News

Cambridge Residents Slam Council Proposal to Delay Bike Lane Construction

News

‘Gender-Affirming Slay Fest’: Harvard College QSA Hosts Annual Queer Prom

News

‘Not Being Nerds’: Harvard Students Dance to Tinashe at Yardfest

News

Wrongful Death Trial Against CAMHS Employee Over 2015 Student Suicide To Begin Tuesday

News

Cornel West, Harvard Affiliates Call for University to Divest from ‘Israeli Apartheid’ at Rally

Beautiful Soup Is Hardly a Minor Concept Or, Introductions to Radcliffe Are Best Taken With a Grain of Salt

By Carol R. Sternhell

My empty room is emptier than yours, said the masked man as he rode off into the night. And you knew he was right, so you hitched a ride on the Penn-Central, so you hitched your wagon to a star, so you hitched up your jeans and waited for godot. Empty rooms are relative, so you slid up and down the legs of the glass table looking for the cake that said Eat Me, and waited for your prince to come. So you scribbled your initials in the dust beneath the table, so you scribbled his initials in the steamiest on the mirror, so you scribbled your initials with his last name appended on someone's dirty window, and it rained. And at college you learned that, if you go far enough, all roads lead to hell.

I

IN WHICH the spelling bee stings a mole (of electrons) and the girl in the grey flannel suit hears from Radcliffe.

"What kind of a student is Radcliffe looking for? An obvious question with a not-so-obvious answer," explains Introducing Radcliffe. They were not, for example, looking for the girl in the grey flannel suit. They were, apparently, looking for you and me and the girl down the hall, the one who runs a vacuum cleaner every Sunday morning at 6 a. m. In high school the corridors smell of chalk dust, and lunch costs 45c with milk, and who the hell are they looking for? I, you see, knew all the Presidents once, but Margie knew all the Presidents and could run the track faster than anyone else. And you, I understand, knew the atomic numbers of every single element on that little chart. Did the 75 in typing ruin your average? No matter. They were looking for us. And they never-how many times did they tell us?-they never make a mistake.

"Radcliffe Admissions officers are looking for different kinds of young women.... Radcliffe needs all kinds of people." What did the girl in the grey flannel suit imagine in high school? When you read the pamphlet, what did you see? A violinist, a Merit Scholar or two, a Shakespeare expert? A poet, a biochemist, an aristocrat? Cultured young women, taking tea with the Galbraiths? Hornrimmed girls in dirty trenchcoats dotting the steps of Widener Library? The chocolate, peach and lime the CRIMSON warned of? Or Playboy's poll: "Cliffies are Merit Scholars who are good in bed" (thank God! the best of both worlds!). How could we know, when we packed our suitcases, packed those Villager skirts and shoes with matching pockerbooks, packed little dresses for the teas and sweat-shirts and jeans, how could we know that we were absolutely right, and absolutely wrong, about everything.

How could we know that the violinist would sit in the room next door and cry, as rug, walls and violin gathered dust? How could we know that the Merit Scholar would run up and down the hallways for exercise, shouting the lyrics to "Rockabye Baby"? How could we know that the Shakespeare expert would sneak around the dorm at night stealing food from everybody's rooms? That the poet, our roommate, would never get out of bed? That the biochemist, three doors down, never slept? That the aristocrat would run away, leaving behind only her collection of bottlecaps? How could we Know?

Certainly we were never told.

"... I wish to show at the outset why you cannot go into the kitchen and make soup and count that soup for a degree. This is not because Radcliffe College belittles soup-making, or your soup-making in particular, but because the Radcliffe degree is essentially the Harvard degree, and it is warranted by a committee of the Harvard Faculty, by the President and Corporation and the Officers of Harvard College."-LeBaron Russell Briggs, 1909, quoted in Introducing Radcliffe.

II

IN WHICH I move to Harvard and learn about soup.

The Harvard Faculty, President and Corporation, may never accept a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup toward their B. A. degree, but they will accept almost anything else. And very little of it: the Harvard degree is essentially a piece of paper. The Radcliffe degree is essentially the Harvard degree.

This is not to denigrate the value of a Harvard degree. Nor, for that matter, the value of a bowl of soup. Both these commodities can come in very handy, comfort the dying, and get one through many a hard day to come. Both come in various flavors, strengths, and thicknesses. Both, any young Radcliffe woman will note are invaluable attributes in trapping a young Harvard man. (As Mrs. LeBaron Russell Briggs would no doubt agree). Both are best when hot; both can be burned.

Remaining points about soup:

1) It is quite possible that soup-making could in fact be used toward the Harvard degree, cloaked in the requisite verbiage. Dressed up as Independent Study, perhaps, with the signature of a sympathetic or guiltily liberal member of the English department, or as a Soc Rel research project in self-expression. Or perhaps soup as a study of differing structural systems; soup, thought and reality; soup and time-sense on the Fiji Islands; levels of expression through hot and cold soup. Uses of soup in American literature. How many cooks spoil the broth?-a narrative essay. The possibilities are endless, and therein lies the essence of Harvard.

2) Radcliffe soup is essentially Harvard soup.

3) Adams House serves a fine scotch broth, and a passable clam chowder. It was over a bowl of the latter that the young Radcliffe woman, fresh off the boat from the 'Cliffe (a small girls' college in Cambridge) met the young Harvard man, up for a day from the Yard (an esoteric prison camp, not to be confused with the expression "thirty feet long and a Yard wide," in which yard refers to a small green mammal). "Hello," he said, "do you live here?"

"Yes," she said.

"Oh," he said. "I saw you sitting alone, so I thought I'd join you."

"I always sit alone," she said, "I like to think while I eat."

"Oh," he said. "Me too. I mean, I always like to think while I eat."

