As a student at Radcliffe College, Elizabeth Holtzman ’62 had her first taste of political organizing. Though Holtzman would later go on to hold some of the highest offices in New York government, here the constituents she was advocating for were her fellow residents of Whitman Hall.
During her senior year, Holtzman helped lead the charge to convince the administration to abolish parietal hours—the 1 a.m. curfews imposed on Radcliffe women but, by the 1960s, rarely enforced.
“It was the beginning of an activist streak,” said Donna L. Walker ’62, who shared the same Radcliffe dormitory as Holtzman.
Only 10 years after graduating from Radcliffe, Holtzman unseated a 50-year incumbent in the New York Democratic primary for the House. At the time, she was the youngest woman to be elected to Congress.
Since then, she has held a variety of offices both within and representing New York City, including serving as the first woman comptroller of the city.
THE RADCLIFFE TRAINING GROUND
During the seven years Holtzman spent at Harvard—four at Radcliffe and the next three at Harvard Law School—she developed her voice as an activist, gaining lessons in organizing that would inform her later political work.
“Extraordinary people are your classmates,” Holtzman said of her time at Radcliffe. “You can learn so much from them. Don’t think it’s just the books and the professors.”
Holtzman was particularly involved in the debate over the ending of Radcliffe’s traditional system of parietal hours.
“The issue was whether we just pretend that we obey [the curfew]...or whether we change the hours so we don’t have to lie,” Holtzman said. “It seemed to me, a senior, that it was a better idea to change the rules and not force people to resort to subterfuges.”
Classmates have remembered Holtzman as a staunch voice during the discussions.
“She was a fierce and passionate advocate for taking these issues seriously and not treating them as a trivial matter,” said Michael Churchill ’61, a former Crimson editor who worked on coverage of the debates. After meeting Holtzman through an article about the parietals question, Churchill struck up a friendship with her, and he eventually served as her congressional campaign manager in 1972.
After graduating from Radcliffe, Holtzman immediately entered Harvard Law School, where she became involved in legal advocacy for the emerging Civil Rights Movement.
“My experiences in the Civil Rights Movement gave me a very deep optimism about the ability to make changes in America for the better,” Holtzman said.