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.

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