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The Class of 1950

By Matthew F. Quirk, Crimson Staff Writer

In a front-page commentary on September 30, 1946, the boys of the Harvard Crimson complained that tall ex-servicemen slept in their beds, littered the Coop with G.I. Bill reimbursement slips and stole away the Radcliffe girls.

It was a bad year for old boys.

After the war years' attrition, enrollment exploded with veterans and students from outside New England's preparatory schools, straining facilities and faculty. The thousands of ex-servicemen hoping to move from Europe's barracks to Harvard's houses found them full. Overcrowded dorms and makeshift shelters gave the class a home while overburdened professors and untried teaching fellows gave instruction.

Making first-rate marks despite the trials of a congested Harvard, veteran and public school students proved the value of diversity to admissions officers.

The very identity of a Harvard man transformed as the GI Bill brought duffels among the tweeds, and scholarships brought the West east.

The fall days of 1946 found old Harvard besieged by veterans and scholarship students, the new guard of the ivory tower. More large, diverse, and serious than any previous class, the men of 1950 brought Harvard from New England to the nation.

Growing Pains

America was crowded with veterans returning from World War II, and when Harvard opened its gates to them, the Yard became a beachhead.

Financed by the G.I. Bill of Rights and admitted through special College entrance exams for veterans, ex-servicemen swelled the Class of 1950 to 1,645 members, more than double the past year's size.

President James B. Conant '14 explained the University's relaxed requirements for veteran admissions.

"We must make up the devastating shortage of trained men for civilian occupations resulting from many years of war."

And in its zeal to catch up, Harvard discovered its own devastating shortages.

It was the largest class in Harvard's history and more than half were veterans. The College had dwindled during the war years, and simply could not handle the influx.

In preparations over the summer for the many married veterans who would attend in fall of 1946, Harvard bought and renovated the Hotel Brunswick in Copley Square and a hospital complex in Ayer.

With only weeks left before registration, the University began to receive applications for housing and discovered they there were almost 900 spaces short.

All students within 45 minute traveling time were immediately forced to commute and denied housing.

The Great Flood

Even with these countermeasures, the first years came, and came and came. There were just too many and not enough rooms. Many first years found themselves stranded in Cambridge without the housing they had applied for.

The Crimson reported that on the nights before registration, there were "extra Yard cops being stationed to take in hand bewildered freshman with no place to sleep."

The University housing office "doubled up" wherever it could and squeezed students into dorms at one and a half times their recommended capacity.

Nevertheless, more than 150 students spent their first month bivouacked in the Indoor Athletic Center (now the Malkin Athletic Center), sleeping on surplus Navy cots and making do with what the college provided: one cot, one chair and one ashtray.

One undergraduate anchored a yawl in the Charles as a temporary home.

The administration pushed through with the usual September rituals despite the barracks atmosphere around Harvard. Normal bureaucratic hindrances bloomed into paralyses with the huge number of students.

The line for registration at Memorial Hall stretched past the Littauer Center and students waited hours in the unseasonably hot weather to officially join the College.

At the Coop, waiting students spilled out the door, filled Palmer Street and even snaked around the corner onto Brattle.

Veterans who paid for books and tuition with government money had to put up with even more forms and signatures as they marched back and forth with carbon copies and receipts to the Weld Hall Office of the Counselor for Veterans to process G.I. Bill scholarships.

The University Housing Office worked nights until mid-October in search of a way to squeeze 20 extra men into each House. The administration offered discounts on room and board to students who took on extra roommates and soon nearly all the Houses' generously designed suites were crowded even further over capacity.

In the "halcyon" pre-war years, first years had moved directly into upper-class houses, but as the housing crunch grew to near crisis, all residential upperclassmen were moved out of the Yard and the surrounding dorms into the Houses to clear room for the first year class. The practice of making first-years "Yardlings" continues today.

With these measures, the gymnasium campers were dispersed in time for the first basketball practice, but the crowding problem was still crammed into every part of Harvard.

115 married couples moved into the Hotel Brunswick to find that their post-war life would begin in a one-bedroom apartment with no kitchen and a twin bed.

"This is unfortunate as most people give brides bedclothes for double

beds," said an official of the University Housing Office to the Crimson about the plight of six newlywed couples placed in the hotel.

