Harvard Club of New York: Social Focus for the Locals

Clubhouse Is Hotel for Visiting Members, Too

Over the entrance to 27 West 44th Street in New York, in the heart of the busiest part of the city, flies a large crimson flag with an H in the middle. It marks the men's entrance to the Harvard Club of New York City, which is not to be confused with the women's entrance next door.

For though fifteen years ago the Club opened its ladies Annex, there is no danger of forgetting that it is, and will remain, what it has been for more than 90 years: a men's social club, one of whose membership requirements is a connection with Harvard University.

More Than an Alumni Group

Like most of the other clubs, the Harvard Club of New York is not merely an alumni club. While it does fulfill the normal functions of an alumni organization, and has recently extended its work in this area, it serves as a social focus for Harvard men who live in and visit the City. This is mainly because it has its own large clubhouse.

The social functions of the Club definitely predominate the activities of its more than 6300 members. It is a sanctuary for those who wish to escape the City and return to the womb of their College days to participate once again in the Georgian splendors of their Alma Mater. From the lovely new rugs in the main hall embossed with the Veritas Seal to the squash courts on the upper floors, the Club manages to achieve the University ideal of gracious living which never quite comes across in the Houses.


It is sort of a high class Biltmore clock at which to meet your friends: a restaurant, bar, hotel, athletic club, and game room all rolled into one posh ball. To its dining halls an average of 500 people come for lunch every day, well over 200 more for dinner, and about 70 for breakfast. Its 60-odd rooms are almost always filled, and the seven private dining halls, more often than not, are used for class meetings and private parties.

The building, which is between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and runs from 44th to 45th Streets, is almost ideally located. It is only a short distance from Grand Central Station and from Times Square, and only a brief taxi or subway ride from the downtown financial district.

On the first floor is the main entrance hall with the beautiful wide staircase leading to the upper floors (there are elevators, too). Beyond it is the bar, always crowded around the meal hours; the Grill Room, where many men gather to read, smoke, or play dominoes, chess, and backgammon; the main dining hall; and the enormous Harvard Hall, ninety feet long, and three stories high.

The main dining hall is divided into two parts for lunch: One half is cafeteria-style, ever-so-faintly reminiscent of the Houses, and the other half is serviced by waiters. The menu is the same in both parts, and at dinner, there is no self-service.

Moving on upstairs, to the second floor, there are writing rooms and a large library, furnished very much like the House libraries, if a little more comfortably, containing well over 20,000 volumes and many periodicals.

The third floor is entirely devoted to the seven private dining rooms serviced by eight portable bars. The largest of these is the sumptuous Biddle room which can seat 150 for dinner, and is used for class meetings.

Storing Clean Clothes

On the fourth floor, there are 30 bedrooms, all air-conditioned, an air-conditioned card room, and the valet service. In addition, the halls are lined with bureaus which can be rented by out-of-town members for the storage of clean clothes. The fifth floor has another 31 bedrooms for out-of-towners, who number over half the membership of the Club.

The sixth floor houses four squash courts, a tennis and squash supply shop, lockers, a television room, dressing rooms for commuters, and shower rooms. The other two squash courts are on the seventh floor along with the gymnasium, steam room, masseur, and 12-bed dormitory, used when the bedrooms are filled.

Throughout the building there is a preponderance of large, deep, leather armchairs.

The relatively new Ladies Annex boasts none of these splendors, however, and its parietal rules are stricter. It is only open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Its second floor contains only a cocktail lounge and two relatively small dining rooms, and the chairs in the lounge are not the leather monsters found next door, but the familiarly hard Harvard chairs. But even these facilities represent a large concession, for until 15 years ago, the Ladies were overlooked.

The Alumni Bulletin described the opening of the Annex as follows: "On the evening of Wednesday, October 15, 1941, the Harvard Club of New York City--definitely, finally, and irrevocably--gave in. Its long-awaited Club Rooms for The Ladies were thrown open to use. Let it be said that 76 years of splendid and masculine isolation were yielded up in the grand manner."

This was the first real recognition of women since the beginnings of the Club at an informal meeting of a small group of alumni on October 31, 1865, at which a committee of five was appointed to organize the Club.

Four days later, the first meeting was held in the rooms of the American Geographical and Statistical Society in Clinton Hall. Samuel Osgood '32 became the first president. By 1867, there were 95 members, and the club was incorporated. Its two-article constitution, adopted over a decade later, is probably one of the shortest in history. The first Article states merely that "The Club shall be perpetual." The second provides for alteration and amendment of the constitution, except for Article 1.

'Promote Social Intercourse'

The second section of the certificate of incorporation defines the aims of the Club. "The particular business and object of such society or club shall be to promote social intercourse among ourselves and others, our associates and successors, who are to be persons who have been connected with Harvard University as students or instructors, or who have received honorary degrees therefrom, and for that purpose to establish and maintain in the City and County of New York, for the use of ourselves and such others above mentioned, a Club House, having a library, a gallery of art and such other appurtenances and belongings as are usual in clubs and club houses."

