ON THOSE crisp Fall evenings of 1941, as Milton Hughes and Pat Grant and John Quincy Adams and the group supported each other tweedily and unsteadily up the paths from Wigglesworth Hall to the Freshman Union after a heavy afternoon of gambling and imbibing, someone must have paused at the crest of the hill near the newly opened Rare Book Library to consider how unlikely it all was. And as they sat at their own linen-covered table in the Union ordering cigars and beer from the waitress-a working-class Cambridge mother, one of Lord Harvard's peasantry-surely they all knew deep down that the whole thing could simply not go on much longer.
"Our class was the last flourish of the old clitist Harvard in its pure form," says Mitchell Goodman '45, a codefendant with Doctor Spock in that 1968 draft evasion conspiracy trial. "The Abbott Lawrence Lowell conception of the gentleman-scholar was still taken seriously." Goodman was a scholarship student from public high school in Brooklyn. He was very impressed.
He's not impressed any longer. Except for a panel discussion on Monday, he has boycotted the class's 25th reunion. "The whole notion of 'Funfest '45' is an obscenity in a time like like this." he says. "The announcements they sent were like those of damn-fool pantyraid collegians. It's proof these guys never got over being Harvard men.
"The whole Harvard psychology of our time indoctrinated us. It's hard to imagine today. We ate like little princes. The food was intended for clubmen-to-be. I'd never eaten that well in my life.
"We were carefully sorted out in the Yard in a caste system. The floor I lived on in Thayer there was only one real upper-class type-Lewis Jefferson Proctor [St. Paul's]. His father was head of American Telephone for South America. He died in 1958 of sheer decadence on the Riviera.
"Those of us from public high schools were very naive. We didn't even know what Groton was. A kind of revelation came one dinner late in the Fall. On this night they all turned up on cue wearing their school blazers and crests and ties. That not only told us but them where each stood on the relative preppy ladder. It was an announcement that said 'Keep your place.'"
But they must have known it could not last. Surely! For one thing, there was the war. Pearl Harbor was little more than two months after they registered Freshman year. But even before that, war was the undercurrent which gave their Harvard days a different flavor-however minor-from that of their older brothers and fathers. Harvard President James Bryant Conant and the CRIMSON both came out in favor of an immediate declaration of war first thing in September. The CRIMSON's previous policy had been to advocate "anything short of war" to aid the allies, but it said that it now found that policy "untenable." The CRIMSON story on Conant's statement was printed near the bottom of the page, under a banner headline that football star Chub Peabody had been injured.
The war kept virtually the entire class from graduating on time, if at all. Twenty-seven members of the Class of '45 died in the war. (This was less than either of the surrounding classes, however.) Most came back to finish in '46 or '47; many graduated after only two-and-a-half or three years thanks to the Faculty's generosity in giving credits for basic training and such, and an accelerated program in which many took courses during the summer. When they returned, the linen was gone from the tables and they had to serve themselves cafeteriastyle.
AT THE beginning of the Summer term in 1942, the end of the class's freshman year, President Conant delivered a speech to students in which he said, "Class privilege destroys our frontier heritage. We must curtail hereditary privilege and extend the doctrines of equal opportunity. We must reverse the trend of the past 50 years and restore a high degree of social mobility in the country." In 1941 Conant had written an article for Atlantic Monthly in which he made several proposals for reform of American society in order to justify the loss of young men's lives in the upcoming war. Among them, he proposed to limit incomes by law to $25,000 per earner, and to make all inheritance illegal.
(Note: the median income of the Class of 1945 in 1965 was $24,000.)
"There was a fervor about the new world we would create after the Nazimenace was eliminated," Goodman recalls. "We never asked any real questions. After the war we came back to Harvard to regain lost time."
Class Secretary Robert Treat Paine Storer Jr. says, "After the war we were older and more sophisticated, trying harder to get more out of college. So we feel we understand more about the mind of today's college boys than they think we do."
After the war Harvard had changed and the country had changed too-if not quite in the way Conant had in mind. Harvard's admissions policy was reformed to admit fewer Boston Brabmins from the right prep schools, and more students from varied backgrounds. And American capitalism had exploded after the war into a new plane. It needed aggressive, ambitious clear headed men-not the gentle cut of St. Marks and Middlesex.
Perhaps this is the reason there are so few famous figures in the Class of 1945. Most Harvard classes have at least a few presidents of large corporations, captains of industry; this class has virtually none. "You usually haven't quite made it to the top by your twenty-fifth," says Howard F. Gillette. General Secretary of the Alumni. But after all, John F. Kennedy had been elected President, shot, and buried by his twenty-fifth. And this class had had much of the competition eliminated at the very beginning of the race. Mitch Goodman has another explanation:
"After nine or ten generations of Harvard and the good life, the dynamic that had raised their ancestors to the top had gone out of them; they'd become decadent. They didn't have the kind of guts to make it in the post-war world."