The 386 families in the Fort Devens community, officially dubbed "Harvardevens" but commonly referred to as "Harvard Colony," fared little better; they had a three hour daily commute from their "Quonset hut" style homes.

But even with more than $1million investments in Fort Devens and Hotel Brunswick, there were still homeless students.

Harvard spent another quarter-million dollars to purchase 200 fiberboard "temporary housing units" from the Federal Public Housing Administration and erect them on any land they could find. Small communities of housing refugees sprang up near the Divinity and Business Schools on tennis courts and previously empty lawns.

On Kirkland Place, a 110-person Quonset hut was constructed and housed new faculty-nursery school teachers for veteran's children. Provost Paul H. Buck made light of the overcrowded facility, saying that the makeshift school had a "waiting list rivaling that of the Committee of Admission of Harvard College."

New-Found Academic Rigor

The housing crisis passed, the Office of the Registrar absorbed the Office of the Counselor for Veterans by March and Harvard then turned its attention to academics.

The war had caused a strange division in the class of 1950. The military men were in their early twenties, mature from their war experiences, often married. The civilian first years were younger than their pre-war counterparts had been. Twenty percent of first years were under 18 when they arrived at Harvard in 1946, and a handful of 15-year olds entered with each post-war class.

An administration concerned about the veterans' family responsibilities and long absences from formal education predicted "a greatly increased number of withdrawals and a higher proportion of low records" with the class of 1946, but found none.

The veterans took advantage of the opportunity Harvard and the G.I. Bill granted to them. The Harvard education, previously barred to many veterans because of economic and social conditions, now was open to them. They had no plans to have their "connection severed" from the University and so worked far harder than anyone foresaw.

The number of forced withdrawal for academic reasons dropped to 2.2 percent from its pre-war averages around 6 percent. Despite their disrupted educations and competition with students from the nation's best preparatory schools, veterans' average marks were as high as those of civilians.

"Our veterans are easily the most experienced, most mature, most serious and hardworking group of students that Harvard has ever seen," said Dean of the College William J. Bender.

The academic success came at a cost-the sacrifice of usual undergraduate revelry.

The seriousness of the returning soldiers coupled with their family obligations took them away from the normal social circles at Harvard. The administration encouraged the veterans to relax, and not without a certain wistfulness, noted a falloff in fun.

"There has been less than the usual amount of disorder and disciplinary problems have been relatively few," said Conant

Intimate Academics?

Although the large classes did well with Harvard academics, Harvard academics suffered under the strain. The huge numbers put considerable stress on University resources. The majority of the returning veterans chose to study the sciences, and lecture halls were filled with hundreds of students, crouching in the aisles and standing against the walls.

The tutorial and advising systems suffered much under the crowding strain. It was under this pressure that the University first began a heavy reliance on teaching fellows and non-faculty advisors.

The College had spent years developing a tutorial system to put students in contact with upper-level faculty for advising and instruction. As more and more first years arrived, teaching fellows were hired to advise at $20 per student. The arrangements threatened the intimate faculty-student relations upon which Harvard prided itself.

Dean Bender called the ad hoc solutions "highly unsatisfactory."

Dean of Freshman Delmar Leighton saw them as necessary sacrifices to the exigencies of the day, but hoped future students would receive more individual treatment during their first year.

"[First year advisers] are the least experienced members of the teaching staff and are not likely to have the knowledge of different fields in which freshman need competent guidance," he said.

"It is my hope that the return of more normal conditions will make it possible to reduce the proportion of inexperienced men on the Board of Freshman Advisers and to…give to Freshman access to their fair share to the experience and wisdom of the whole teaching staff," he continued.

Setting the Size Trend

A return to normalcy never occurred. The College, bloated from the 3,500 students for which it was designed to the 5,300 which it took in 1946, grew even larger in the next few years. Administrators expected the Class of 1950 to undergo "shrinkage" as the veterans simmered in Harvard's crucible, but the veterans' success undid their plans.

The next two entering classes were even larger as Harvard hedged its bets on the Korean War draft, accepting more students than it could handle to compensate in advance for the students it would lose to conscription.

The losses never came, and Bender, looking back on those years, saw the increased enrollment as "a surprising and regrettable fact." In an annual report he lamented the heavy burdens on faculty and facilities and ascribed them to "the continued remarkably low rate of loss of students because of academic failure."

