The Old College Try

The lines for textbooks were shorter. Fewer strollers were wheeled through Harvard Yard. Registration didn't take two hours. Fewer students slept in overcrowded rooms in the Houses and in Yard dorms. School spirit was back with a vengeance.

In 1951, Harvard College was starting to look normal again--at last.

The Second World War had robbed the College of its students and professors. Enrollment dropped to 850 undergraduates.

After the war, the pendulum had swung in the opposite direction. Swarms of veterans descended on campus, their education subsidized by the G.I. Bill. About one-third of them brought wives and about one-third of the couples had children.

The Houses had been filled past the brim--doubles turned to triples and quads housed five or six--and temporary housing had been erected on athletic fields. The College's teaching resources had been strained by the largest enrollment in Harvard history, reaching its high water mark at around 5,600 undergraduates when the Class of 1951 came to campus in fall 1947. Some new arrivals even had to sleep temporarily in gyms at the Indoor Athletic Center.

But then the tide began to ebb. That year, the College had limited veterans' admissions to just 200 slots. In the class admitted that fall, civilians once again outnumbered former military men.

For the first time in a decade, the Class of 1951 caught a glimpse of pre-war Harvard. And students and administrators knew they were getting a reprieve.

Prospective students of 1947 were told by the Admissions Office of the "norm to which the College is now returning after the unusual war and postwar periods." If admitted, they could expect "conditions rapidly returning to what they were before 1941."

These students entering in '47 and leaving Harvard in '51 captured a window of college normalcy that closed as they departed. Just as veterans from the Second World War were leaving, a new war in Korea loomed.

The draft came to Harvard in 1951, regularly making the front page of The Crimson. The senior class escaped largely unscathed--though six of its members would be killed in the Korean War--and the draft burden would fall on future classes.

The Class of 1951 was the first class since the war to be mostly free of veterans and the last class before the next war to be mostly free of the draft.

"Seniors can be thankful," the staff of the Yearbook wrote that spring, "that they have squeezed their four undergraduate years into just about the only period of 'normalcy' at Harvard from 1941 to the millennium."

Raids and Riots

With the status quo came a return to pre-war college norms--norms of rambunctious and youthful escapades, of Harvard men having a little fun.

In the fall of 1950, students kept Harvard and Cambridge police busy with the two largest uproars on campus since before the war.

Two separate incidents--both occurring the week before the Harvard-Yale football game--showed school spirit had made a comeback. When the dust settled, two students were expelled and 13 were put on probation for their parts in the incidents.

On Sunday, November 19, 1950, the power went out in Cambridge around 6:22 p.m.

Within minutes, students raised the cry "On to Radcliffe" in the Yard and hundreds poured into the Square. As they made their way toward the women's dorms, they seized red lanterns from nearby construction projects. Five students drove their cars to the Radcliffe Quadrangle and directed the headlights on Cabot and Moors Halls.

Estimates of the crowd varied wildly--as high as 2,000--but in any case, hordes of students climbed fire escapes and invaded the residence halls, where usually they were not allowed past the first floor.

A press account the next day compared the Harvard men to "bulls in a China shop."

Some women dropped paper bags filled with water on the students in defense. Residents in the Whitman and Briggs dorms locked their doors in time to keep out the invaders.

A fire alarm was pulled, bringing four trucks and two police cruisers to the scene. Thirty University police officers tried to keep order, though one reportedly lost his badge and hat.

Power was restored at 7:17 p.m. The men of Harvard, afraid of being identified in the light, finally ran from the dorms.

The only injury that night: a firefighter struck in the eye when a student photographer carelessly discarded a used flash bulb.

By week's end, with The Game approaching, the campus erupted again.

On Friday night, November 24, a handful of Yale band members walked through the Yard blaring Yale fight songs. Slowly students gathered in the Square despite a slight drizzle.

Around 11:45 p.m., firecrackers stared going off. Then the mobs came.

More than 1,000 students from Harvard and Yale alike joined in the riot. They lit Roman candles and set off skyrockets. They brought traffic to a standstill and rocked cars stuck in the disorder.

"What do we eat?" cheered Harvard students, who were in the majority. "Bulldog meat."

A few fistfights broke out. The revelers snapped the electric lines that powered trolley busses and tried to climb aboard police cars.

University Police Chief Alvin G. Randall brought his 30 officers out in full force. Six city police wagons stood by and hauled off riot participants as they were arrested.

