Movin' In... ...And Checking Out


If an inferno had ever erupted in a Quad dorm in the '60s, Radcliffe women were supposed to know what to save first: the "body book," the dreaded ledger in the front hall where undergraduates had to sign out and in. By saving that record, the dean of residence could tell who had safely escaped the burning building.

Signing in and out was one of several restrictions on the Radcliffe woman in the last decade; the College expected her to observe ladylike decorum in her urban environs: wearing dresses and using escorts in Cambridge Common, returning home at a reasonable hour and formally notifying--with evidence of parental knowledge or consent--the dean if she got engaged.

The Radcliffe deans' position in loco parentis justified their monitoring of student activities. By 1969, only freshmen had to sign the ledgers, and then only until Thanksgiving, but they had to sign out anywhere they went after dinner, even if the distance was no greater than the 100 yards between the hall and Hilles Library. Undergraduates were required to sign out if they planned to be gone overnight, but only a handful ever did, and then mainly on weekends, Barbara Molony '71 says.

One reason Radcliffe women stayed at the Quad is that their parietal hours were more relaxed than Harvard's. In 1969 Radcliffe allowed women to have men in their rooms--until 10 p.m. on weeknights, while Harvard wanted women in the houses only from 4 to 7 p.m. On weekends the colleges extended the curfews. "Naturally, a lot more activity went on at the Quad," Molony says.

But getting around the parietal rules simply depended on the dorm. "In Comstock people who arrived five minutes after they signed out for would have the dorm president tapping her foot waiting," Molony says. But in her dorm--Bertram--rules were much looser. In fact, Molony says her freshman roommate moved in with her boyfriend in Dunster House just after Thanksgiving, and no one seemed to notice.


Yet, the social structure throughout the '60s remained rigid, with few informal activities allowing men and women to interact, Nancy L. Rosenblum '69 says. Men asked women out on dates, and it was a stigma not to go out on a Saturday night. Radcliffe dorms served milk and cookies on Saturdays for the unlucky--thus advertising the shame, Rosenblum notes. A woman's social life was a matter of public record in the dorms, since all calls went through the bell's desk and interested residents constantly leafed through the sign-out ledger.

Nevertheless, Harvard appeared much stricter than Radcliffe about keeping the sexes apart. Lamont Library did not open to women until 1968, much to the surprise of the first Radcliffe student to enter officially, who said she had often been there before. Harvard required its students to escort Radcliffe women home if they were out after 11 p.m. At the same time, the University decreed in 1966 that the latest women could stay at Harvard organizations was 12:30 a.m., and that extension applied only to The Crimson and WHRB.

Radcliffe students could not even eat in the River Houses, Rosenblum recalls. "There is no doubt we were being treated as second-class citizens," she says. "When you had to eat lunch in the basement of Mem Church, it was a degradation." An even more pressing issue for Radcliffe women in the Yard was the lack of women's bathrooms, she adds.

Even in the late '60s, Radcliffe encouraged women to wear skirts to class and around the city. Molony says as a freshman, she was told to wear a skirt in the Cambridge Common and warned that the common could be dangerous after dark. But, she says, "My average skirt was 13 inches long." However, only the weekly formal dinners at Radcliffe actually required her to dress up.

By that time, the mores of two decades before were indeed antiquated For four years, Radcliffe students had debated the wisdom of sign-outs, with some saying that the public ledger would enforce morality (defined as not sleeping with a man), while others maintained it was a harbinger of a tight-reined past. Rosenblum says she cannot remember anyone considering sign-outs a moral issue. "We all thought it was sheer authoritarianism," she adds. Finally in the fall of 1969, the parietals and signouts suddenly disappeared.

The following spring "The Experiment" in coed residences began, with 50 women from each of the Radcliffe Houses (North, South and East) exchanging rooms with 50 Harvard men. In the fall of 1970, when co-residential living began at the Quad and in five River Houses, Molony recalls walking into the Lowell House dining hall and feeling as if she were on display as a novelty.

But at least for women, the protests in April 1969 had changed their attitude toward working with men. Molony says many women could get along with men in a much more relaxed situation when they were protesting together. But she adds, "One of the things that made me very feminist was being put off by very radical men who were more sexist than anyone else." Living in the same Houses with men helped alleviate the macho image many men harbored, but it did not dissolve it completely, she adds.

However, improved social relations were only a by-product of co-residency and the end of parietals, Molony says. "The most important change is that women have become much more an accepted part of the University rather than an appendage." The eventual end of the quota system made women full-fledged members of the Harvard community, and at the same time provided them unprecedented freedom to interact responsibly with Harvard men. This stands in sharp contrast to the parietal system, where women lived in a structure designed to check up on their social lives. As Rosenblum says, "It was just like high school."