After Radcliffe, Baker Goes Her Own Way

“My days at Radcliffe have no bearing on my life today,” says Ruth M. Fitzgerald `51 in an unapologetic tone and slight Boston accent. She is probably one of a handful of Harvard graduates who has a right to this claim.

Fitzgerald returned to her family’s farm and orchard after graduation where she started first a family and then a bakery.

“I look at the other people who graduated with me, and they are doctors, lawyers, presidents of colleges and PhDs,” she says. “But I’ve been very happy with my life.”

According to family lore, a lack of beds propelled Fitzgerald into the baking business.

“When she had her second child, William, she realized that she needed another bed and another room. She got the idea to sell pies [to make money],” says Cathy Fitzgerald, her daughter-in-law.

“It was just a matter of survival,” Fitzgerald says. “In those cases, you just kind of, as they say, fly by the seat of your pants.”

On the orchard, it seemed a natural progression to use the excess fruit for pies.

Though she maintains “you need no special training to be a baker,” Fitzgerald does credit one part of her education as having been especially helpful.

“Nursing helped me very much with the sanitation aspects of the business,” she says, referring to a program she took at Radcliffe in conjunction with Mass General Hospital (MGH).

Fitzgerald says she was always more interested in nursing than in getting a Harvard diploma.

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was a youngster,” says Fitzgerald, who came to Harvard by default when MGH’s nursing program wouldn’t accept her because she was too young.

“Definitely my thoughts were on MGH,” she says, her tone of voice indicating a lasting disappointment.

One of her dissatisfactions with Harvard was that it impinged on her nursing time.

“It seemed to me that Radcliffe did not bend to the hospital’s needs,” she says. “It was really the hospital that bent to Radcliffe’s.”

Nursing comlications aside, Fitzgerald asserts that she was happy at college.