Really?" she said. "That's incredible. Have some soup."

III

IN WHICH the Prospective Radcliffe Student has an Interview.

"An interview, although not required, is encouraged by the Committee on Admissions so that prospective students may see the College and ask their own questions...." Remember? We all knew what that meant: an interview is required, and make sure you come prepared with several of Your Own Questions, I cam prepared; it was a hot, sunny day early in the summer before senior year high school, and I was Prepared. We flew to Boston, my parents and I, for a quick Radcliffe interview, then rented a car and drove to Providence for an afternoon at Pembroke. I remember; I was wearing black and white, including those black fishnet stockings so popular then, and my feet were killing me. God knows how we walked on those stockings-I took them off by the time we got to Providence. But Radcliffe deserved the bset.

Getting to Radcliffe from Harvard Square was the first problem. We walked, my parents and I, for what seemed like miles, asking directions from dozens of long-haired girls on bicycles; we followed that goddamned brick wall down Garden St. only to get lost again. I now suspect my parents were as helpless as I: Harvard Square is a far cry from Long Island, still farther from the Bronx. But we made it (late); we made it to Radcliffe Yard, and collapsed in the waiting room of the Dean of Admissions. We made it to the Waiting Room and waited; we waited and thumbed through various pamphlets, Introducing Radcliffe to our nervous eyes.

The wait seemed long, endless; the Interview itself barely lasted five minutes. I was thoroughly Prepared, but they didn't even care, and even though they didn't care, I blew it.

My interviewer, a tall thin woman who looked the epitome of New England clam chowder, didn't smile. "Hello," she said, "What was your class rank? How were your boards?" My transcript was sitting right under her upwardly mobile nose, but I answered timidly.

"Well," she said, "that's very good, but everyone who applies here is very good. Don't get your hopes up. Any questions?"

Here it came; this is the part I was Prepared for-but I couldn't remember, all I could think of was one lone question-something about Some Sort of Special Program I had read about in the catalogue. I asked it.

"I think you're thinking of Pembroke, dear," she said. "We don't have that kind of a program here."

We smiled politely; she followed me out, smiled politely at my parents, and we went back to New York. That was the end of the Interview.

(The worst thing about the above is that it really happened.)

IV

A musical interlude:

Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,

Alma Mater, hail to thee!

All our hearts are one in singing

Of our love and loyalty.

We have learned to know each other,

In thy light, which clearly beams,

Thou hast been a kindly Mother,

Great fulfiller of our dreams.

Radcliffe's Alma Mater, from Information about Radcliffe College for Prospective Students

And speaking of kindly mothers, one brief point: The Harvard Freshman Register, someone mentioned last week, lists prospective majors and preparatory schools for all those eager young men. The Radcliffe Freshman Register lists only dormitory addresses, also, presumably, for those eager young men.

As to great fulfiller of our dreams, I have no comment.

"Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences is world-renowned.... A Radcliffe freshman may well find herself being taught by a world-famous authority in a given field-for example, by a Nobel Prize winner."-from Information about Radcliffe, etc.

V

IN WHICH the Radcliffe Freshman finds herself being taught.

It's indisputable: the Harvard Faculty is world-renowned. And I just missed being taught by a Nobel Prize winner freshman year by taking the wrong Nat Sci. They're all here, all the Names, and that's what's so TERRIFYING-they're here, and you can meet them, and even they HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO SAY.

Go to their lectures-THEY HAVE NOTHING TO SAY. Invite them to dinner-THEY HAVE NOTHING TO SAY. Go to a Faculty meeting, if you can get in-THEY HAVE NOTHING TO SAY, and say it badly. (How painful to hear Nobel Prize Winner debate Famous China Expert on some fifteenth little amendment to the all-powerful CRR.)

This is not their fault, nor should it be taken as a criticism. I have nothing to say either, and neither do you. I like Harvard's Famous Faculty. But it's so sad: if they can't tell us, how will we ever find out? If they can't find out, how will we ever know?

The only soup I've ever made came from a can.

VI

A word about the House system.

Ideally in the Houses, "historical truth, scientific discovery, mathematical deduction, cosmic theory, medical research, sociological and economic revolution and the gracious humanities appear at the breakfast table as vital and important as the citizen's daily does of crime and disappointment."-David McCord, quoted in Information about Radcliffe etc.

Of course, and Radcliffe pea soup has always been and perhaps will always be terrible.

Historical truth is a concept whose validity I have generally doubted. Scientific discovery is Progress, while mathematical deduction is Poetry, neither category being fitting for anybody's breakfast table. About cosmic theory you shouldn't ask. Medical research is probably a Good Thing, although Michael Crichton is not. To s. and e. revolution, of course, right on. The gracious humanities are My Field at Harvard, and as such inseparable from my daily does of disappointment. Crime is a confusing issue.

Of course, and the soup now comes with two crackers in the little package instead of four. Certainly Not a Practical Reform, someone was remarking at lunch just the other day.

VII

IN WHICH the Graduating Senior says goodbye.

Signs off, wraps it up, shuts up, throws up, gives up, stops spewing words, there are no more words, THERE'S NOTHING TO SAY, you've said that already, but I hate giving up, there must be some more, we don't know any more, I don't want any more, THERE IS NOTHING MORE...

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrggggggh!

What are you going to do next year?

What are you going to do tomorrow?

Don't worry. I think that's a fine idea. I really do. I'm glad I'm a student here. I'm glad you're a student here. You're glad you're a student here. We're all so glad, and it's good we're glad. It's very good. Don't worry. We're going to be all right. We're going to be just fine. Come into my parlor. I'm learning to make soup today, and I'm doing just fine. Come have some soup. You'll feel much better if you do, I'm certain of it. Quite certain.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags