A Growing Radcliffe Still Faces It's Traditional "Identity Crisis"

College Seeks A Separate Role, But Cements Ties With Harvard

An outsider reviewing the events of the past few years at Radcliffe would be utterly confused by what he saw. Attempts to strengthen the college's independence and unity have been countered by a progressively closer affiliation with Harvard; the student government which was organized with the express purpose of fostering discussion of college issues between students and administrators has gradually evolved into a mouthpiece for administration directives.

President Bunting said last Fall that she was "worried" about the Radcliffe Government Association. "All those bright people sitting around and worrying about social rules," she commented at that time. Yet the Administration's attitude toward the legislature during the past few years has effectively excluded that body from concerning itself with anything but social rules.

One of the primary problems is that college officials have had to force some of their policies -- such as uniform board rates -- on an unwilling student body. Such measures are justified as being in the best interests of the long-range plan for a residential college. Yet close affiliation with Harvard makes such long-term emphasis on Radcliffe's separateness seem impractical it is, in fact, the reason why many Cliffies are unable to consider their college as "home."

Although recent events have brought the conflict into sharper focus, the problem is not new. Since its every beginnings, Radcliffe has struggled with its identity, constantly attracted and repelled by the larger University. In the autumn of 1876, a small group of Cambridge residents met to discuss the need for an institution for the higher education of women in the university. Proceeding cautiously, they gained President Eliot's qualified approval for their proposal, then contacted certain carefully selected members of the Harvard Faculty to request that they teach qualified females. In all their dealings, the founders made two points very clear -- the plan was not to be interpreted as a move toward coeducation, and Harvard itself was not to be considered responsible for it.

Although the two schools were thus separate and distinct in theory, they grew closer and closer in practice. Classes formally began at the women's college in 1879, and the institution received a formal name in 1882, when it became "The Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women." This was quickly replaced by the students' more informal term. "The Harvard Annex."


In the early years, Harvard and Radcliffe were, in fact, two schools. There were no joint classes; lecturers would speak for an hour at Harvard, then come to Long fellow Hall and repeat the performance. The Society, after 1893, awarded its own diplomas for the Bachelor's degree. But the diplomas were countersigned by the President of Harvard and were adorned with the Harvard seal. And Mrs. Agassiz, the first President of Radcliffe, referred to its students as "Harvard girls."

The first major breakthrough in the long policy of opposition to coeducation came during World War II, when the two schools recognized the inefficiency of this system. Whether there was an unspoken agreement to resume segregated education after the War is unclear. The girls had moved into Harvard yard for good. Still the myth of separate schools persisted. Agassiz had been the center of Radcliffe college life, providing meeting places for Radcliffe's Debating, English, Liberal, Music and Poetry Clubs. The Idler Club performed its plays there. In addition, Radcliffe boasted its own newspaper, The Radcliffe News, and a yearbook. The Radcliffe Choral Society and the Radcliffe Orchestra flourished.

Today not one of these organizations has escaped the ensnaring claws of "creeping mergerism. Agassiz has become strangely deserted. When the Loeb main stage is unavailable, its theatre is pressed into service. It still houses the College Marshall's office, and its machine-dominated cafeteria (there used to be serving ladies and real food there) provides a suitable spot for a study-break. Next year, when the new Hilles Library is completed at the dormitory quadrangle, the Marshall will probably be very lonely. Where have the girls gone? The Radcliffe Administration seems unsure, but the changing names of the extra-curricular organizations provide a clue -- the HRO, the Harvard-Radcliffe Yearbook, H-R Young Democrats, H-R Young Republicans. The President of the Harvard Dramatic Club is a girl, as is the managing editor of the CRIMSON.

In view of this clearly discernible trend, steps taken by the 'Cliffe Administration during the past few years seem somewhat obscure. At last year's Fall Cedar Hill Conference, an attempt was made to explore the "identity" of Radcliffe College. Nelson W. Aldrich, a trustee of the College, explained the philosophy of the Master Plan currently being carried out at Radcliffe. When the plan was first being formulated in 1959, he said, a great deal of attention was given to a previous report which had been prepared by the Eliot Committee on Student Life. This report conveyed "a deep feeling that something had to be done to crystallize in students' minds what was Radcliffe." He pinpointed the major purpose of the Plan as that of providing "a home for the Radcliffe student to which she'll have more or less conscious feelings of belonging; with which she can identify.

It is hoped, he continued, that the two buildings currently being constructed on Garden Street will achieve this purpose. The first unit of the Fourth House, Mabel Daniels Hall, is scheduled for completion this September. Aldrich explained that, when completed, the House should alleviate Radcliffe's two major deficiencies -- overcrowding and non-centralized living arrangements. The Four-House Radcliffe of the future is being designed toward the goal of having every girl living within the dormitory quadrangle. The unity, which will be provided by this arrangement, will hopefully be complemented by the presence of the Hilles Library. In fact, when the college announced a change in room-and-board policy this Spring, the existence of the Library was cited as a primary factor, since, as Mrs. Bunting has said, "when they come home for lunch, girls will have the Library right there."

It was this announced change in board policy which brought Radcliffe's central problems into sharp focus. President Bunting announced to the RGA legislature one afternoon that the College had decided to do away with its previous policy of allowing off-campus residents to pay for only one college-provided meal a day. In the future, all students will pay full board and will be entitled to three college meals daily. The outrage that greeted the proposal seemed to indicate that perhaps students are not as pleased with the prospect of a residential college as Administrators think they should be. Students complained that one of the primary reasons for moving off-campus was that they spent so little time in the Quad that paying for three uneaten meals a day was expensive and wasteful. They cited classes and extracurricular activities as the major components of their life, and pointed out that these are all centered around Harvard Yard, a mile from Radcliffe.

