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The Harvard Crimson Class of 1949

Harvard's first postwar class moves out of the shadow of World War II

By Tova A. Serkin, Crimson Staff Writer

Its members often call the Class of 1949 the "transition class." The first class to enter Harvard after the end of World War II, the Class still spent their college years in its shadow.

They came in three installments, in the summer and fall of 1945 and the spring of 1946, to a campus that still lodged Navy officers in Eliot House. And they left as the Class of '52 filled the Yard with first-years too young to remember the rise of Hitler clearly.

Harvard changed drastically in those four years, and the Class of '49 was right in the middle.

After spending months and even years fighting overseas, the returning veterans were older than typical college students and not looking for the same type of experience. The '49ers were, overall, an exceptionally studious group of young men determined to improve the post-war world and their prospects in it.

Men and Boys

Unlike the classes before it, most of the Class of '49 entered Harvard after the war in the Pacific drew to a close in August 1945.

Because the class came to Cambridge after the war ended, it was comprised of both high school graduates too young to have been drafted, and veterans beginning college after their military service.

"I think the most unusual feature of our Class, was really a split group in age," says Thomas Read '49. "I was 16 and around the same age as half the group-the other half were vets coming back from the war."

Memories of a class divided are what stand out in the minds of many younger '49ers today. Going to school with older and worldlier men, they say, made their experience at Harvard unique.

Besides the age differences among the students, there was an unprecedented amount of economic and social diversity in the class.

In the post-war years, the GI bill enabled thousands of veterans to attend Harvard, students who might not have been able to enroll in the country's oldest and most exclusive University before the war.

"The GI Bill changed the demographics," says William J. Richard Jr.'49, Harvard's First Class Marshal. "It became more inclusive, it became a national college."

Yet, as the class entered its last year at Harvard, the effects of the GI Bill became less noticeable. Whereas the years before had seen unprecedented peaks in enrollment, 1948 and 1949 saw major drops.

According to the first Crimson issue of the 1948 fall semester, which ran with the headline "College Sees First Enrollment Drop Since War," 200 fewer men enrolled than the previous semester.

In a sense, the Class of '49 was the last to be shaped by World War II both in size and makeup. The classes of '50, '51, and '52 were already part of a new Harvard generation.

War Holdovers

Though the war was over by the time most students ever set foot in Cambridge, its effects echoed throughout the campus in many ways.

Unlike the Harvard students of the isolationist 1930s, the Class of '49 involved itself in politics on a world scale. Throughout the late '40s multiple liberal political groups appeared on campus.

Students organized rallies to "Save the Marshall Plan" and they held and participated in debates to bash the anti-Communist Barnes Bill that was introduced in the Massachusetts legislature during 1948.

President Truman's Universal Military Training plan caused much controversy on campus with heated arguments coming from both sides, and rallies at Sanders Theatre.

Over 1,000 students gathered at Memorial Hall in April 1948 to rally against the escalating Cold War.

In an attempt to educate Harvard students the American Veterans Committee held programs on politics and how to work within the political system.

Undergraduates also supported student movements overseas and collected money and food to be sent to China, India and Greece.

In general, alumni remember that this flourish of political activity, which tended towards the liberal, was new and exciting forthem, though it soon died out as memories of thewar started to fade.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Whatever they did, in the words of one alum,was with a sense of "earnestness."

Recovering from a big war meant that everyonewas "a little more serious and little moreconcerned" than the younger classes at Harvard.

Their intensity made them a studious group ofmen so dedicated to their academics that theyadvertised in The Crimson for their lost classnotes.

Class members say they don't remember much of a"party atmosphere" on campus, and administratorsworried that veterans were not having enough fun.

Not only were many students veterans of thebattlefields, some were already married withfamilies. There were so many "family men" in theClass of '49 that Harvard had to lease the HotelBrunswick in Boston for them to live in, inaddition to temporary housing established oncampus.

The lingering insecurity of a world so recentlytorn by war also contributed to the "earnestness"of the late 1940s.

"It was the immediacy of peace," James H.Powell '49. "Social programs hadn't really startedup yet."

Just before the class entered, the UnitedStates dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima andNagasaki. At the same time, the Cold War wasbeginning to unfold, and Americans did not yetknow if the world would be a safe place.

From Battlefields to Football Fields

They worked hard and they played hard. The'49ers were a group that cared deeply about theiracademics, their politics-and their sports.

Social life revolved around the playing field.And for the Class of '49, the Crimson did notoften disappoint.

The basketball team made it to the NCAAchampionship in 1946 for the first time, and thefootball team did not lose a single game in thefirst year after the war.

Winning the Harvard-Yale game in 1948 was ahighlight of the class's experience at Harvard.The Game, which was one of the major social eventsof the year, invariably sold out, slowing trafficto a standstill for blocks around the Stadium.

