In 1986, in the spring of her freshman year, Pamela M. Conover ’89 expected to move down Dunster Street to Eliot House, where she and her rooming group had been assigned. Instead, she was informed that she would be living in Wigglesworth, only one entryway over from her freshman year room.
Conover and her four future roommates had been thrilled to be placed into Eliot, their first-ranked upperclassmen House.The women had friends who were already in the House, and were attracted to Eliot’s proximity to the Yard and its prime view of the Charles River.
Eliot House, Conover recalled, seemed “as good as it gets.”But that summer, the women learned that Eliot did not have room for them.
Instead, the five sophomores would be moving into Wigglesworth Hall, a freshmen dorm, when they returned to campus in the fall. “We were quite distressed,” said Conover. “It was not the big change we were looking forward to.”
In fall 1986, Conover and her roommates were five of about twenty Winthrop and Eliot sophomores who were sent to live in Wigglesworth.Another two Winthrop sophomores had to live in the Winthrop Master’s Residence with then-Masters James A. and Martha J. Davis.
The 1986-87 academic year saw widespread housing shortages and upheaval due to enrollment miscalculations, renovations in the Quad, and a separate system for transfer students. But despite the inconveniences caused by the housing shortage, alumni said that their unusual housing arrangements in fall 1986 brought them closer together. House life, many alumni said, was even sweeter when they were able to move into their assigned Houses.
CROWDED ON THE RIVER
In the fall of 1986, an unusually low number of undergraduates took time off or chose to live off campus, leading to an atypically low attrition rate.With more students than beds in the river Houses, administrators turned to non-traditional housing options to ease the crunch.
According to Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67, who was Assistant Dean for the House System at the time, his office chose Wigglesworth, one of the dorms closest to the river Houses, in an effort to minimize the distance between the sophomores and their classmates in the Houses.
But some of the students who were unable to move out of the Yard as sophomores were disgruntled at being denied this rite of passage. An outraged Crimson editorial reported that one sophomore was so surprised by his Wigglesworth room assignment that he thought it must have been a joke .The editorial also suggested Harvard’s promise that the residential house system served as a home was “a cruel farce.”
Brooke A. Masters ’89, who covered the housing upheaval for The Crimson, recalled that students were frustrated because they believed that Harvard had broken its promise to provide all upperclassmen with its unique brand of residential housing. “Harvard markets itself as, ‘You’re going to be in the Houses, you’re going to have on-campus housing,’” Masters said.
Even sophomores who were able to move into their new Houses were upset by the housing arrangements.Gillian Darlow ’89, who lived in a cramped triple bedroom in Eliot that fall, recalled being disappointed that Conover’s rooming group, which included several of her close friends, was so far away.“They were completely isolated from us,” Darlow said.
But Darlow said that the space constraints that she and her roommates faced as a result of overcrowding proved to be a blessing in disguise. The crowded conditions, she said, “made us all a lot closer. We were so on top of each other and it made us have to get to know each other.”
NO SPACE IN THE QUAD
In the mid 1980s, Harvard launched a multimillion dollar renovation project to bring the substandard Quad housing up to par.In fall 1986, Cabot’s Eliot Hall was renovated, displacing about fifty Cabot House sophomores to apartments at 29 Garden Street.Additional students in North House, now Pforzheimer, spent the semester living in the Botanic Gardens Apartments at 28 Fernald Drive, while Moors Hall and Holmes Hall underwent construction.