'Silent Generation' Recalls Life With Few Concerns

Harvard 1960:

At their Commencement 25 years ago, then Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey '28 told graduating members of the Class of 1960 that they suffered from a "deficiency of passion and concern."

Pusey blamed the deficiency on Harvard's failure to emphasize faith as much as it did academic success. But, members of the Class of 1960 recall, Harvard was not to blame. If they suffered from a lack of passion, they say, it was because there was a lack of anything to be passionate about.

Members of the "silent generation," as they have been termed, cared little about domestic events and even less about the international scene. This was the Eisenhower era--the nation was prosperous and free from war--and these Americans felt secure. They were secure

"Maybe we were prehistoric Yuppies," says Norman C. Fox '60, a television writer and resident of Los Angeles. "There was a simple complacency. People were more interested in getting an economic jump, rather than committing themselves to political causes."

"The mood at Harvard in the late '50s was anti-philistine and not pro politics," adds Charles W. Maynes '60, editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a Washington, D.C. resident.


Although the U.s. was not involved in a war, there were several major international events during the time the Class of 1960 was at Harvard: the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, shot down Gary Powers and the U-2 plane he piloted on a spy mission over Russian soil: China developed its own atomic bomb; the Suez Canal crisis brewed; Castro rose to power; and racial conflict in South Africa came to a head in the bloody Sharpeville riots.

These events provided plenty of fodder for the "late night bull sessions at Adams House," but they did not prompt more visible displays of concern, Maynes recalls.

According to Bostonian Robert G. Gordon '60, founder and head of the Store 24, Inc., "It just seemed normal not to be politically active. The world seemed to be the way it was regardless of what we did. There didn't appear to be things to get passionately involved in."

While events abroad dominated the headlines, the budding civil rights movement was a growing domestic concern. On campus, that concern seemed barely visible, though some students joined Cambridge residents in boycotting a local Woolworth's store in 1960 because of its discriminatory hiring practices.

As atmospheric nuclear testing continued, early concerns about nuclear proliferation prompted a large number of Harvard faculty and staff to petition President Eisenhower to ban nuclear tests. But in their senior year, class members recall, students were more interested in Harvard's four 1960 Gold Medalist Olympic hockey players, Marilyn Monroe's starring role in Bus Stop, and Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows.

At Harvard, social and political causes got students riled about as much as rumors that MIT and Harvard might merge to form the University of Cambridge, or Harvard's decisions to make Social Studies a major and relax requirements in the Economics Department.

Among issues of seemingly greatest importance then, class members recall, were the ever-controversial parietal rules, the quality of an Elsie's roast beef sandwich, the high-stakes Crimson-Lampoon crew race, the tutelage of Eliot House Master John H. Finley '25, the heady classes of McGeorge Bundy, Henry A. Kissinger '50 and Zbigniew Brzezinski an embarrassing Harvard-Yale game, and the legendary Lamont Dupont.

Lamont Dupont? He, of course, was elected by the Class of 1960 to chair the Freshman Jubilee Weekend. As freshmen, members of the class who vied for the prestigious post were defeated by women "were crammed into economy doubles," she says.

Yet there was some good in all these inequities, Darst says. "In a very rough way, Radcliffe prepared you for the real world because you learned how to fight," she says.

Kay argues, however, that the preparation did not affect everyone. "It strikes me that some of the brightest women in America have contented themselves with desultory activities, submerging themselves in children and husbands," she says, a fact she says she noticed especially in looking through her class's 25th reunion book. "There are too many compromises being made. What has happened to your intelligence, what has happened to your drive, when you're making cookies for the PTA?