Crimson Key Founded to End 'Harvard Indifference'

While complaints about the College administration's indifference toward its student body are common, the students of 1948 decided to do something to make Harvard a friendlier place--they started the Crimson Key Society.

Unlike many of the other Ivy League schools, which had already established Key Societies, Harvard remained known for its cold Cantabrigian shoulder. But the students who started the Crimson Key Society wanted to change that perception.

Calling the Key Society "long overdue," Harvard Athletic Director William J. Bingham '16 predicted at the time that the group would "make obsolete the phrase 'Harvard indifference."

"We tried very much to make Harvard a friendlier place," says Jay L. Fialkow '48, one of the students who formulated the original plans for the group.

"We felt that the College needed an organization like the Crimson Key Society in place to offer help, assistance and hospitality to people coming to the University," adds Student Council President William D. Weeks '49, who helped plan the new group.


The Key grew out of the efforts of William P. Hall '45, a former varsity football manager, who was impressed by the warm welcome he received while traveling to other colleges to compete.

"It was very evident when the varsity football team travelled... We were greeted by people and made to feel welcome by members of the undergraduate groups there," Hall says.

Established to welcome first-years, visiting athletes and other guests, the new Key Society was governed by a 37-member "Executive Group" composed of student leaders. These men included one representative each from the House committees, Band, Debate Council, Glee Club, Phillips Brooks House, WHRB and other organizations.

"Men who have demonstrated their leadership abilities in other activities were chosen for the Executive Group," said Gerald Y. Genn '48, the first president of the Crimson Key, at the time. "The Crimson Key will continue to recruit similar personnel, but we also will welcome any other student who is interested in working with us."

Before becoming an official organization, the Crimson Key Society had to submit a Constitution to the organizations who would contribute members to the group. After approval by those groups, it was ratified by the Student Council, whereupon the new organization was approved by the administration.

The Crimson Key started its activities during the Eastern Intercollegiate Sprint Regatta by providing entertainment for the visiting crews. The Key also broadcast live reports of the race from the coaches' launch to spectators at the finish line during the races.

The Regatta was the only activity for the Key that spring, but members expressed determination to start off strong the following year.

"We found that our organization wasn't sufficiently coordinated to carry out any extensive program at this time, but next Fall we'll get rolling by the first football game," Genn said at the time.

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