One graduate, remembering the excitement of TheGame in the late 1940s, says he was "shocked andamazed" to see that there were empty seats in theStadium at the 1998 game.

For a class of such disparate ages, athleticswas one of the few things that brought them alltogether.

Intramural sports were also extremelycompetitive with high rates of participation andfan turnout.

Kirkland House ended the 1948-49 school yearwith the best intramural sports record and wasawarded the Straus cup.

All for One and One for All

In a class with so many divisive factors,members say that there was no real sense of classspirit. Yet there were not really any tensionseither. "The group mixed well," Read says.

"We perhaps didn't have some of the unity thatbegan in the class of '50," Richard recalls. "Theywere more homogenous, they didn't have quite thesame diversity in their origins."

Yet, if that unity did not exist for the Class,its members were able to experience Harvard spiritthrough their Houses. There, members of the Classformed their closest friendships-some of whichhave lasted until the present day.

This is in part due to the fact that those whoentered Harvard in '45 or '46 never lived in Yardas all other first-year students did. Instead,because of the Navy officers still on campus, theymoved directly into their Houses. The four yearsspent together, instead of only three, helpedfoster House spirit.

Additionally, as the enrollment numbers beganto drop post-war, the already overcrowded dormsbegan to open a little and allow the students whohad been commuting to live on campus with theirclassmates.

Radcliffe Postwar

The shadow of WWII also touched the women ofRadcliffe. If nothing else, some graduatesremember with a smile, the gender ratio on campuswas very much in favor of the "'Cliffe dwellers,"as they were often called.

The hordes of returning veterans meant thatthere were "six men for every woman."

"You could have dates for breakfast, lunch,tea, drinks, dinner and a dance with someonedifferent each time," recalls Anne T. Wallach '49.

Young women who had grown up in the restrictive1930s were freed from their mothers' watchful eyesand were able to enjoy an active social life inCambridge.

Yet Radcliffe was not free from rules either.

"We had to be in at the right time at night,"Wallach remembers. "[We] couldn't wear pantsunless it was very cold, couldn't smoke in thestreet."

Radcliffe women often took their higher levelclasses at Harvard where they were given "the bestseats in large lectures."

Officials announced in February 1946 that the"joint instruction" begun during the war when malestudents were scarce would be a permanent part ofa Harvard education.

Access to the newly built Lamont library,however, was not available to women when thelibrary opened in January 1949. According toofficials, the staff needed to chaperone a mixedgroup of students in reading rooms wasprohibitively expensive.

Student publications also made it clear thatHarvard men and Radcliffe women were separate andonly dubiously equal.

In the fall of '49, the Crimson ran a pictureon the front page of four "Cliffies" with anextended caption about the physical measurementsof Radcliffe women.

But women's liberation was still decades away,and members of the Radcliffe Class of '49overwhelmingly say they enjoyed theirundergraduate years.

"The thing to understand is that being atRadcliffe was so much better than being home withyour mother that we wouldn't have dreamed ofcomplaining about inequality with men," Wallachsays.

One alumnus remembers that his wife was made tofeel at home at Harvard where she could sit in onclasses, and even organized her own poetryreading.

In general though, the gender inequalities thatwomen faced here were minimal compared to those inthe rest of the country, and Radcliffe women weregiven access to resources most were not.

"I think most of us loved Radcliffe because itgave us a glimpse of how the world could be forwomen," Wallach says.

With the return of students to Harvard, theycould once again enjoy the social pleasures thathad been denied them during the war. By the timethe '49ers were getting ready to graduate, dances,masquerades and other social events began making acomeback.

In 1945, the Hasty Pudding Theatricals put on"The Proof of the Pudding," their first show afterAmerica entered the war, and other studentactivities were resurrected as the class made itsway through the college.

As time went by, memories of Hitler's Germany,the atomic bomb and wartime rationing faded frommemory. The '49ers studied, played House footballand attended dances. With the Class of 1949,Harvard put WWII firmly in the past.Harvard YearbookPEACE IN OUR TIME:An English Ainstructor takes his class outside to enjoy thebalmy weather in the final weeks of the 1949spring semester.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Whatever they did, in the words of one alum,was with a sense of "earnestness."

Recovering from a big war meant that everyonewas "a little more serious and little moreconcerned" than the younger classes at Harvard.

Their intensity made them a studious group ofmen so dedicated to their academics that theyadvertised in The Crimson for their lost classnotes.

Class members say they don't remember much of a"party atmosphere" on campus, and administratorsworried that veterans were not having enough fun.

Not only were many students veterans of thebattlefields, some were already married withfamilies. There were so many "family men" in theClass of '49 that Harvard had to lease the HotelBrunswick in Boston for them to live in, inaddition to temporary housing established oncampus.

The lingering insecurity of a world so recentlytorn by war also contributed to the "earnestness"of the late 1940s.

"It was the immediacy of peace," James H.Powell '49. "Social programs hadn't really startedup yet."