From its small beginnings, the Club has grown tremendously. By the turn of the century, there were 1,410 members; by the First World War, 4,589; and at the heighth of the depression in 1931, 6,444. Since then, this number has fluctuated little except during the War, but the character of the membership has switched. Whereas more than two-thirds of the members in 1900 were residents of the City, more than half today are not.

The character of the Club has changed to a degree over the past few years, as well. Now it is more than just a social organization. Chief among its other functions is working with the Admissions and Scholarship Committee of the College. For this work, there are two major committees composed of club members: the Schools Committee and the Scholarship Committee.

Applicants Interviewed

The function of the first is not only to interview most, if not all, the applicants from the New York City area, but also to keep in touch with all the schools in the area to find out who the prospective applicants are and to encourage them to apply. Sometimes a member will take a high school student to visit the College for a weekend. In any case the records of the interviews are sent to the College's Admissions Office in Cambridge to become part of the student's application.

But it is the Scholarship Committee that does the work which most directly affects applicants. Headed by Francis A. Goodhue Jr. '37, it gets its funds through the newly formed Harvard Club of New York Foundation, a "non-profit corporation organized to foster scientific, literary, and educational interests among members of the Harvard Club of New York City, to provide scholarships for students at Harvard University and otherwise to advance the interests and promote the welfare of Harvard University." Each year, the Foundation sponsors a drive for scholarship funds, since none of its scholarships are endowed.

The program is divided into two parts: scholarships and Slocum Aid Funds. The scholarships are administered in the same way as those given by the College, being only for students from New York who maintain dean's list grades. The Slocum Aid Funds were established, however, "to provide financial assistance for freshmen and upperclassmen regardless of where they lived, who were capable of obtaining satisfactory grades but whose interests and activities at Harvard were not confined to matters academic."

These, Goodhue explains, are chosen from a list provided by the College. The others are selected on the basis of interviews with all the scholarship applicants from the New York area. The final decisions are made jointly by the Club and the College. Last year, the Club divided $15,000 among 17 boys, of whom six were from out of town. This year, it hopes to help 25.

Building Closer Relations

The Clubs' other major extra-curricular function is performed through the University Relations Committee, formed two years ago. Its purpose, according to Frank S. Streeter '40, Secretary of the Club, is to try to build closer relations between alumni and the University by holding events in the Club emanating from the University. Thus far, the committee has organized dinners for the Graduate School of Education, the Divinity School, and the Department of Fine Arts at which an exhibition from Fogg was shown.

The Club is ruled by a board of Managers headed by the President, George A. Brownell '19; the Vice-President, Cornelius C. Felton '16; the Secretary, Frank S. Streeter '40; and the Treasurer, S. Whitney Satterlee '30. They will be replaced at the Annual meeting on January 18 by a new slate; Felton will move into the presidency; Philip B. Kunhardt '23 will be Vice-President; Frederick Holdsworth, Jr., '40 will be Secretary; and Saterlee will remain as Treasurer.

'Secret and Confidential'

However, the Admissions board of the club is entirely independent of this ruling group. It is made up of 21 men, no more than two of whom are from any one class, and meets at least ten times a year. Section eight of by-law ten provides that "The procedings of the Committee shall be secret and confidential." A majority vote is necessary for election, but only two votes are needed to reject a candidate. A quorum is seven members. In addition to the qualifications for membership, a candidate must be proposed by a Club member, and seconded by another. He must also be known to three members of the Admissions Committee, two of whom must be present when his name is considered.

Despite these rather stringent conditions, only a negligible number of applicants are rejected.

Once a man is elected, he can expect to pay between $20 and $85 per year, depending on how long he has been out of College, and whether or not he is a resident member. In addition he must pay an initation fee of $25 if he has been out of College for ten or fewer years, and $50 if for more than ten years. None of this covers either meals or hotel roms.

Athletic Undergraduates

Undergraduates may use the Club's athletic facilities between nine and twelve in the morning during Christmas and Easter vacations if they carry letters of introduction from Club members.

Besides all the obvious material attractions the Club offers, many who go there think it offers something else which makes it more attractive than other clubs. One old grad put it this way: "To the graduate visiting the Harvard Club of New York City for the first time there comes the feeling that, merely by stepping through a doorway on West 44th Street, he has somehow been suddenly transported far from the noise and pressure of the city into an atmosphere which he had grown to think could scarcely be suggested outside of Cambridge... To the individual member, young or old, the Club has brought so many personal satisfactions--most notably perhaps, an environment so redolent of the spirit of Harvard that old friendships and associations are renewed easily and naturally.