Radcliffe Alumnae Evaluate Their Alma Mater

1953 graduates have mixed feelings about the merger

Courtesy OF 1953 radcliffe yearbook

Members of the Class of 1953 greet a Radcliffe first-year.

With its 1999 merger with Harvard, Radcliffe was forced to reinvent itself.

Many alumnae watched with curiosity as the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study took shape out of the college they had once known.

Three years after the merger and the Institute’s birth, most alums have come to value the Institute, some converted by the compelling arguments of Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust.

Others, however, feel disenfranchized by the disappearance of their alma mater and reject the Institute as a viable replacement for Radcliffe College.

Women from the Class of 1953 contacted by The Crimson offered a variety of perspectives on the merger and their relationship with the new Institute.

Holly Butler ’53

Butler entered college from New Orleans, La. She married her husband, a Harvard graduate in the Class of 1951, the summer after her junior year.

Butler studied English in college.

Did you maintain contact with Radcliffe after graduation? Through donations, reunions, etc?

I didn’t go to my own reunions until 25th, I went to [my husband’s] reunions and saw my classmates at them. Then I realized what I’d been missing.

Did you ever expect Harvard and Radcliffe to merge?

I thought it was probably inevitable. Especially after co residency came in.

What do you think of what Radcliffe has become—an institute for advanced study?

Well, I think that when Drew Faust explains to us that the Radcliffe Institute is now one of Harvard’s tubs, and that Radcliffe now has a place at the Harvard table, I think that is a good thing.

Do you think Radcliffe’s identity has changed? How?

It is no longer a women’s college...Though we are no longer a college, we haven’t been Pembroked. We live on in the name of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the college lives on in each of us.

What do you think is in Radcliffe’s future?

In all fairness, I haven’t been following it all that closely. I have only been exposed to information given to me by Drew Faust talking, but I am well impressed by what they are doing. I expect that the Institute will flourish and the Radcliffe name will live on. I do think the spirit of the founding of early Radcliffe and of the merger lives on.

Alice C. ‘Acey’ Welch ’53

Welch majored in architectural sciences in college. After graduation she went into graphic arts. Now mostly retired except for occassional consulting jobs, she resides in Concord, Mass.

Did you maintain contact with Radcliffe after graduation through donations, reunions, etc?

I did. I went to most of my reunions, especially from the 15th reunion on. I have been very involved in the Committee for the Equality of Women at Harvard (CEWH), which evolved out of our 35th reunion. Part of the class discussion that year was whether Harvard was as sexist as when we were in college. We were charged with trying to research this and report back at the 40th reunion. That subgroup became quite a little family.

Did you follow the merger at all? In the late 70s? 1999?

Certainly in ’99, and to a degree in the ’70s. I think it was a natural evolution. Radcliffe was the only college that never had a faculty, and its original charge was to provide for the education of women and this was accomplished through an alliance with Harvard College. And that combination continued from the ’40s and changed the structure of Radcliffe somewhat because of the war and not having enough instructors. In the ’60s Radcliffe and Harvard looked at their situation and Radcliffe decided that it would be easier to turn over administration of women to Harvard in toto, instead of housing women separately as they had in the past.

In ’99 I thought it was a natural evolution for the school. At that point Radcliffe had achieved its goal to provide for the higher education of women admitted to Radcliffe by Harvard College. With the development of the Institute, they are taking the next step in promoting higher education of women by giving them in essence the chance of a sabbatical and maintaining as part of its mission the promotion of women, gender and society.

Did you ever expect Harvard and Radcliffe to merge?

I don’t think we expected it, but in the ’60s, seeing schools like Pembroke and the Sargent School of Education at Tufts disappear, we perhaps should have. Many of these schools either merged with their affiliates or disappeared. It was a scene of us not really looking down the road, then of not being totally bent out of shape about it when it happened. It was the natural evolution of time and of what Radcliffe was hoping to achieve.

What do you think of what Radcliffe has become—an institute for advanced study?

I think I have come to know Dean Faust, and I think she is a phenomenal person. I think the Institute is very fortunate to have her at the helm. She is very sensitive to women’s issues and some of the problems women face within the University, especially trying to give a little help to the attempt to increase the number of women faculty. She has even addressed women undergraduates although they are not part of her concern.

Do you think Radcliffe’s identity has changed? How?

