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Coed Dorms: First Stage of the Merger

Integrating Houses Was Easy Compared With the Formation of `Harvard-Radcliffe'

By Victoria E.M. Cain

Classrooms went in 1943, diplomas in 1962 and Lamont Library in 1966. And in the spring of 1970, three Harvard houses and three Radcliffe dorms also went the way of coeducation.

The merging of Harvard and Radcliffe had begun during March of 1969 but had stalled during the general campus unrest later that spring.

By the fall, however, negotiations for pushing forward with coeducational living were back in full swing, despite an angry alumni response and a hesitant University president.

At students' urgings, Radcliffe President Mary I. Bunting and Harvard President Nathan Marsh Pusey '28 agreed to a trial run of coed housing, and three spring "exchanges" were planned.

East House and Lowell House, South House and Adams, and North House and Winthrop paired up and exchanged approximately 50 students each. Harvard houses were integrated by suite and Radcliffe's long hallways by floor.

Though the changes were overshadowed by the war and the general tumult of the times, integration of the houses would change the stubbly face of Harvard undergraduate life forever.

Both Harvard and Radcliffe students said they were eager for the change--the women reportedly even more so than the men.

According to Anne de Saint Phalle '70, women considered the atmosphere in the Radcliffe houses stifling--and close to unbearable. "Hemmed into 12 square feet of space or less, constantly under the eyes of roommates and wandering acquaintances, subjected to a level of noise that has killed hamsters, girls who live in the brick dorms are...existentially stunted," she wrote in the Crimson's 1969 registration issue.

"I was glad for the merger," says Barbara Fitch Cobb '70. "I always felt out in left field being in the Radcliffe dorms. They were overcrowded. Usually, two of us were in what was intended to be a single. Harvard houses seemed to have much more space--the suites were bigger."

But it wasn't simply the relative luxury of the houses the women coveted.

"The Harvard dorms were much more interesting than Radcliffe's," Cobb adds. "The Radcliffe tutors seemed to be more interested in enforcing parietals than in stimulating an intellectual environment."

It seems a bit ironic that the cramped houses alumnae describe are now renowned for their roominess and privacy, not to mention the studious atmosphere they reputedly engender. But in 1969-70, undergraduate women wanted out.

Rules Made to Be Broken

Many of the last barriers to coeducational living were the official ones. In an age of free love and STD ignorance, Harvard and Radcliffe students seemed to have few qualms about spending substantial amounts of time in one another's rooms.

General Education Teaching Fellow Roger D. Thomas complained in 1970 that parietals were anachronistic and that he was "very concerned about keeping a rule that is largely disregarded."

Students agreed wholeheartedly with Thomas' sentiments.

"Women were sleeping over all the time by the time they abolished pari- etals," recalled Kenneth J. Barnes '70. "They[the parietals] seemed sort of silly."

In the fall of 1969, the administrationofficially recognized this de facto part of lifeat Harvard and Radcliffe.

Confronted with a petition of 1041 signatures(1000 out of 1200 first-year students and 41 outof 47 proctors signed), Dean of Freshmen F. Skiddyvon Stade '38 put an end to the oft-violatedparietals on October 30.

Earlier that month, the Radcliffe Union ofStudents, led by Ellen Messer '69, had wrested thepower of parietals away from the administrationand secured dorm autonomy--a move whichessentially abolished any remaining limits uponcoed living that parietals might have set.

The termination of parietals symbolized thefrequent elimination and reorganization of campusrules and institutions that characterized the turnof the decade.

The administration seemed to be recognizingthat it could no longer officially enforce ruleswhich many students had abandoned years before.

Changing Times

While the general campus mood seemed to welcomesweeping change, the impending marriage of Harvardand Radcliffe induced smaller alterations.

Women and men could now sweat together atBriggs Cage and the Malkin Athletic Center. Theycould eat together after classes. And during thespring semester of 1970, they could even convenein Radcliffe bathrooms to brush their teethtogether.

Deborah A. Frank '70 says she remembers themale-female exchange program as "great fun."

"We were lucky," she says."We got a group ofguys who were musicians--they played thebanjo--and on Saturday night, when the Radcliffegirls who stayed in were served their regular milkand cookies, we would have regular hootenannieswith these boys."

Frank emphasizes the fact that college rulesrelaxed over the span of her years at Radcliffe.

"When we got there the first year, there wereall sorts of strict hours, and every time we had aman with us we had to shout out 'man on thefloor," she says. "I did that to my kid brotherand he almost died of embarrassment. Men living inthe dorms certainly eliminated any formal tonethat was left."

Institutionalizing sexual liberation didn'tnecessarily bring increased sensitivity.

One wild winter night, first-year men spilledout of the Yard and tumbled up to the Quad wherethey shouted "Cliffies need sex!" and "Statutoryrape!"

According to interviewed alums, rape andharassment were still ever-present threats in1970.

"In the subtext of the riots and the protests,integration was just a blip on the politicalscreen," Frank says. "Women's lib was justbeginning, and there wasn't that much change."

