Radcliffe Grads Struggle to Balance Families, Careers

In the quarter century since the women of the Class of 1968 were graduating seniors, their lives have changed dramatically.

While their choices were once classes and extracurriculars, many Radcliffe graduates must now balance more weighty and complicated forces.

During the past 25 years, members of the Radcliffe Class of 1968 have had to make some tough choices about careers, families and marriages--decisions at least partially influenced by the environment and education they received at Radcliffe.

One complaint about the Radcliffe experience then is that it overemphasized the importance of a career and downplayed the role of family in post-college life.

Ann E. Freedman'68 says saw a disparity between the encouraging messages Radcliffe professed and the unequal treatment of women at the University--a which gap inspired her career as a professor of law specializing in feminist issues.

Freedman, who teaches at Rutgers University, says she delayed having her two children until she was established in her career.

"Before, I wasn't ready to have kids because I had to get my head together," she says. "I'm in an economic class where I can afford child care and I have a husband who is fully equal in housework and child care and who is also a professor, so we both have flexible schedules. I've been able to combine a family and a career."

This balancing act has not come without its penalties, Freedman says. "I think my rate of publication and advancement of my career is not been what it would be," she says.

Susan C. Goldman '68 says her time at Radcliffe was a good preparation for success in her career as a midwife prior to the births of her children. After wards, though, was a different story.

"The pressure on us as we came out as women who were bright and well-educated was that we had to have a career--and a high-powered career," she says. "When I reached a point where I decided to have children, the really important thing I wanted was to do a good job with the kids."

In order to do this, she had to leave the community in Africa where she had served as a midwife for seven years. Today, she lives in Boston and helps her husband manage their self-owned business. Toucan Chocolates.

Restructuring her life this way, however, made her feel a great deal of guilt. While there were working mothers at Harvard, their families were kept far in the background, and all the women professors at the time were childless. "I feel like we never had any role models at Harvard or got a message at Harvard that said it was okay to stay home with our kids," she says.

To others, though. Radcliffe provided a welcome respite from a world where domestic role models were plentiful and professional women were scarce. "We didn't have many role models--that was definitely true," says Mary M. Kemeny '68. "But the college was very [encouraging] of women going out and doing other things than getting married."

Kemeny, who is unmarried, chose to go to medicine, eventually becoming chief of surgical oncology at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, She says her route through this traditionally male-dominated field of surgery was at times difficult because of long-standing prejudices against women.

"At Radcliffe, it didn't matter so much that we were women...but when I got to medical school, it was suddenly very important," she says. "I have had to suffer injustices I wasn't really ready for."