Radcliffe Grads Struggle to Balance Families, Careers

In the quarter century since the women of the Class of 1968 were graduating seniors, their lives have changed dramatically.

While their choices were once classes and extracurriculars, many Radcliffe graduates must now balance more weighty and complicated forces.

During the past 25 years, members of the Radcliffe Class of 1968 have had to make some tough choices about careers, families and marriages--decisions at least partially influenced by the environment and education they received at Radcliffe.

One complaint about the Radcliffe experience then is that it overemphasized the importance of a career and downplayed the role of family in post-college life.

Ann E. Freedman'68 says saw a disparity between the encouraging messages Radcliffe professed and the unequal treatment of women at the University--a which gap inspired her career as a professor of law specializing in feminist issues.


Freedman, who teaches at Rutgers University, says she delayed having her two children until she was established in her career.

"Before, I wasn't ready to have kids because I had to get my head together," she says. "I'm in an economic class where I can afford child care and I have a husband who is fully equal in housework and child care and who is also a professor, so we both have flexible schedules. I've been able to combine a family and a career."

This balancing act has not come without its penalties, Freedman says. "I think my rate of publication and advancement of my career is not been what it would be," she says.

Susan C. Goldman '68 says her time at Radcliffe was a good preparation for success in her career as a midwife prior to the births of her children. After wards, though, was a different story.

"The pressure on us as we came out as women who were bright and well-educated was that we had to have a career--and a high-powered career," she says. "When I reached a point where I decided to have children, the really important thing I wanted was to do a good job with the kids."

In order to do this, she had to leave the community in Africa where she had served as a midwife for seven years. Today, she lives in Boston and helps her husband manage their self-owned business. Toucan Chocolates.

Restructuring her life this way, however, made her feel a great deal of guilt. While there were working mothers at Harvard, their families were kept far in the background, and all the women professors at the time were childless. "I feel like we never had any role models at Harvard or got a message at Harvard that said it was okay to stay home with our kids," she says.

To others, though. Radcliffe provided a welcome respite from a world where domestic role models were plentiful and professional women were scarce. "We didn't have many role models--that was definitely true," says Mary M. Kemeny '68. "But the college was very [encouraging] of women going out and doing other things than getting married."

Kemeny, who is unmarried, chose to go to medicine, eventually becoming chief of surgical oncology at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, She says her route through this traditionally male-dominated field of surgery was at times difficult because of long-standing prejudices against women.

"At Radcliffe, it didn't matter so much that we were women...but when I got to medical school, it was suddenly very important," she says. "I have had to suffer injustices I wasn't really ready for."

Sarah B. Hrdy '68 says she loved the opportunities present at Radcliffe when she was studying Mayan culture, but afterwards, the situation changed for her as well.

"As I advanced in my professional career and encountered barriers that exist for women... I realized that Radcliffe was very unrealistic," says Hrdy, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Davis. "It did not prepare me for discrimination against women. Radcliffe spoiled me."

Others felt unprepared for their future lives for different reasons. Elizabeth D. Quinlan '68 says while she enjoyed the education she received at Radcliffe, it was very different from the structured, hierarchical world of the military she entered after graduation--or Operation Desert Storm, during which she served as the chief of orthopedics in a war hospital in Saudi Arabia.

But Quinlan says she enjoyed her term in the military, from which she retired in the spring of 1992 to go into private practice. "I got to sky-dive, fly around in a helicopter and live in Hawaii," she says. "A doctor can't do that--except in the military."

Quinlan says, however, that she has needed to make sacrifices in her life to accommodate her work. "We never had any children, in part so I could participate in a medical career," she says.

Jacqueline R. Weaver '68 chose to balance her life somewhat differently. As a professor at the University of Houston specializing in oil and gas issues, she has had to deal with being seen as an oddity by the men that dominate the Texas oil scene.

She says, though, that her Radcliffe degree and education have helped her move successfully in that professional world.

At the same time, Weaver has managed to maintain a 25-year marriage (to a Harvard Business School graduate) and raise two sons.

Weaver attributes her ability to juggle the different aspects of her life to the flexible hours possible in the life of a professor. "There was always the frantic wonder if the babysitter would show up. I don't know how I had the energy to do things," she says. "I do know the main ways I did it--basically, I worked weekends."

But she adds that this is not the future she envisioned when she picked Radcliffe over Wellesley in order to meet a rich, powerful husband. "Life is unplannable," says Weaver, who originally moved to Texas because of her husband's job there. "If you get a good education, you can't make too many mistakes."

Emily DeHuff '68, however, would most likely disagree with Weaver. DeHuff says she has been able to use her degree to help causes she supports; however, she says her job as a secretary is not what she had hoped for her future.

"My plans were immediately thrown overboard when someone said no, I don't want you to do this," she says. "If I had anything to say to the women who are graduating this year, I would say make serious, practical plans."

DeHuff, who is divorced, says she regrets getting married before graduation. "I just didn't have the conviction of knowing what my real life work was and holding out for it," she says. "I've reached my 25-year mark feeling like I haven't done what I wanted to do."

Other graduates say that they are still continuing on in the interests Radcliffe allowed them to focus on. "The main thing was that we felt we had tremendous freedom and people all concentrated on their passion," says Judith Bruce '68. "I didn't think we were haunted by the bugaboo of being well-rounded."

It was this freedom and flexibility, Bruce says, that allowed her to piece together a curriculum that prepared her for her work on population control with Planned Parenthood and the Population Council, where she coordinates a program of research and policy development on women's roles and status in the developing world.

She often takes her two young daughters along with her on the trips necessitated by her work. "Sometimes it's hard on them and me, but I think on balance we all benefit from it," she says.

Bruce says that she will definitely encourage both of her daughters to consider Harvard-Radcliffe as a college choice one day. "I was having the time of my life and I knew it--I feel very lucky," she says