The 'X' Cage of Widener Library

Protecting Books from Misuse, It Houses Collection of Erotica

The X Section of Widener, rendered exotic by its wire barriers and fabled contents, has long been of interest to certain elements of the Harvard population. To those who know, however, the "Cage," as it is affectionately called, is not as fascinating as generations of undergraduates have generally thought.

Although the X section does contain a collection of erotica, which, during the long existence of the Library has grown to outstanding proportions, its major purpose lies in other directions. The Cage is mainly a haven for any literature which, in its general nature, is particularly prone to destruction. Old books, printed on brittle paper, but not rare enough for Houghton, politically inflammatory publications, unwieldly collections of newspaper clippings--all find asylum behind the wire fence.

About 18 per cent of the Cage collection, however, has been put there for reasons which are similar to censorship. Yet the library does not really censor. It places "questionable" materials in the Cage for legal and protective reasons. There are certain Federal and state laws prohibiting distribution of erotic material to minors. The University acts in such situations to avoid being considered agent provocateur. In addition it proscribes literature which would be subject to mutilations if left on the open shelf. Included in this category are Esquire, certain French journals, and the more prominent photography magazines.

The library is not particularly anxious to assign literature to the Cage. Any book published in the United States or readily available here will be placed in the regular stacks regardless of its content, with the exception of certain medical works like the Kinsey report and birth control propaganda, which are regulated by Massachusetts. All materials which cannot be legally imported, however, must be placed in the Cage. This of course includes the classic cases of American censorship: the well-known, often cited, little-read works of Henry Miller, and the unabridged versions of D. H. Lawrence's more torrid works.

Some individuals, blocked in attempts to see the fascinating and proscribed, have not been content to be stopped at the reference desk. Librarians occasionally find books in disarray on the X Cage floor, as if knocked loose by a stick or similar object. They hypothesize that some of the especially eager have reached through the narrow opening between the stack and the ceiling of a lower level, is reflected in the preponderance of articles about jobs and careers open to women, as well as in the underlying assumption in all these early publications that a Radcliffe magazine was interesting by the very fact of its existence. After 1914, however, there was an increasing need to find something to differentiate an Annex magazine from any other publication.


The first issue of the Radcliffe News appeared in 1914. It was originally called the Fortnightly, but when it began publishing weekly it was forced to change its title. It confined itself to covering Radcliffe events, such as in 1914 the Freshman-Senior Tally-Ho Ride to the Middlesex Fells Observatory. It also noted the use of the Agassiz Theatre for a Harvard group called "47 Workshop," which was just beginning its career under the auspices of George Pierce Baker's English 47. Radcliffe was growing and changing at this time, and there was at first a great deal for its newspaper to cover.

A magazine called Halfway Down appeared in 1925, and was continued under the name of The Bay Tree until 1926. This was an attempt to revive the Radcliffe Magazine, and contained the same type of contributions. The following is an excerpt from a ballad:

Tomorrow I shall be your wife--

Yes, your wife, pale lover

But whose am I for death or life?

Kiss me over and over

The Radcliffe Magazine was revived very briefly in 1927, but folded at the end of the year largely because of lack of student support.

1927 was, however, an historic year for Radcliffe publications for another reason. 'Cliffies then established the Radcliffe Daily, which lasted until 1933. It had a staff of 30 editors, who put out four pages of news every day. A lack of any real news soon became evident, however, and stories deteriorated to such headlines as "SOPHOMORES ANNOUNCE MENU FOR ANNUAL COLLEGE SUPPER." Similar headlines in recent Radcliffe News issues were largely instrumental in effecting its collapse this fall. The Radcliffe Daily subsided into the News in 1933 and appeared only once a week. It lasted in this form until its demise.

By far the most sprightly of the publications was a magazine called Etc., which was started in 1938 and lasted for four years. It first appeared with a brilliant purple and green cover, and glossy pages. It described itself as "your grain of salt, your germ of laughter, your dash of wit." It included light fiction, cartoons, and short poems such as "If you have a chassis

They don't mind the glassis"

or Boys in Law Incline to paw--

Boys in Med. Incline to wed--

Boys in Biz. Incline to fizz--

But boys in Tech.--

As may be evident by these excerpts, Etc. did not make a feminist attempt to rival any Harvard publications, although as a humor magazine it could be classified with the Lampoon. Nor did it set itself up to "represent Radcliffe" or to "mirror student opinion." In short, it lacked the self-consciousness found in other publications of the College and thus unlike its predecessors did not immediately evoke ridicule.

The next venture, in 1946, was Radditudes, which soon changed its name to Signature. It was a literary