25 Years of Over-Achieving
When the 107 returning members of the Radcliffe Class of 1954 arrive at Comstock Hall Wednesday afternoon to embark upon three days of receptions, luncheons, colloquia, special exhibits and performances in honor of the Radcliffe Centennial, they'll find significant changes in their alma mater. Back in the early '50s, Radcliffe was an institution seeminly independent of Harvard, sharing only course instruction, an economy measure forced by war-time pressures. Radcliffe women lived in the dormitories at the Radcliffe Quadrangle, obeyed strict 10 p.m. parietals, and used either the Radcliffe library or Widener, never Lamont. In Widener, they were warned not to walk down the center aisle of the reading room so as not to draw excessive attention. Many members of the Class of '54 seemed to pin their hopes on meeting and marrying a Harvard man, although The Crimson reported, in September 1951, Radcliffe women faced stiff competition from their more "genteel counterparts" at Wellesley. Back in '51 The Radcliffe Quarterly could quote a professor's remark without much hesitation: "The Radcliffe girl carries feminism and femininity in almost equal balance. It's enough to upset anybody." Of course the professor was male. Only one woman was tenured, holding an endowed chair established to be filled by women only.
Nevertheless, by the time the Class of '54 entered Radcliffe in 1950, there were more than 2.5 million woman college graduates, more than 500,000 of whom had received specialized professional training beyond college. For most women college graduates of the early '50's, however, career ambitions yielded to goals of getting happily married and raising children. Some expected to work, but often only while their husbands completed graduate or professional schools. The conventional vision of a suburban home with 2.4 children, two cars and a dog was a powerful one. "I always thought having children would be my carrer," Joanne Sacco Pugh said, adding that since college she has had at least four careers.
The Class of '54, for better or worse, attended college during one of the more tranquil times in our country's history. In their 25th reunion questionnaire, many expressed their regret at attending college 15 years before the storm, just as some students today long for the activism and campus unrest their older brothers and sisters experienced while in college. In the early '50s the Korean War anb the battle against American Communists shared the headlines with phone booth-stuffing contests and hula-hoop exhibitions; at Radcliffe the students thought more of the latter than of the former. Though the military draft made headlines and Sen. Joseph MacCarthy (D-Wisc.) sought to label John K. Fairbank '29, Higginson Professor of History a "red" in January 1954, Radcliffe students of the early '50s conducted inter-dorm song contests and fought off periodic raids by the men down Garden St.
The focal point of student social life, and important events to Radcliffe women in those days were the dorm "jollyups," roughly equivalent to today's mixers. The jollyups were real meeting places, for, as Dorothy Elia Howells '60, author of "A Century to Celebrate": Radcliffe College 1879-1979, reports, a Harvard man could call a Radcliffe woman and tell her he had met her at a jollyup, even if he hadn't, and be virtually assured of her going out with him. On the other hand, The Crimson in September, 1950 said, "Jollyups are famous for the 5-2-1 quota; despite the disgruntled look on the girl's face it's usually the men in these affairs who leave the room in despair."
The Crimson was partially responsible for perpetuating the prevailing stereotypes of the college women of the early '50s, among them the Class of '54. While the college was making significant innovations with the Radcliffe seminars in the early fifties and started construction of Holmes Hall and the Cronkhite Graduate Center, The Crimson devoted more coverage to the stealing of Lampoon's Ibis, to the annual Miss Radcliffe contest (Lois Love Eberling '54, a concentrator in Social Relations, was the winner in this year's 25th reunion class) and to the autumn, 1953 controversy over whether to extend Radcliffe parietal hours from 10 to 11 p.m. (They eventually were extended, but only for seniors in Group IV or above). The Crimson, and most Harvard men, ignored the many not-strictly-social extracurricular activieis of Radcliffe women. In the early 1950s, they had many of their own athletic teams, The Radcliffe News, By-Line, a literary magazine, and a radio station WRRD, operating in affiliation with the MIT radio station until 1960. The Crimson, in its 1950 registration issue commented only that "today's Cliffe-dweller is an easy conversationalist and apt to be a good looker, too."
One major factor in Harvard-Radcliffe relations, however, did not escape The Crimson's or Harvard's attention--the controversy over joint instruction in classes. In the fall of 1950, 267 members of the Class of 1954, and the approximately 700 other Radcliffe students in the preceding three classes, were able to enroll in all Harvard courses except five: Mathematics 1, Astronomy 1a, Economics 1, Social Relations 1a, and Music 1. In following years, women were also allowed to enroll in these courses.
Still, compared with the Radcliffe of 1979 the Radcliffe of 1954 stayed much more aloof from its monolithic neighbor. In 1963 Harvard would begin to confer its degrees upon Radcliffe students, and in 1971 Harvard would assume management control of Hilles Library and the Radcliffe dormitories. The admissions offices were merged in the mid 1970s and an "equal access" admissions policy was in-