A Clouded Era's Silver Lining

Harvard '35

"When you make it to the 50th, you feel almost like you've won a lottery--completely undeserved luck, but there you are," says James E. Downes '35, one of about 300 members of his class who will be at Harvard today to celebrate their "golden" reunion.

"It will be interesting to go back," Downes says. "We lived in a different world."

Indeed to hear the Class of 1935 tell it, today's undergrads would be astounded at the luxury and inexpensive of the accommodations of the 1930s, the severity of the rules regarding the opposite sex, the newness of the now-traditional House system, and--perhaps most of all--the Great Depression's lack of effect on College life.

"At Harvard, it wasn't very much like a depression," says Townsend W. Thorndike '35, a retired teacher in Exeter N. H. "Some fellows had to drop out, but Harvard was just a school, isolated from the world, living its own life."

"We were in a very sheltered Harvard, not much aware of or concerned about the wicked world outside," says James W. Tower '35, of Mystic Ct.

"People were very conscious of the Depression, but somehow we got through it. It monopolized the conversation of the day," says Norman E. Vuilleumier '35, professor of English emeritus at Boston University, who now lives in Manchester. N H "I never knew anyone who had to leave."

Others remember the situation differently

Elmer Harp Jr. '35, now professor of Anthropology emeritus at Dartmouth, was one such student. He took a leave of absence after his freshman year and eventually graduated in 1938. "A whole year could be done comfortably for $1200, but I didn't have a lot of money to throw around," Harp recalls.

"There were very few fellows who did have a lot of money to fool around with," he adds.

"We couldn't take out girls very well--we counted every plug nickel," says Walter W. Birge '35 of Kingston. Mass, who had used to represent Ohio's interests in Europe. "And I'll never forget watching men well apples for five cents on Park Avenue."

"I remember one guy had a chauffeur freshman year, no chauffeur the next year, and lived at home senior year," says Tower. "There was a lot of that."

"We didn't travel much for vacation, but the setting at the college was so comfortable and interesting I don't think anyone felt deprived at being penniless," says Edward W. Fox '35, professor of History emeritus at Cornell.

"At that time Harvard was as good a school as any for a poor boy to go to," says John V. Hallet '35, a retired chemist who now resides in Glens Falls, N.Y. "The accommodations were great, and the cost was relatively modest."

"It's harder to get in now, both financially and scholastically," says George Ehrenfried, a retired photographic physicist who live in Cambridge.

Even during the Depression, of course, there were those who did not have to worry much about where their next term bill payment was coming from.