Still, many women remembered that their firstexposure to feminism occurred that year. AtCommencement, students passed out pamphletsreading: "Congratulations on your daughter'sgraduation. But can she type?" And a women'shistory class was offered for the first time.

"I heard the word 'sexism' for the first timein '68 and the minute I heard it, it kind of went'click.' It made a lot of sense to me," Anne V.Bastian '70 says.

Mergers and Questions

But some things didn't change quite as quickly.Whatever awkwardness was associated with makingthe residential dorms coed was slight incomparison with the controversy surrounding theother issues connected with the Harvard-Radcliffemerger.

In 1969, students and faculty debated an arrayof questions, ranging from whether Harvard wouldhave legal responsibilities for Radcliffe studentsliving in Harvard dorms to the psychologicalimpact of coed living on students.

These debates also delayed--or staved off,depending on the point of view--the merger ofHarvard and Radcliffe.

Money was another concern. Few knew whether themerger would cost the University more or less.

Radcliffe was in the midst of a $30 millioncapital campaign when negotiations for the mergerwere announced, and alumni donations droppedsharply as a direct result.

Still, Radcliffe giving had always beensignificantly lower than that of other women'scolleges like Smith and Mount Holyoke.

Crimson reporters speculated at the time thatwhile Radcliffe College had its own facilities,traditions and students, its "annexed" statusdeterred alumnae from giving and provided anotherreasoned it should merge with Harvard.

With an incorporated Harvard-Radcliffe, thereporters reasoned, women alums would give more.

But Harvard's faculty and administratorsreportedly thought that more students meant highercosts, and at a time when both Harvard andRadcliffe were feeling a financial squeeze, theprospect of merging seemed increasinglyunattractive.

Radcliffe's lesser resources were a large partof the impetus for fusing the two schools, butthey underscored the inherent inequality betweenthem.

As with housing, women were eager to gainaccess to Harvard's resources--and while most menwelcomed coeducation, they were reluctant to sharetraditional privileges.

By far the most emotional issue in thiscomplicated argument was that of admissions. WouldHarvard have to decrease its number of maleundergraduates in order to admit more women into acoeducational college?

Male enrollment was at 4,800 in 1970. That wasfour times the number of women at Radcliffe. Inorder to achieve equality of numbers withoutcutting the number of men at Harvard,Harvard-Radcliffe College would have to beexpanded to admit 3,600 more women.

The other alternative was to cut maleenrollment by 1,800--a possibility which Pusey andmany faculty members angrily protested and opposedon grounds ranging from tradition to diversity.

In 1969, the National Organization for Women(NOW) met with Pusey to demand increased femaleenrollment.

In a now infamous story, Pusey reportedly saidthat in order to do that, Harvard would have tocut down on the number of qualified people itadmitted. One woman spoke up.

"Qualified men, you mean," she corrected Pusey.

"Yes--qualified people," said Pusey.

Chase N. Peterson '52, then dean of admissionsand financial aid, was another powerful figurevehemently opposed to the increased admission ofwomen. In a written report on the impact of themerger upon admissions, he declared that decreasedenrollment of men would-eliminate rather thanfoster cultural and ethnic diversity.

"Each group within the college requires acertain critical mass to allow it to fit withreasonable comfort," Peterson declared. "For thisreason a smaller male enrollment might force us toeliminate a number of such distinctive groupsentirely when their numbers fell below a tolerancethreshold."

"Reduced admissions of men," he continued,"would force us into less diversity at a time whenwe are being asked for more."

Peterson added his perception that merging thecolleges would make the admissions process socompetitive that "even superior applicants in thefuture will be discouraged from applying" and theCollege would not be properly able to accommodatesons of alumni.

But Bunting ultimately had the last word. Shepresciently emphasized equal conditions for womenbefore equal numbers. "Our principal job right nowis to fix this place up for the women whoare here," she said. So the colleges weremerged, with numerical gender equity todayremaining a so-far elusive goal.Photo Courtesy Harvard YearbookWomen's liberation movements hit the Squarein the late 1960s.

In the fall of 1969, the administrationofficially recognized this de facto part of lifeat Harvard and Radcliffe.

Confronted with a petition of 1041 signatures(1000 out of 1200 first-year students and 41 outof 47 proctors signed), Dean of Freshmen F. Skiddyvon Stade '38 put an end to the oft-violatedparietals on October 30.

Earlier that month, the Radcliffe Union ofStudents, led by Ellen Messer '69, had wrested thepower of parietals away from the administrationand secured dorm autonomy--a move whichessentially abolished any remaining limits uponcoed living that parietals might have set.

The termination of parietals symbolized thefrequent elimination and reorganization of campusrules and institutions that characterized the turnof the decade.

The administration seemed to be recognizingthat it could no longer officially enforce ruleswhich many students had abandoned years before.

Changing Times

While the general campus mood seemed to welcomesweeping change, the impending marriage of Harvardand Radcliffe induced smaller alterations.

Women and men could now sweat together atBriggs Cage and the Malkin Athletic Center. Theycould eat together after classes. And during thespring semester of 1970, they could even convenein Radcliffe bathrooms to brush their teethtogether.

