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Charlotte Horwood Armstrong '49 manned the first Radcliffe crew and received her law degree as part of the first Harvard Law School class containing women.
And during the 1998-99 academic year, Armstrong capped her Harvard career with a yearlong stint as president of the University's Board of Overseers, where she was involved in negotiating Radcliffe College's transition into the new Institute for Higher Learning.
Armstrong has always been on Radcliffe's leading edge, and now she is helping her alma mater move into a new era.
"[The Institute] is absolutely the best. It is a splendid initiative. It's great for Harvard and it's great for Radcliffe. I think it is really wonderful for the college," she says.
Armstrong, who currently practices law in New York City, grew up in Cambridge and attended the Winsor School in Boston before matriculating at Radcliffe.
In 1949, however, a career in law was hardly a possibility.
"I thought I was headed for medical school," said Armstrong. "I was a major in biology and I did all the pre-med requirements but felt no comfort level with physics." She decided to give up medicine and move towards the humanities.
Armstrong decided she was " more literate than numerate" and declared a concentration in government with focuses in economics and history. Her specialty, however, was political theory.
Armstrong was involved in many activities at Radcliffe besides her academic pursuits. She was the editorial chair of the Radcliffe News while 11 years before, her future husband was editorial chair of the Harvard Crimson.
He was extremely involved with the literary and artistic Signet Society and Mrs. Armstrong laments "if I was only 11 years older I might have been able to be in the Signet too!"
Today, she and her husband like to joke that they share four Harvard degrees on two pillows.
However, hers was not a purely literary mind, she says.
At 7:30 every morning, Armstrong remembered stumbling down from the Radcliffe Quad to the Charles River in the early light with other dedicated rowers to practice with the first female crew.
"I don't remember that we rowed
against others or were competitive," she said. "But I do remember the catcalls we received from all the men driving to work."
Armstrong was affiliated with Briggs Hall while she was at Radcliffe, but was relegated for a time to off-campus housing in her first year because the flood of returning veterans placed a premium on dorm space.
"I eventually moved home in Cambridge," she said. "But I would not recommend it. I wouldn't do it again because I think it was easy to lose a lot of the bonding aspects of living on campus."
After her graduation, Armstrong attended Harvard Law School as a member of the first class to include females.
"I kind of backed into it," she says. "There were no lawyers in the family and I thought we might need to have one," she says. "The law school took a long time to recognize they were ignoring 50 percent of the human race."
After law school, she began her career with the U.S. Department of
Justice working with corporations to implement progressive employee compensation and benefit programs.
Today she serves as a consultant to boards of directors on corporate governance, executive compensation, and board organizations with the firm of Moyer & Ross in New York City.
Along the way, Armstrong also became committed to Harvard.
Armstrong has a long list of offices she has held at Harvard, most prominently, her position as the president of the Board of Overseers for 1998 to 1999. Her law expertise has been invaluable to the Board, to which fellow graduates elected her in 1993 to serve a six year stint.
Armstrong shrugs off her commitment to an overwhelming number of organizations and boards of the University
" Isn't it Woody Allen who said that 90 percent of life is just showing up?" More seriously, she continues, "I enjoyed renewing the contact with Harvard. I have had a long history of being interested in Harvard and one thing led to another."
Much has changed since her undergraduate years in the late 1940's, and she sees her involvement with the evolution of the University as "an energizing experience."
She mentions that it is a challenge "to maintain the change," and she is devoted to Harvard's "mission of education."
Armstrong, with her contemporary involvement with Harvard, has a unique perspective of the changes in the University over the years.
"I think that Harvard is a far more welcome and opening environment now," she says. "There seems to be a lot more integration than in my era and it seems a friendlier place. It was much more sink-or-swim in our day and now it is more obviously caring."
In addition to her work on the Board of Overseers, she has worked with standing committees dealing with Humanities and Arts and she is a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Committee to Examine and Review the Role and Status of Women Undergraduates.
She is most interested in a group that she has chaired for the last two years examining the role of women Faculty and the tenure track.
"All of us would like to see more women on the Faculty especially on the undergraduate level," she says. "The numbers in the graduate schools are better."
Armstrong explains that there is no mandatory retirement rules for Faculty so the further additions of female Faculty "will come along slowly. It has to!"
Harvard administrators and alumni praise Armstrong's leadership and dedication to the University.
"It has been delightful to work with her. She's smart and, most importantly, she understands Harvard. And it can be a complicated place," says Vice Chair of the Executive Board of Overseers, Stephen P. Kay '56.
Joan M. Hutchins '61, a colleague of Armstrong's on the Board of Overseers and the new president of the Board, praises the plans for the new Radcliffe in particular.
"I am very pleased with the plans for the institute and [Armstrong] has certainly had a huge part in that success," she says.
"I have been an admirer of Charlotte for many years. She has so much to offer and really understands alumni and their concerns. It is a privilege to follow behind her. She's a role model for me," she adds.
Since she lived in Radcliffe's Briggs Hall, Armstrong has come a long way from the days of catcalls and the first Radcliffe crew. Her first dorm has been displaced by Hilles library, and her college as she knew it is gone.
Nevertheless, Armstrong has persevered and, as she says, "maintained the change."
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