life at Harvard was a gentleman's game. One could live in the Gold Coast, eat leisurely on the white table cloths of Memorial Hall, and join any of a multitude of final clubs. Radcliffe had not yet invaded the College, and only a few intinerant professors had the pleasure of competing with 'Cliffies on an intellectual level.
President Eliot had always been reluctant to infringe upon this luxuriant independence. Surprising it must have been, then, when the entering freshmen of 1909 met Abbot Lawrence Lowell, who replaced Eliot as President of Harvard College on October 6 of that year. Lowell's address served as a warming to the College and to the entering class. He decried the "intellectual isolation" which the turn of the century had witnessed; the role of the College was not to produce "hermits" he said.
Instead, Lowell called for a University which would be both "broad and profound," which would construct a "new solidarity" within the College. The new President looked beyond the four undergraduate years. "If we can increase the intellectual ambition of college students," he said, "the whole face of our country will be changed. . . The object of a university is to counteract, rather than copy, the defects in the civilization of the day."
The freshman class was soon besieged by undergraduate activities designed to rid the student of his isolation. Their initial meeting was held in Phillips Brooks House, where student activities proliferated. A freshman debate council was organized, and the Harvard Dramatic Club, founded the year before, began its first year of ambitious operation.
This intensity of activity seemed to make the class a bit uneasy. The CRIMSON noted "an unusual tendency to make noises and to throw food" in Mem Hall, and that lectures in Economics 1 were often interrupted by disorder. Just before the Yale game, an editorial lamented the "total lack of spirit" shown by the Class of '13.
Yet there was relatively little excitement during the year. At one point the CRIMSON feebly called for the expulsion of those mysterious undergraduates who published a series of "sensational" journals. Late in the spring, a mild controversy arose over the question of adding the names of Harvard's Confederate soldiers to the plaques in Memorial Hall.
As members of '13 returned for their sophomore year, they had the option of participating in Lowell's new elective system, an innovation very similar to the present rules on concentration. Each member of the Class could pick one department, thereby learning not only "a little of everything" but also "something well" in the first year of the system, economics was the most popular field, followed at a distance by engineering and English.
The fall of 1910 also saw the first step in Lowell's plan to promote "solidarity." The seniors had been allowed to apply to the Yard dormitories by entries, and the new freedom made the dorms much more popular. The President's long-range plans for a set of freshman dormitories were still on the drawing-board.
A new peak of organization hit the Yale game that year where the entire student body joined together in singing the "Marseillaise." The song was accompanied by handkerchiefs, waved in the formation of a white block "H." (The game was not worth the effort, however; the Crimson fought admirably, but could do no better than a 0-0 tie.)
The junior year was slightly less exciting. Only the continuing program of construction stirred the Cambridge scene. The Busch Reisinger Germanic museum was dedicated in January, and work on a new high-voltage laboratory was begun.
By the spring, however, the excitement of the oncoming Presidential election engaged the politically-minded. The Taft Club met the President at the Somerset Hotel, and Roosevelt spoke to his Club at the Union. The CRIMSON noted an increasing interest in socialism, and hoped that such "radical" doctrines would be looked at objectively. Lincoln Steffens gave several lectures on corruption in politics, but the undergraduates nonetheless ran off to rallies for Taft and Roosevelt.
This political intensity reached its peak in the fall, as the Class of '13 began its final year at Harvard. The faculty got into the act when Professor Albert B. Hart '80 was nominated for the Senate on the Progresive Party ticket. In a straw vote of the College just before the election, Woodrow Wilson was "chosen" President over Taft, 1400-1132. Roosevelt was a close third, and Eugene Debs drew 328 votes.