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Dear Archie/Dear Katherine

The Moos-Epps Correspondence Edited with an introduction by Charles P. Whitlock and Mary I. Bunting Harvard University Printing Office Free, at the Holyoke Arcade Information Center

By Michael E. Kinsley

IN A NEW YORK TIMES Book Review piece last fall on Joseph Lash's Fleanor and Franklin. Professor Frank Freidel scolded gossips who place too much emphasis on the Lucy Mercer affair because "they lose sight of a larger significance: the solidarity and effectiveness of the Roosevelt marriage in the area of politics and reform." Those with a similarly enlightened view of the political potential for male-female relationships in modern American society will give thanks that at least one Harvard publishing unit is still willing to lose money on an item of political and social importance--such as this complete collection of letters between Dean of Students Archie Epps and SDS Vice President Katherine Moos (distributed by the University to all dormitory rooms last month) concerning SDS's recent National Convention Against Racism. Ever the romantic, Freidel says of Lash's book. "Nothing so fresh and intimate has appeared since Robert Sherwood's Roosevelt and Hopkins'": we can similarly compliment the editors of this collection that no letters published out of University Hall have displayed such rich nuance revealing so much about a complex and historically significant relationship since Franklin Ford's "Dear Nate" appeared in The Old Mole three years ago this month.

The correspondence begins straightforwardly enough on January 10, 1972 with a simple memo from Moos to Epps requesting Harvard facilities for "a Convention on Racism." (Note that in this early missive no preconceived normative judgements concerning racism are implied.) Little can be said about this opening volley; it would be unfair to infer a subtle threat when Moos continues the SDS tradition of relating better to administration buildings than to their occupants by saying: "I or other members of SDS would like to discuss costs and other arrangements with your office." One problem is that this is the only document in the collection which is not magnificently reproduced in its original form. (Editors Whitlock and Bunting note primly that it "was handwritten and has been typed for legibility.") This is unfortunate, as typographical style can offer important clues to the emotions underlying SDS prose, such as the conclusion to a letter of January 25 in which the otherwise uninformative comment--"We would appreciate a response as soon as possible"--curves upward on the page in a rising sweep of alarm. A March 2 SDS contribution to this anthology was either typed on a Brobdingnagian typewriter or was blown up by the editors--a marvellous expression of their subconscious wish, though they themselves warn SDS in their introduction not "to advertise its wish as fact"--to approximately three times its normal size, perhaps in search of a visual equivalent to SDS's electromegaphonic mode of verbal communication.

NONETHELESS, it is in the understated elite-style typewriting and the seemingly equanimitous prose style of Dean Epps that the deeper passions of the exchange are most significantly revealed. For example, early in his very first reply to Moos, on January 25, we find this poignant note of betrayal:

I now understand that you are planning to convene a National Convention and not a local affair which was the impression given in the original application I would have appreciated more frankness.

After receiving this muffled cry of loss. Moos apparently decided to begin again, and her second foray starts: "As the vice-president of Harvard-Radcliffe Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) I would like to request the use of Harvard University facilities..." But the administration was not to be soothed, for Epps's reply contains, buried in the fourth paragraph of an otherwise sensible discussion concerning the distinction between a local convention of a national group and a national convention of a local group, a brief excursion into the twilight zone of panic and uncertainty: "I shall be grateful if you will let me know what is actually happening." This letter is also noteworthy for its seeming evasion (by insisting that rooms were not available) of a stand on the noble and enduring principle so bravely stated--in these days when academic values are so often compromised--by Whitlock and Bunting in their introduction:

That some classrooms are empty during the requested time is irrelevant to the principle that during class time the facilities of the University are available only for academic use.

The strongest stand on principle taken by Moos in the exchange seems to concern the superiority (presumably not genetic) of the Harvard-Radcliffe chapter to other SDS units around the country. In a letter dated February 8, she insists that the Boston-wide committee planning the convention is "headed by H-R SDS" and that while workers and students from all over the country were being allowed to feel they were involved in the leadership of the convention, "all planning is under the control of H-R SDS." This distinction is carried one step further later in February, when Moos convinces Epps to cancel certain longstanding debts on the grounds that they were actually incurred by something called "Summer School SDS."

The sponsorship controversy is also responsible for the single most unusual inclusion in the collection--a 100 per cent scale model of an SDS leaflet, apparently sent by Epps to Moos (if you can imagine that) to demonstrate that advertising for the convention did not mention the Harvard chapter. This may well be one of the few times a major Ivy League university has published and distributed a document congratulating "hundreds of black, white and latin students" for leading a campaign to prevent the teaching activities of three of its own professors. Careful examination of this reproduction also reveals what appears to be a half-erased check mark in the box indicating "I would like more information about the convention." The other box--"My organization would like to co-sponsor it" -- remains untouched.

DESPITE THE VERY personal nature of this exchange--unsuccessfully masked by the metaphors of institution and regulation --the sensed presence of a third and fourth individual hovers over the first eight letters like the CRR photographer at an obstructive picket line, making itself felt explicitly only in the very final exchange. I refer in part, of course, to the requisite Other Woman. How much is left unsaid by the simple title "vice president" consistently attached to Katherine Moos's name does not become clear until, following Epps's request that she designate an SDS member to supervise security. Moos replies bluntly: "Bonnie Blustein, '72, has taken responsibility for assigning marshalls for the Convention." That name! That symbol of all the painfully suppressed contradictions inherent in the twisted, intense relationship between "Dear Dean Epps" and "Dear Miss Moos" and between the institutions they represent. Epps runs for cover. He tries to pretend he has never heard of this person. "I understand," he says cautiously (March 10), "I understand Miss Blustein is under a suspended requirement to withdraw from the College...She is not, therefore acceptable..." But it's too late; the reference to Blustein has forced his hand So in the last major paragraph of the very last letter, the entire convoluted relationship collapses into a denouement of Dunlop-ex-machina: "Finally, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has expressed serious concern over recent events at Harvard and elsewhere..."

Oh, Archie. Oh, Katherine. (Oh, Charles, oh, Mary.) Where are your rights and responsibilities now?

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