The Class of 1944 was overshadowed by the war going on overseas. Many of the students in the class were rushed through Harvard in just three years. Others came back after the war to finish their degrees. In the end, hundreds of students took part in the Allied victory.
But three members of the class--Philip W. Anderson '44-'43, Merton H. Miller '44-'43 and Robert M. Solow '44-'47--experienced another kind of victory years later: they each went on to win a Nobel prize.
Arguably the world's most coveted honor, the Nobel has come to many Harvard faculties and graduates; but rarely has a single class--and a wartime class at that--been so prolific.
Trade-offs in College
But the College experience of a Nobel prize-winner--at least of these three winners--had its trade-offs. Solow, who was honored with the economics prize in 1987 for creating a "simplified representation of how an economy works," recalls that he was a bit of a loner in his Harvard days.
"I was a very independent soul," Solow says. "The thing I liked best about Harvard College in those days was that nobody bothered me."
While some current students complain about the lack of attention they receive in Harvard's advising system, Solow says that was exactly what he liked about it.
"I never went to see my advisor," Solow adds. "For me, the inattention that Harvard paid to its undergraduates was welcome."
Anderson, too, says he was something of an outcast as an undergraduate, largely due to the school's admissions policies at the time, he says.
"I was a misfit," says Anderson, now a physics professor at Princeton University. "We didn't have high scholastic requirements for entry, and students came more or less from the patrician classes of the East Coast."
"I was a faculty kid from Illinois in a Harvard very much dominated by clubs and boys from private schools like Andover and Exeter," he says.
Future Nobel-winners or not, the three men did not escape the defining element of their generation: the war.
"The war affected us quite considerably," says Miller, who shared the economics prize in 1990 for pioneering work in financial economics. "Our programs were accelerated so that the class of '44 was actually graduated in '43."
Indeed, Solow may not have been honored for his economics work if had not been for the sociopolitical climate of the period.
"When I came to Harvard in September of 1940, everyone knew the whole society was in deep trouble," Solow says. "The Depression had just ended and the War had just begun. We were ever aware of economic problems."