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.