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From Chevrons to Chiffon: Women Vets Praise School After Chicken, Chipped Beef

By S. A. Karnow

"Well, I never dreamt I'd ever be at Harvard," the girl sighed ethereally. "Harvard--where so many of our country's great men have gone." She looked intensely at a tousle-haired Crimson editor, a rumple-faced Crimson photographer, and continued. "Why, even as I walk around the campus--oops, Yard--I think I might be looking at our nation's next president." These, difficult to believe, were words uttered by a Radcliffe girl--one of the twenty-four ex-servicewomen now collecting their $65 a month, filling out book authorizations, and discussing "the veteran's problem" with more grace and less publicity than their Harvard counterparts.

The female veterans--whose average age, experience, and interests make them veteran females as well--represent all of the services, some of the overseas theaters, and both the castes. They were nurses, photographic technicians, radar experts, Link trainer instructors, and at least one spent her time chatting with the boys at a local PX. Cynthia Brott, Radcliffe '48, spent two years overseas in Iceland and England wielding needled and syringe with the Army Nurse Corps. Anne Kennedy, one of the Wellesley's more nature women, ground out the war at Wright Field, Ohio, as a photographic technician in an optical research laboratory. Each was at her alma matter before the war and both are back, rounding out their general education in what seems to them to be a considerably freer society.

Some Are Freshmen

With the use of the post-war admission tactics of weighing serious interest, secondary-school achievement, and war-time experience for veterans' entrance, there are some Radcliffe girls who had no college training before coming to Cambridge. Millicent Rose Tag-von Stein, Radcliffe '50, was working in a Los Angeles bank before the war, trying to save enough money for a college education. The twenty-three year old ex-Corporal had patiently snapped greenbacks, balanced ledgers, and rolled up coins, waiting for the time she could give up a cozy cage for an overheated classroom.

At the age of ten, apparently ignorant of the existence of two sexes, she had wanted to be a Marine. Aspiration was stunted, however, as knowledge grew. "And when the war broke out," she explained, "I heard about the Womens' Reserve of the Marine Corps, and joined up." This was killing two roes with one stone, for not only did she get to be a Leatherneck, but the stretch in green entitled her to years in plaid, beige, or lavender at any college that would take her. "I'd never even heard of Radcliffe before," she said, "but when a friend in the service told me about it, I applied, and well--here I am." And here she is, at what she thinks is "the best school in the country."

Wellesley Gets Transfers

Out at Wellesley, on the other hand, the ex-servicewomen are returning to the halls of academe with a working knowledge of junior proms, field hockey, and the midnight oil. Agnes Jones, who was a Link Trainer instructor with the Waves, had been a student at the University of New Hampshire before rallying to the colors. Majoring in English, she found the transition back to college life easy. Although she lives at home, her social life around the undergraduate circle hasn't been impaired--indeed, perhaps strengthened--by her experience in uniform.

For reasons peculiar to Cambridge, the vets at Radcliffe form a more distinct group than those at Wellesley. While the current non-veteran 'Cliffe-dwellers are not snobs, "they seem so young and sheltered," one of the old soldiers said. "They act like they're in high school, interested primarily in social life and trying to get their studies out of the way instead of attempting to find out what it's all about." The veterans generally stick together, taking most of their meals around the Square and not living in the dormitories. "I spent three days in one of the dorms," Miss Tag-von Stein said, "and that was enough. It's just like the Marines all over again." Having to be in at a certain time, having to sign in and out and do just about everything but drill in the afternoon are just a few matters that might have made life ugly for the older girls if Radcliffe administrators hadn't liberalized the law.

Radcliffe Hasn't Changed

Allowing for a changed viewpoint since her pre-war days in Cambridge, Cynthia Brott observed that really, the Radcliffe girl hasn't changed very much. "Still the same interest in men--sparked considerably by the 'joint instruction' programme--the same indulgence in the social whirl, and the same maturing process as the old days." With Cambridge looking "worse than basic training with the millions of men," the Radcliffe interest in the opposite sex and consequent social whirl is understandable. The "maturing process," however, is a singular something Miss Brott, a biochemistry major, didn't work up in the laboratory. "The Radcliffe girl comes here from high-school, a sweet young thing and all of that, and seems to age overnight. The difference between the Freshman and the Junior is amazing."

The final comment on the present-day college-girl attitude came from a young woman to whom the military shot-in-the-arm, the monthly medical inspection, and dental check were practically habit. Revealing that she was perhaps too revealing during the freshman physical examination, she said, "That sheet was a little unwieldly, and gosh, I had the feeling I was corrupting those kids."

School is No Snap

Like the Harvard veterans who prostrate themselves before the Reserve Desk at Widener, Radcliffe's ex-servicewomen are doing their work seriously and often. They agree that English A is, while slightly tiring at times, well worth the trouble. Mrs. Eunice Storey Deerhake, '50, who was at Cornell before getting mixed up with the Army Air Forces, liked the emphasis here on liberal arts. Majoring in physics, she is trying to carry five courses including philosophy and government. "The general education plan," she said, "seems like the best way to get your distribution credit. Here I am concentrating in Physics and having to go over the fine points of Gov 1. while 1 might be getting a good solid background in the social sciences with the new system."

Dreams Are Realized

Millicent Tag-von Stein had an intuitive interest in psychology and believes her work here might qualify her for clinical work later. "Funny thing," she stated, "some years ago I suddenly decided I wanted to learn all about psychology. I went into a bookstore back home and asked the manager for the best books on the subject, whereupon he handed me one volume by Eugene Boring and another by Gordon Allport and assured me they were the last words in the field. Well, I never would have dreamt that one day I'd be taking courses with Professors Boring and Allport. But--here I am."

Finances constitute something of a problem for ex-campaigners at Radcliffe, while at Wellesley the women are quite satisfied with their lot. "After all," said Natalie Park, formerly a Wave lieutenant (j.g.) now at Wellesley, "we can't complain. $65 a month is quite a gift to be getting from the government." The girls agreed that "if someone really ants to go to college she can do it, despite the financial obstacles." At Radcliffe, however, while the griping is at a minimum, Elizabeth Fargo '50, an ex-Navy nurse, claims her monthly subsistence check doesn't go very far even with living at home. The girls are drawing out of their savings, and that will keep up as long as the money lasts. Mrs. Deerhake, whose husband, garbed in mufti and green eyeshade, spent the war in the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T., is drawing $90 a month--for support of her spouse.

Girls Dislike Formality

"It's difficult to find out what the professor wants on an exam," Miss Tag-von Stein said. "The classes are so impersonal and the section meetings so inadequate that we never get to know anything more about the teacher than what's in his lecture." More discussion groups, smaller classes, would be the perfect solution, all the girls agreed. "I wouldn't trust an answer from a section man," said Cynthia Brott, who finds school work not very easy even after a year "without a day off" in an Army hospital. "Especially in a field like social relations, I want to get the professor's opinion."

But realizing that getting the word from the horse's mouth is fairly impossible these days, that the financial situation could be better, and that the race for knowledge might be easier were it the "breakfast table education" of old, the former soldiers, sailors, and marines--without running into any Pollyannaisms consider themselves pretty fortunate. They're making the best of the present and are hopeful for the future. But dropping the past has been a little difficult, a stoutish ex-Wac confided. "I guess I've grown out of this khaki girdle."

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