Just before the class entered, the UnitedStates dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima andNagasaki. At the same time, the Cold War wasbeginning to unfold, and Americans did not yetknow if the world would be a safe place.

From Battlefields to Football Fields

They worked hard and they played hard. The'49ers were a group that cared deeply about theiracademics, their politics-and their sports.

Social life revolved around the playing field.And for the Class of '49, the Crimson did notoften disappoint.

The basketball team made it to the NCAAchampionship in 1946 for the first time, and thefootball team did not lose a single game in thefirst year after the war.

Winning the Harvard-Yale game in 1948 was ahighlight of the class's experience at Harvard.The Game, which was one of the major social eventsof the year, invariably sold out, slowing trafficto a standstill for blocks around the Stadium.

One graduate, remembering the excitement of TheGame in the late 1940s, says he was "shocked andamazed" to see that there were empty seats in theStadium at the 1998 game.

For a class of such disparate ages, athleticswas one of the few things that brought them alltogether.

Intramural sports were also extremelycompetitive with high rates of participation andfan turnout.

Kirkland House ended the 1948-49 school yearwith the best intramural sports record and wasawarded the Straus cup.

All for One and One for All

In a class with so many divisive factors,members say that there was no real sense of classspirit. Yet there were not really any tensionseither. "The group mixed well," Read says.

"We perhaps didn't have some of the unity thatbegan in the class of '50," Richard recalls. "Theywere more homogenous, they didn't have quite thesame diversity in their origins."

Yet, if that unity did not exist for the Class,its members were able to experience Harvard spiritthrough their Houses. There, members of the Classformed their closest friendships-some of whichhave lasted until the present day.

This is in part due to the fact that those whoentered Harvard in '45 or '46 never lived in Yardas all other first-year students did. Instead,because of the Navy officers still on campus, theymoved directly into their Houses. The four yearsspent together, instead of only three, helpedfoster House spirit.

Additionally, as the enrollment numbers beganto drop post-war, the already overcrowded dormsbegan to open a little and allow the students whohad been commuting to live on campus with theirclassmates.

Radcliffe Postwar

The shadow of WWII also touched the women ofRadcliffe. If nothing else, some graduatesremember with a smile, the gender ratio on campuswas very much in favor of the "'Cliffe dwellers,"as they were often called.

The hordes of returning veterans meant thatthere were "six men for every woman."

"You could have dates for breakfast, lunch,tea, drinks, dinner and a dance with someonedifferent each time," recalls Anne T. Wallach '49.

Young women who had grown up in the restrictive1930s were freed from their mothers' watchful eyesand were able to enjoy an active social life inCambridge.

Yet Radcliffe was not free from rules either.

"We had to be in at the right time at night,"Wallach remembers. "[We] couldn't wear pantsunless it was very cold, couldn't smoke in thestreet."

Radcliffe women often took their higher levelclasses at Harvard where they were given "the bestseats in large lectures."

Officials announced in February 1946 that the"joint instruction" begun during the war when malestudents were scarce would be a permanent part ofa Harvard education.

Access to the newly built Lamont library,however, was not available to women when thelibrary opened in January 1949. According toofficials, the staff needed to chaperone a mixedgroup of students in reading rooms wasprohibitively expensive.

Student publications also made it clear thatHarvard men and Radcliffe women were separate andonly dubiously equal.

In the fall of '49, the Crimson ran a pictureon the front page of four "Cliffies" with anextended caption about the physical measurementsof Radcliffe women.

But women's liberation was still decades away,and members of the Radcliffe Class of '49overwhelmingly say they enjoyed theirundergraduate years.

"The thing to understand is that being atRadcliffe was so much better than being home withyour mother that we wouldn't have dreamed ofcomplaining about inequality with men," Wallachsays.

One alumnus remembers that his wife was made tofeel at home at Harvard where she could sit in onclasses, and even organized her own poetryreading.

In general though, the gender inequalities thatwomen faced here were minimal compared to those inthe rest of the country, and Radcliffe women weregiven access to resources most were not.

"I think most of us loved Radcliffe because itgave us a glimpse of how the world could be forwomen," Wallach says.

With the return of students to Harvard, theycould once again enjoy the social pleasures thathad been denied them during the war. By the timethe '49ers were getting ready to graduate, dances,masquerades and other social events began making acomeback.

In 1945, the Hasty Pudding Theatricals put on"The Proof of the Pudding," their first show afterAmerica entered the war, and other studentactivities were resurrected as the class made itsway through the college.

As time went by, memories of Hitler's Germany,the atomic bomb and wartime rationing faded frommemory. The '49ers studied, played House footballand attended dances. With the Class of 1949,Harvard put WWII firmly in the past.Harvard YearbookPEACE IN OUR TIME:An English Ainstructor takes his class outside to enjoy thebalmy weather in the final weeks of the 1949spring semester.

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