The Administration made some minor concessions -- girls off-campus will be given breakfast money -- but remained adamant on the general principle. Although Mrs. Bunting emphasized that the primary reasons for the change were "financial," she admitted that it was expected to produce a trend back to the dormitories, a trend which was "entirely in keeping" with the plans for a residential college.

A sidelight running through the entire controversy was that of RGA's role. When the organization was formed five years ago, its purpose was to provide a forum where students and college officials could discuss matters of importance and together come to a solution. In the past few years, however, the legislature has moved far from this original conception. Last year, its members discussed a proposal to increase the number of parietal hours. The request was made by off-campus residents who felt that allowing boys upstairs would let them have guests for dinner and use their living rooms for other purposes. Right in the middle of the debate, acting President Gilbert announced that any motion for extended parietals would be vetoed by the College Council, Radcliffe's governing board. There was no opportunity for discussion; this was not a suggestion, but a directive.

Later in the year, RGA concerned itself with the question of allowing girls to live in their own apartments. When members of the Administration hinted that perhaps this issue was not within the scope of RGA's powers, the matter was sent to the Deans for consideration. This Fall, the Deans sent back their proposal -- twenty girls would be selected on an experimental basis to live on their own. They would all have to be seniors over twenty-one. Although the Deans merely requested a "feeling of the meeting," members of the legislature sent back suggestions -- perhaps twenty was too small a number; maybe the 21 age limit could be waved if the girl obtained permission from her parents. The next day, the Deans announced the original proposal. If they had even considered the legislature's recommendations, they failed to say so.

With this background, no one was especially surprised when the room-and-board change was kept a secret from RGA until it was formally announced as a fait accompli (letters to parents announcing the change had been sent from the President's office that morning). What did concern the few students who feel that RGA could perform a useful purpose was what the move suggested about the organization's current function. Most Radcliffe students lost interest in RGA long ago. The legislature has been virtually forced to concern itself almost exclusively with the subject of social rules. After a year-long debate in 1962-63, the legislature finally arrived at a set of compromise measures which proved adequate for less than two years.

Last fall, someone raised the issue of 'rules' again. This time, however, a committee was formed to study the problem. Mrs. Bunting suggested that perhaps sign-out rules should be abolished altogether, then later reported to the legislature that the College Council would be "firmly opposed" to the abolition of all rules. With no clear direction, the committee worked for six months, then submitted its proposals to the entire body. The representatives expressed such opposition to the committee's report that the executive committee hastily drew up a new set of proposals. These completely negated several of the suggestions made by the committee which had purportedly made a thorough investigation of the problem. Now the new rules have gone into effect. One can only wonder how long they will survive before RGA, in desperation, once again attempts to revise them.

If RGA cannot provide the unity for which Radcliffe officials seem to be striving, perhaps the House system will. Six years ago, the plans for the Radcliffe Houses were first tentatively brought forth. Modeled after the Harvard system, the plan is designed to give Radcliffe students a feeling of belonging, to increase contacts with faculty members, and to provide the intellectual atmosphere which is now felt to be lacking in many of the dormitories. What no one seems to have considered is that Radcliffe's physical set-up is very different from Harvard's. Merely painting the doors of three dormitories the same color does not automatically make them a cohesive unit. At the House lunches, girls from each of the three dormitories tend to congregate at separate tables. The Houses have made possible certain events -- speeches and faculty dinners -- which would be difficult to maintain on as large a scale by individual dormitories. The hope that they will magically arouse in Radcliffe students some "college feeling" seems utopian. There is no feminine counterpart to the male camaraderie which seems to characterize so much of Harvard House life. Merely adapting Harvard's system does not seem to be the solution.

One of the major difficulties with the House plan is that it assumes a strong need and desire for cohesiveness among Radcliffe students. In a school where the admissions policy is admittedly geared to individuality, such a view seems unrealistic. And events of the past few years seem to indicate that perhaps it is. Cliffies are interested not in each other but in Harvard. The trend toward assimilation has been very strong. Radcliffe girls now receive coupon books to Harvard athletic events, and are protected by the Harvard police. Students from the two schools can eat with each other free of charge on certain nights of the week. The one remaining bastion of male isolation -- Lamont Library -- has been threatened by rumors of infiltration. None of these occurrences have met with any opposition from Radcliffe students. The attempt to force students back into the dormitory quadrangle, on the other hand, met a storm of protest. So many girls applied to live in their own apartments that the Administration was forced to raise its maximum limit to thirty, and to decide on the basis of lot rather than according to the validity of the reasons put forth.

Perhaps the two trends -- one toward affiliation with Harvard, the other toward a cohesive, well-integrated Radcliffe--are not, as appears, mutually contradictory. At present, they appear to be unreconcilable. If the Radcliffe Administration hopes to establish a firm sense of college identity, it must first decide for itself which course it intends to follow. Forcing unwilling students to conform to a preconceived notion will breed opposition, not unity.'One of the major difficulties with the House plan is that it assumes a strong need and desire for cohesiveness among Radcliffe students. In a school where the admissions policy is admittedly geared to individuality, such a view seems unrealistic.'