Radcliffe Breaks the Curfew
On the night of November 8, 1960, Crimson photographer Judith H. Blitman ’61 watched the returns roll in at the Kennedy Compound, the culmination of months of work covering the campaign for the newspaper.
“I met a lot of famous reporters. The whole national press was there. It was very, very exciting,” Blitman remembered.
But the next afternoon, when Blitman returned to campus after watching the victory speech of John F. Kennedy ’40 at the Hyannis Armory, she faced a consequence that her male colleagues on the paper did not have to deal with—Radcliffe’s rules.
“They made me stay in for the next weekend,” she recalled.
As a Radcliffe student in the early 1960s, Blitman’s social life and behavior, including how late she could stay out each night, was dictated by an extensive catalog of rules, bound in a 100-page volume known as The Red Book.
The Red Book contained guidelines for nearly every situation that might arise for Radcliffe women. According to one by-law, “when a student visits a man’s apartment or room not in a college dormitory, another girl or couple should be present,” while another regulation set out that “an older couple should be present at any private party which lasts later than 1 a.m.”
By staying out all night, Blitman had violated one of the core precepts of The Red Book: the code of parietal rules that was laid out over five pages of the handbook.
Though Blitman was punished under the rules of the 1960-’61 edition of The Red Book, by the following fall many of the traditional regulations that the book mandated were increasingly being called into question by the students that they affected.
During the 1961-’62 school year, debates over the purpose of these curfews and other rules for the proper conduct of a Radcliffe student were symptomatic of the emerging revolution in the role of women on Harvard’s campus and beyond.
LIFE UNDER CURFEW
As a senior, Blitman no longer lived with a specific curfew mandated by The Red Book. Her infraction during the Kennedy election, instead, had been failing to “secure permission for an overnight absence.”
According to the regulations set down in The Red Book, sophomores and juniors had to sign in to their residence halls by 1 a.m. unless they had special permission from the head resident or hall president in their dormitory for an event like a cast party or a formal. Freshmen could stay out until 10 p.m., although they were allowed to be in the library until 11:15.
“We just sort of accepted it,” Blitman said of the curfew that dictated her life at the University. “And fighting it was out of the question. Somehow in 1960 it just didn’t occur to me to get active, nor did it occur to any of my female colleagues.”
The rules had been intended to protect the students of Radcliffe by both preserving their reputations and keeping them safe from sexual advances.
But rather than make life easier, women who attended Radcliffe in the early 1960s have said that the rules perpetuated a culture in which they felt like second-class citizens on Harvard’s campus.