Since Radcliffe's inception in 1879, most women there have encountered the same dilemma--thinking of themselves as being part of Harvard but being officially recognized only as students at a small women's college further up the road.
The problems resulting from this ambiguity have turned out to be a great deal more consequential than the matter of official recognition would seem to imply--they revolved around what it meant to be a female student within the male-oriented Harvard machinery. The difficulties run the gauntlet from the troublesome male stereotypes of the typical Cliffie, and her overreaction in trying to combat those stereotypes, to Radcliffe's lack of a separate identity, to the subtle and not so subtle forms of chauvinism which display themselves in Harvard classrooms, the Harvard Administration, and the very structure of the University itself.
And so it was that Radcliffe President Mary I. Bunting's first announcement in February of 1969 that the college had decided to propose a merger to the Harvard Corporation, was greeted with both sighs of relief and exuberant cheers of anticipation by the majority of the Radcliffe community.
It seemed, at the time, that the arbitrary distinctions which had always divided Radcliffe women from their brothers at Harvard were finally destined to fall, and that the women who for years had attended the same classes, been taught by the same professors, worked in the same organizations, and received the same diplomas as Harvard men, were finally going to be recognized as full and equal members of the Harvard community.
Once this was achieved, the reasoning went, the ponderous gates of Harvard's male tradition would be flung wide open, and visionaries saw the impending merger as a way in which the Harvard experience would finally belong as much to women as it did to men, with coeducational housing and equal admissions the seemingly inevitable result of the dissolution of Radcliffe as a separate entity.
On that day two and a half years ago, the merger with Harvard appeared as the final step in a process which had begun when Radcliffe had first come into being: It seemed, in fact, the destination toward which it had been heading since its inception as "The Society for Intercollegiate Instruction of Women," or, as it was known more informally, the "X College" or "Harvard annex." The original Radcliffe charter hinted at its eventual absorption into the University, and throughout the years, progress--although erratic and often blocked by recalcitrance on both sides--was made toward that goal.
In 1943, coeducational classes began, with Harvard agreeing to take full responsibility for Radcliffe students's instruction in exchange for a commensurate portion of Radcliffe's tuition. Prior to that time, Radcliffe had employed Harvard professors who were paid by Radcliffe and taught in Radcliffe buildings. Now the Cliffies ventured into the same lecture halls as Harvard students, although in the beginning, they were required to stand in the back in case there were only enough seats for the men.
In 1962, Radcliffe students began receiving Harvard diplomas, although the first joint Commencement was not held until 1970. In the meantime, separate registration was abolished and even Lamont Library became coed, although once Cliffies penetrated its gloomy interior, they must have wondered whether it was actually worth the struggle.
"We shall be happy to join with you in discussion of when and how a merger might be effected... We can say at once that in principle we welcome the prospect of a merger and we are grateful to the Radcliffe Council for initiating the question."
So read the Corporation's letter of acceptance upon receipt of Radcliffe's proposal in early March of 1969. The letter stated that the question would first have to be considered by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences to determine its willingness to accept responsibility for all aspects of women's education over and above that of academic programs over which they already retained control.
The Faculty was to begin its discussion of the merger that spring, but the tumultuous events of University Hall and its aftermath tabled the issue for the rest of the year. Plans, however, were proceeding for the implementation of the first coed housing experiment to take place the following year, and the realization of that aspect of merger--the prospect of which had provided much of the impetus for the merger's original proposal--overshadowed some of the merger's more far-reaching implications.
One foreboding note, however, was sounded by Dean Franklin Ford: "The most brutal formulation of the problem is that a merger might mean achieving sexual diversity at the expense of other kinds of diversity." It was an ominous warning, whose full intent would only become clear as it was re-echoed again and again by other members of the Faculty and Administration.
As the first Cliffies to live in Harvard Houses with official blessing moved into Adams, Lowell, and Winthrop in the Spring of 1970, the pressure for equal admissions at Harvard upon realization of the merger began to come from various women's groups, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Harvard Women's Law Students Association, as well as from some of the alumnae.
The Faculty, sensing the impact of these demands on Harvard's inexorably male tradition, avoided endorsement of the merger by proposing the creation of a new committee to study the full implications of the proposal--bringing to five the number of such committees.
"The Faculty is not now ready to say they're in favor of such a close relationship," said President Pusey as he announced that Harvard would not be ready for a merger by the June 30, 1970 deadline originally proposed. "Call this male chauvinist if you like, but there are many people here who would be unhappy to see the number of men reduced."