Some students cheered when arrests were made but many jeered at the police. One officer later said he had nearly been pushed in front of a bus.

City Councillor Edward A. Sullivan was slapped in the face by one of the rioters, whom he promptly arrested with the help of a Cambridge police officer.

"We don't mind the boys having their fun," Sullivan said later, "but when they get malicious, it's going too far."

The students "would be clubbed if they tried it in New Haven," he said, demanding that the University pay for damage to Cambridge property.

The riot made huge headlines in Boston-area newspapers and the news spread across New England on the Associated Press wires.

College administrators saw little humor in the two riots within a week's time. The Ad Board met the following weekend to dole out punishments. They expelled two, put 13 on probation and threatened an even more drastic response to future disruptions.

"One of the most regrettable aspects of the affair before the Yale game," the board said in a statement, "was the completely unjustified jeering of the police. It doesn't take much courage to jeer a policeman from the relative safety of a mob."

Gradually, during the years the Class of 1951 spent at the College, a carefree atmosphere returned, along with a school spirit that one local newspaper had considered "dead as the pig in a pigskin."

In 1947, Boston University students had painted a crimson mustache on the statue of John Harvard and burned the letters "BU" into the Harvard Stadium gridiron. Harvard students had returned the favor with H's drawn all over the BU stadium.

Two years later, a battle of the Square had been fought before a Harvard-Princeton game between police and a mob, which stopped traffic and deflated a patrol car's tires.

But not since the 1930s, noted approving commentators, had the College seen such a rollicking good football riot as the one that Friday night in November 1950.

From World War to World Mobilization

The post-war transformation of Harvard affected the College in many small ways. Food was now served mess-style in round, tin trays. In the fall of 1947, the College observed meatless Tuesdays and egg- and poultry-less Thursdays in response to President Harry Truman's nation-wide call to conserve food for European aid.

More serious educational consequences followed from the war, notably packed lecture halls and residences so crowded and insufficient that as late as 1947 some students who lived nearby the College were required to commute rather than live in dorms or Houses.

In pure size, Harvard had outgrown itself. The University as a whole was 50 percent larger than its pre-war size. Enrollment in the College had soared over 5,000 persons, where administrators believed 4,300 to be a normal figure.

But even with the recovery after '47 from the effects of World War II, the College braced for another trauma in response to the war in Korea.

University President James R. Conant '14 spoke frequently and publicly on the looming possibility of a World War III. Even with the "grimness of the times," though, Conant believed all-out war was "by no means inevitable."

"If we were to assume a global war and postpone educational developments and then our pessimism proved false," he wrote in his 1950-51 presidential report, "we should have needlessly endangered essential elements of our national life."

The partial mobilization of the Cold War was different from the total commitment of the Second World War, he said, where the government had effectively enlisted the University, calling on all its resources for the war.

But the Cold War had no fixed duration. Some University resources already went toward defense research, Conant said, but professors and administrators should continue to work on education for its own sake, as well. The end of World War II left Conant free to pursue purely educational initiatives--despite what he called the "grisly business" of world mobilization.

Before the war, students and faculty increasingly expressed frustration with the College's system of distribution requirements and Conant appointed a committee to investigate alternatives.

In 1945, the committee returned its report on "A General Education in a Free Society," a blueprint for a new system of so-called General Education, which aimed to expose students to disciplines outside their field of concentration with courses in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences designed specifically for non-concentrators.

In the post-war period, the College and its instructors devoted time and resources to developing the new curriculum of classes, such as "Dante, Montaigne and Shakespeare" and "Understanding the Physical World." The liberal arts program began experimentally in 1946 but was not mandatory for graduation until the Class of 1954.

While administrators assessed how General Education fit into the College's educational objectives, talk of mobilization and the draft was everywhere on campus. Students lobbied successfully for the expansion of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs.

But, when the College slightly expanded its own admissions in 1947, anticipating the loss of students to the draft, the losses did not come until the Class of 1951 was on its way out.

During the Class' first three years at Harvard just 25 students withdrew from the College to enter military service. Their senior year, with the war escalating, 81 left for the armed forces--but only six were members of the Class of 1951.

"[The draft] hovered over the college like a bird of prey," documented the 1951 yearbook. "No one could mistake its shadow on the ground, but since it did not swoop down, everything below went on pretty much as normal."