Deborah A. Frank '70 says she remembers themale-female exchange program as "great fun."

"We were lucky," she says."We got a group ofguys who were musicians--they played thebanjo--and on Saturday night, when the Radcliffegirls who stayed in were served their regular milkand cookies, we would have regular hootenannieswith these boys."

Frank emphasizes the fact that college rulesrelaxed over the span of her years at Radcliffe.

"When we got there the first year, there wereall sorts of strict hours, and every time we had aman with us we had to shout out 'man on thefloor," she says. "I did that to my kid brotherand he almost died of embarrassment. Men living inthe dorms certainly eliminated any formal tonethat was left."

Institutionalizing sexual liberation didn'tnecessarily bring increased sensitivity.

One wild winter night, first-year men spilledout of the Yard and tumbled up to the Quad wherethey shouted "Cliffies need sex!" and "Statutoryrape!"

According to interviewed alums, rape andharassment were still ever-present threats in1970.

"In the subtext of the riots and the protests,integration was just a blip on the politicalscreen," Frank says. "Women's lib was justbeginning, and there wasn't that much change."

Still, many women remembered that their firstexposure to feminism occurred that year. AtCommencement, students passed out pamphletsreading: "Congratulations on your daughter'sgraduation. But can she type?" And a women'shistory class was offered for the first time.

"I heard the word 'sexism' for the first timein '68 and the minute I heard it, it kind of went'click.' It made a lot of sense to me," Anne V.Bastian '70 says.

Mergers and Questions

But some things didn't change quite as quickly.Whatever awkwardness was associated with makingthe residential dorms coed was slight incomparison with the controversy surrounding theother issues connected with the Harvard-Radcliffemerger.

In 1969, students and faculty debated an arrayof questions, ranging from whether Harvard wouldhave legal responsibilities for Radcliffe studentsliving in Harvard dorms to the psychologicalimpact of coed living on students.

These debates also delayed--or staved off,depending on the point of view--the merger ofHarvard and Radcliffe.

Money was another concern. Few knew whether themerger would cost the University more or less.

Radcliffe was in the midst of a $30 millioncapital campaign when negotiations for the mergerwere announced, and alumni donations droppedsharply as a direct result.

Still, Radcliffe giving had always beensignificantly lower than that of other women'scolleges like Smith and Mount Holyoke.

Crimson reporters speculated at the time thatwhile Radcliffe College had its own facilities,traditions and students, its "annexed" statusdeterred alumnae from giving and provided anotherreasoned it should merge with Harvard.

With an incorporated Harvard-Radcliffe, thereporters reasoned, women alums would give more.

But Harvard's faculty and administratorsreportedly thought that more students meant highercosts, and at a time when both Harvard andRadcliffe were feeling a financial squeeze, theprospect of merging seemed increasinglyunattractive.

Radcliffe's lesser resources were a large partof the impetus for fusing the two schools, butthey underscored the inherent inequality betweenthem.

As with housing, women were eager to gainaccess to Harvard's resources--and while most menwelcomed coeducation, they were reluctant to sharetraditional privileges.

By far the most emotional issue in thiscomplicated argument was that of admissions. WouldHarvard have to decrease its number of maleundergraduates in order to admit more women into acoeducational college?

Male enrollment was at 4,800 in 1970. That wasfour times the number of women at Radcliffe. Inorder to achieve equality of numbers withoutcutting the number of men at Harvard,Harvard-Radcliffe College would have to beexpanded to admit 3,600 more women.

The other alternative was to cut maleenrollment by 1,800--a possibility which Pusey andmany faculty members angrily protested and opposedon grounds ranging from tradition to diversity.

In 1969, the National Organization for Women(NOW) met with Pusey to demand increased femaleenrollment.

In a now infamous story, Pusey reportedly saidthat in order to do that, Harvard would have tocut down on the number of qualified people itadmitted. One woman spoke up.

"Qualified men, you mean," she corrected Pusey.

"Yes--qualified people," said Pusey.

Chase N. Peterson '52, then dean of admissionsand financial aid, was another powerful figurevehemently opposed to the increased admission ofwomen. In a written report on the impact of themerger upon admissions, he declared that decreasedenrollment of men would-eliminate rather thanfoster cultural and ethnic diversity.

"Each group within the college requires acertain critical mass to allow it to fit withreasonable comfort," Peterson declared. "For thisreason a smaller male enrollment might force us toeliminate a number of such distinctive groupsentirely when their numbers fell below a tolerancethreshold."

"Reduced admissions of men," he continued,"would force us into less diversity at a time whenwe are being asked for more."

Peterson added his perception that merging thecolleges would make the admissions process socompetitive that "even superior applicants in thefuture will be discouraged from applying" and theCollege would not be properly able to accommodatesons of alumni.

But Bunting ultimately had the last word. Shepresciently emphasized equal conditions for womenbefore equal numbers. "Our principal job right nowis to fix this place up for the women whoare here," she said. So the colleges weremerged, with numerical gender equity todayremaining a so-far elusive goal.Photo Courtesy Harvard YearbookWomen's liberation movements hit the Squarein the late 1960s.

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