They’re trying very hard to continue the Radcliffe image. Again, with their decision to include as a part of the mission of the Institute the commitment to women, gender and society—without that I think the Radcliffe image could have totally disappeared and the Institute would have been just another think tank. I think Drew and her advisors are trying very hard to take the Radcliffe name and purpose into the next chapter.

What do you think is in Radcliffe’s future?

Well, time will tell...it has to get itself fiscally able to continue. That possibly forced Radcliffe into the merger of ’99. Radcliffe College was not able to raise funds to allow it to continue. Many are working very hard to give Radcliffe a stable foundation.

jeannette beatty asbed ’53

Asbed is retired after a long career in pharmacy and as a writer.

As an undergraduate she wanted to be a math major, but changed to English because it was more lady-like, she recalls. Asbed now lived in Naples, Fla.

Did you maintain contact with Radcliffe after graduation? Through donations, reunions, etc?

I did a lot of alumnae work, for the alumnae association. I have attended seminars and Radcliffe’s program in management. I am on the Radcliffe Alumnae Board of Management, am a class officer and have participated in every reunion since graduation. I always thought that I was an admission experiment on the part of Radcliffe, and that I have been paying Radcliffe back ever since.

Did you follow the merger at all? In the late ’70s? 1999?

I think each step of every decade has brought education for women closer to its goal. When we were here, we were halfway there. Even though we attended class at Harvard, there were a lot of indignities. We were not allowed to call ourselves Harvard students. Each step along the way has brought progress for women.

Did you ever expect Harvard and Radcliffe to merge?

I think we wondered if it would ever happen. I have certainly worried that there would not be a true agency for women at Harvard.

What do you think of what Radcliffe has become—an institute for advanced study?

I wish it well. When I heard Dean Faust speak, I was persuaded. She is a remarkable woman. I am happy that the Radcliffe name is preserved, but Radcliffe as I know it was really the undergraduate student body. I am really enthused for both the undergraduate women at Harvard and for the women on the track toward professorships in the Institute. When we were here there were no women professors in the entire University, at least that I knew of. We had no role models, but we didn’t realize it— those were the times.

Do you think Radcliffe’s identity has changed? How?

It has definitely changed. The Radcliffe I knew was an undergraduate education for women and limited to that. There were five men to every woman. Some of the privileges that were available to Harvard were not available to us. It was a different era all together. We were just being educated to be helpmeets to ‘the great man.’ Radcliffe at the time offered a class in the summer in typing and shorthand so that we could get jobs after we graduated.

What do you think is in Radcliffe’s future?

I couldn’t say. I do hope that the Institute or some other organization will stay as an agency for women at Harvard. Perhaps because of our history, I am concerned that women might get the short shrift, and that would be regression. I don’t know whether it should be up to the Institute or what, but it has been the role in Radcliffe in the past.

barbara healey killian ’53

Killian graduated with a degree in English. She now lives in Ducksbury, Mass. After graduation, she taught school and did volunteer work.

Did you ever expect Harvard and Radcliffe to merge?

At the time, it was first proposed and this was in the ’70s, I thought, well they’re just making official what has evolved over the years. I do remember that some of my aunt’s friends from earlier in the century shook their heads and said this is the end of Radcliffe, but I didn’t feel that way.

What do you think of what Radcliffe has become—an institute for advanced study?

A. I have very great respect for Dean Faust and feel that the Institute is a wonderful opportunity for women and serves a definite need for academic women—that aspect is positive. Unfortunately, I don’t have any identity or ownership in it. In some ways I am ambivalent about the keeping of the Radcliffe name. I don’t think the merger in the long run was that beneficial to undergraduate women. I know things change over the years, but I do feel that experience I had was very special. Young women today don’t have the support and sense of community and bonding with other women that we had.

Did the merger agreement impact you at all?

The Institute has not impacted me at all. I think we’ve gone by the mourning period for our college, that’s why I have ambivalent feelings about the Radcliffe name continuing. I don’t feel there is much continuity there.

What do you think is in Radcliffe’s future?

I don’t know to what degree Radcliffe will be able to fund itself. I am pretty sure that in another era I would have thought that Radcliffe would be in my will—I don’t think it will now. If it passes, I will say too bad. I am now at the stage in my life when I would have contributed more, and I will continue in my support of Radcliffe, but I won’t go the extra mile that I would have for the college.

—Staff writer Ella A. Hoffman can be reached at ehoffman@fas.harvard.edu.