Planning Consultant Helped Desegregate Minneapolis Schools

Courtesy OF 1953 radcliffe yearbook

Janet McNeill Hively '53

Last week a voice in a dream told Janet McNeill Hively ’53-’54 to “seek the everlasting.”

But the energetic teacher, planner and community leader has been “seeking the everlasting” all of her life, first as a sophomore class president and activist at Radcliffe, then as a housewife and mother of two actively involved in community service, and later as a divorcée working her way up the Minneapolis political system’s ladder and currently as a widow dedicated to the education of older Minnesotans.

All the while, she has continued her own education, often taking classes in areas that have sparked her fancy, from oriental art to statistics, and even earning a Ph.D. at the age of 69.

Hively has pursued so many different paths in seeking to fulfill her life mission that, when asked what she does for a living, she gives an unusual response.

“I’m a connector. My job in the world is to connect people and ideas,” she says.

But the E.B. White quote that the self-proclaimed “workaholic” submitted to the 50th reunion committee describes the trade-offs she has made throughout her life:

“I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. That makes it hard to plan the day,” she writes.

Laying the Groundwork

Hively, a Cambridge native, never intended to attend Radcliffe.

She says she ended up there because, after receiving admission and a scholarship, the headmistress of her Connecticut high school told her she had to uphold the reputation of the school.

“I’m not sure if it was the right place for me; it was so big,” Hively says.

Though she often felt out of place among the students from New York City—whom she considered “the most sophisticated people in the world”—Hively says her involvement in extracurriculars prepared her for a lifetime of leadership in the community.

During her time at Radcliffe, the government concentrator served as president of her sophomore class and president of the Harvard-Radcliffe chapter of the World Federalist Association, a national political advocacy organization which supports the United Nations. She also sang in the Radcliffe Choral Society.

The culture of Radcliffe during her years as an undergraduate involved what the deans called “gracious living,” Hively explains.

“You had candles at the dinner table, white table cloths, people waiting on your table,” she says. “Your job was to marry Harvard and MIT graduates, have their children and raise them to be leaders.”

Hively says she didn’t share this “gracious living mentality” and even bet a friend that she wouldn’t marry before the age of 30.