The Houses at 20

At the first High Table of 1950, Lowell House celebrated its twentieth anniversary.

The man for whom the House was named--former University President A. Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1887--had called for the creation of small residential colleges in the mid 1920s.

"Contacts, good talk, wide range of friendships flourish when men live in a community and take their meals in the same dining room," he had said.

In 1930, Dunster, Eliot and Lowell inaugurated the House system. The next year, existing buildings were converted into Adams, Kirkland, Leverett and Winthrop Houses--bringing the total to seven, where it stood until Quincy House was added in 1959.

Socially and artistically, the Houses were flourishing. In 1951, for example, Adams House put on Johan Strauss' operetta "Gypsy Baron." Students in Dunster House--known as "Funsters"--staged Donizetti's "Anna Bolena." In Eliot House, the play that year was Ben Johnson's "Every Man in His Honor." After selling out "H.M.S. Pinafore" the year before, Winthrop House put on Gilbert and Sullivan's "Yeoman of the Guard."

Lowell House was remembered that year for its dances and beer parties. The House library stocked Esquire magazine and other weighty reading matter. Kirkland had its usual high turnout at that year's House football games. Leverett held "Bunny Dances," named after the House mascot.

All in all, administrators congratulated themselves on the contribution Houses made to college life.

"Each of the Houses tries, and pretty successfully, to contain within itself all the types that can be found in the undergraduate body," they wrote in a pamphlet explaining the Houses to first-years.

But the Houses still suffered from at least one major problem: they were too crowded. The post-war veteran influx had packed the Houses past their bursting points. And because of the numbers, House-based tutorials--a mainstay of the original House vision--had to be suspended.

Citing the loss of tutorials, Dean of the College Wilbur J. Bender reported in 1949 that the Houses were "far from realizing the ideal which Mr. Lowell ... had in mind when the House system was established."

A New Normal

In its look and feel, Harvard returned to normalcy during the years of the Class of 1951. But post-war normal was beginning to diverge from the earlier status quo.

In their first year, the Class of 1951 surpassed the veterans' record-setting grades of the past years, earning the highest marks on record at the College. More first-years were on the Dean's List and fewer had been forced to withdraw than any class since records were first kept in the early 1920s.

Graduates of New England's elite preparatory academies now found themselves outperformed by students from public high schools. During the Class of 1951's first year, 23 percent of private school students made the Dean's List. 41 percent of public school students were on the list.

This discrepancy did not go unnoticed by admissions officers, who reported in 1948 that "our scholarship policy opens the door of opportunity at Harvard to those boys of inferior economic status who are at the very top in academic performance."

Suddenly, administrators began to talk seriously about improving financial aid. The first tuition hike in two decades played a major part in the debate.

Tuition had stayed steady at $400 a year since the late 1920s until the 1947-48 school year. But that year, it rose to $525 a year. And the following year stood at $600. By the end of the decade it had doubled. Tuition would never stay steady so long again.

The G.I. Bill had helped veterans pay for tuition, books and living expenses, with three-quarters of the University on financial aid at the peak of the veteran deluge.

But, as soon as civilians took over again, that proportion fell. In the fall of 1947, less than 10 percent of first-years at the College were on aid.

Given rising tuition and recent inflation, which had devalued the scholarship fund, Dean of the College Wilbur J. Bender said that devoting more money to financial aid should be given "highest priority."

He also urged expanding the student loan program, following successful experiments at Yale and M.I.T.

The geographical distribution of Harvard's students was practically unchanged for the Class of 1951 compared to five years earlier. But for the first time, the admissions office said it was looking a more geographically-diverse crowd. The Crimson Key society followed the lead by organizing special cross-country trips to promote Harvard at west-coast high schools.

The College was far from settling into the new, more democratic standard of the end of the century. But the Class of 1951 represented a start. That year, for example, 66 new high schools were represented among members of the Class.

In spring 1951, the College replaced maids with student porters. Maids formerly had made students' beds and cleaned rooms six days a week. Now, following M.I.T.'s lead, the College would hire students to do the work in return for reduced room rents.

By the time war and demographic change would seriously disrupt routine at Harvard College, the Class of 1951 had graduated.

Their time at the College represented an isolated four-year stretch of peace and quiet and football riots. It also was the point of departure for changes that would redefine what normal would mean at Harvard.