COEDUCATION by any other name would be much better. Why, after all, do we talk about it as if it were a special condition, distinct, presumably, from "education?" Obviously the joint instruction of men and women should be called simply "education," as opposed to "quasi-education" of one sex at a time.
But whether you take your coeducation gradually, like Harvard and Radcliffe, who have been carrying on an extended courtship practically since her birth, or all at once, like the Internal twin halves of a big midwestern University, chances are you will have to take it sooner or later. Even the oldest bulwarks of bachelorhood and separation are crumbling. Princeton admitted five women this year; Hamilton plans to take 400 by 1970. Men have begun matriculating at Hunter, Bennington, and Smith graduate schools. Yalies even Yalies have been agitating for changes and urging their girlfriends to besiege the admissions office.
However cautious such gestures may seem, they are fatal. Once the sexes recognize each other nominally, it is virtually impossible to keep them from wandering closer and closer together. Although Columbia's classes are still largely all-male, the daily newspaper The Spectator admitted Barnard journalists for the first time this year. Pembroke and Brown just decided to make some common dining arrangements. The University of Pennsylvania this month is completing the merger of its male and female student governments.
And at Harvard and Radcliffe it seems as if every month brings a new move toward unity. The common diploma, the common course catalogue, the common yearbook, significant as they are, already seem mere curtseys in a dance that has become quite commonplace.
It all started quite innocently, when in 1878, one girl convinced three Harvard professors to teach her Latin, Greek, and English. The next year 38 professors were giving 27 young ladies instruction, and in 1882 Radcliffe became an institution. The chaperone that was set up that year, a proviso that "no Harvard AB's ever be given to women," took 81 years to grow old and dic.
In 1899 a few girls were admitted to the Harvard graduate school. A professor promptly declared that Harvard would sooner or later be forced into coeducation, like a man into a breach of promise suit.
"The pure virility of the Harvard tradition is being threatened," he said, pointing out the "lack of mental resistance" inherent in a classroom of women. But voices of doom notwithstanding, Harvard and Radcliffe settled down to a peaceful and neighborly coexistence. Nearly 45 years passed with no more hanky panky.
A Relationship Progresses
A "Cliffite" in the class of '07 remembers social tensions relaxing to the point where girls could walk down to the Square, "providing they wore hats and gloves, held their skirt off the sidewalk, and had all their shoebuttons buttoned." Sometimes a very brave girl might "sit on a bench in the Commons for a while. This way she might see Harvard undergraduates from time to time, but speaking to them was of course unheard of."
Of the female graduates between 1900 and 1905, only 52% of them ever married, and these at the average age of 30.
In 1911 a boy climbed up the apple tree in Radcliffe yard and was promptly shooed away by the girls and a Dean. But a Harvard alumnus of '13 denies any hostility or disdain between the two schools. "Some Deans on both sides, especially the Radcliffe House Matrons, were pretty austere," he wrote to the Harvard Alumni bulletin recently, "but I don't think they really affected normal boys and girls." He recalls dancing with his girlfriends outside Bertram to the music of hurdy gurdy men, serving tea in his room between 5 and 7 after football games, and dining on beer and welsh rarebit in the proctor's room. His roommate walked a girlfriends across the Larz Andersen bidrge after dates, and over to Fresh Pond on nice afternoons.
In 1934 girls were still required to wear hats when they went into the Square, and curtains were set up in laboratories to separate the men and women students. Classes and clubs were quite separate.
But in 1943, with President Conant, the war, and the manpower shortage, the roof fell in. To save the professors' time, girls were allowed into a few of the more advanced Harvard classes. "With all those uniforms around, it felt like we were entering the navy, said a "Cliffedweller" of '46.
It was like leaving a teenage boy and girl together. In 1946 all classes above freshman year were made "coordinate;" in 1949 every single class had united. In 1952 Conant said, rather sheepishly, that he "never would have predicted it."
AND as soon as the romance was obvious to all, the pair began to pool their resources. In a dramatic series of flare-ups between 1957 and 1959, the United Nations Council, PBH, the Crimson, WHRB, the Drama Club, the yearbook staff, examinations, tutorials, and concentration dinners became coed. Girls were only then permitted to sit anywhere they wished in lecture halls; previous physical segregation had been "to facilitate attendance taking."