Containing Harvard

City Council takes aim at Harvard communism, but University growth moves forward

At the last stop on the subway's Red Line, Harvard Square during the years of the Class of 1951 included mostly small family-run shops, diners--and communists, according to the accusations of local city councilors.

That era's Cambridge was a conservative city based in industry, home to 120,000. It was also the uneasy site of Harvard University--an institution whose radical image starkly contrasted with the attitude of its hometown.

Cambridge's fear of communism dominated much of the city's relationship with Harvard during the years of '51, reaching an extreme with the campaign of city councillor and local red-fighter John D. Lynch to expose the communists at Harvard.

But even as local fear of Harvard's politics grew, Harvard was beginning a massive development effort that would push its boundaries ever farther into Cambridge's neighborhoods.

"Watch Out For Those Communists"

The city's racial, economic, and political composition was radically different in 1951. A large blue-collar segment existed in the city, local politics had a decidedly conservative tone, and Cambridge was far less racially diverse than it is today.

The venues near Harvard--mostly inexpensive cafeterias and stores selling necessities--brought many more locals into the Square than today, according to former Mayor Francis H. Duehay `55.

But, Duehay describes a significant distance that existed between Harvard and its community. In part, Duehay says, the 1950's were just a "more formal time." Class and age differences acted as a serious barrier to student/community interaction.

But the distance between the community and the college went beyond formality: politics and fear also played into the relationship.

Duehay, who graduated from Cambridge High and Latin high school in 1951, recalls advice from his principal after he reached Harvard.

"You've got to watch out for those communists down there," he was told.

Less than a year before, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy had alarmed the nation with his announcement that 205 communists had infiltrated the State Department.

"This was a community with a very large conservative population, so Joe McCarthy was sort of a hero here," says Cambridge resident and historian Glenn S. Koocher '71.

Led by City Councillor John D. Lynch, the Cambridge City Council of 1950-51 waged a steady war to keep track of communists in Cambridge and at Harvard.

Lynch took as his weapon a 1948 list of "reducators" that included President James B. Conant as well as 68 members of the Harvard faculty.

He introduced a bill to add the list of Harvard reducators into the city's official records, but the measure was defeated by a block vote of the more liberal Cambridge party, the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA).

Even the liberals supported Lynch in his next effort though--a bill to require the registration of all Cambridge communists. But the law was struck from the books after being pronounced illegal by the city solicitor.

When his efforts at containing communism through legislation failed, Lynch decided to meet the professors on their own turf. In December, 1950 a debate was held in Emerson Hall between Lynch and alleged reducator, History Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. '38. The topic was "How to Combat Communism in the U.S."

Uncontainable Harvard

But even as Lynch targeted Harvard for its politics, the University was preparing for a major expansion that lasted throughout the 1950s.

"The universities were much smaller prior to World War II," says Duehay, who traces the wartime infusion of federal funds as the impetus for Harvard's interest in expansion.

In 1950, Harvard dedicated a huge new center for graduate student housing that included seven dormitories as well as one classroom building. In 1951, construction on the Holmes wing of what is now Pforzheimer hall was announced. Plans for applied science labs also went up in 1951-- all with little complaint from Cambridge residents or the City Council.

According to the Harvard University publication ITALICSITALICSITALICS Growth and Change at Harvard: Ten Years in Statistical Summary, the university added more than 1.3 million square feet to its properties in the decade from 1954-1963--a more than 20% increase.

In the next decades, Harvard pushed its borders outwards and upwards.

In 1966, Holyoke Center--an administrative high rise that more recently had its first floor devoted explicitly to serving the needs of tourists --was constructed.

And in 1970, Harvard expanded into the previously residential "Kerry Corner" neighborhood with the construction of Mather House elbowing into the Irish immigrant settlement.

But more recently, Cambridge's increasing liberalism has shifted the focus of town/gown conflict. No mention has been made for years of Harvard's politics in City Council meetings. Yet Harvard expansion has come under constant fire.

Both neighbors and City Council members have joined together to slow the pace of Harvard growth in Cambridge. A town that is now content with the politics of the institution next-door has found major discontent in the unceasing growth of the institution's grounds.