A resilient Harvard accommodated the growing classes. Lamont Library opened in 1949, and the undergraduates entrenched in the overcrowded Widener Library reading rooms left the University libraries for their own.

In many ways, the sudden arrival of those 1645 first years made Harvard College the school it is today. Enrollment jumped from 3,500 to 6,000 that fall, and never came down. (??????????? Did it not decrease in the mid 1950s back to 1,000 students a class?)

The WASP Meets the Westerner

While the embattled gym-dwellers and Quonset huts announced the G.I. Bill's influences on Harvard to any who saw the campus, a more subtle but critical shift occurred. The Class of 1950 was not only huge and half veteran, it was the end of an era.

The entering class showed the diversity that would characterize the College through the second half of the twentieth century as it slowly expanded its admissions from New England preparatory schools to encompass the nation.

A typical pre-war Harvard man was white and Protestant, from New England and prepared at a private school, preferably Exeter, Andover, Groton or St. Paul's.

In the late 1940s, however, President Conant, Dean Bender and Provost Buck began work to make Harvard a national university with a student body that reflected the breadth of American diversity.

Buck described the vision for a new Harvard full of "illogical co-minglings."

"Rich men's sons and poor, serious scholars and frivolous wasters, saints and sinners, puritans and papists, Jews and Gentiles, will meet in her Houses, her Yard and her athletic fields, rubbing off each other's angularities and learning from friendly contact what cannot be learned from books," he said.

Buck was the force behind the movement to draw new blood from the West and South.

His motivations came from a distaste for Harvard students from private schools, whom he described as "delicate, literary types of boys who don't make the grade socially with their better balanced classmates who, in turn, head for Yale or Princeton."

Athletics were the healthy core of an undergraduate life, Buck preached, and slowly turned admissions to his side.

In search of "healthy, extrovert American youth," Buck focused recruitment efforts on the South and West.

The National Scholarship program, temporarily suspended during World War II, was started again as well.

The scholarships focused on specific areas of the country and guaranteed financial aid for students with minimum academic requirements???which are??? (XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX)

The admissions office began sending representatives out on marathon recruitment campaigns. One officer spent months moving westward from Georgia to California, visiting high schools to lure Southerners and Westerners to Harvard. Others went as far as the Alaska and Hawaii territories to bring back students from every part of America.

To support a more economically diverse class, the College raised scholarships to levels unheard of in the pre-war days when Harvard was largely the domain of the wealthy.

From 1946 to 1950, scholarship allocations jumped $221,080 to $507,471.

President Conant bemoaned the lack of jobs for students while the University employed thousands of part-time laborers. Conant went from department to department demanding that students be hired for part-time work and started the now-common practice of part-time undergraduate employment.

Exeter vs. the Public Schools

The administrative push for more economic and social diversity drastically changed the nature of the College.

In 1948, for the first time in Harvard's history, high school students outnumbered preparatory school students.

During those four years, tradition was upended-three fifths of Harvard came from private schools when the Class of 1950 entered, and when it left, three fifths came from public schools.

Harvard's effort south of the Mason-Dixon Line and west of the Appalachians paid off, displacing Harvard's long status as a regional, New England college.

Enrollments from the Pacific region tripled and those from the South nearly doubled.

And the public school boys shared a trait with the veterans-academic success.

While more than 40 percent of students from public schools made Dean's list in those years, only 20 percent of students from private schools did so.

The scholarships and public school recruitment were important to Harvard's administration as they culled the most promising young intellectuals from around the country to maintain Harvard's reputation for intellectual prowess.

"Our scholarship policy opens the door of opportunity at Harvard to those boys of inferior economic status who are at the very top in academic performance but does not reach down very far below the highest level in those terms," said Dean of Freshman Leighton.

Buck, in his attempts to counterbalance the more introverted, private school "floppy ducklings," as he called them, advocated digging deeper into the public schools and his initiatives have slowly developed into Harvard's present dense web of recruitment with more than 6,000 actively recruiting alumni.

Yesterday and Today

Despite the advances it made in the late 1940s toward geographical and social diversity, Harvard was still an almost entirely white, Christian school.

The college had only begun to fully integrate Jewish students and offered admission to only a handful of blacks each year.

The imperative for inclusion that began with the Class of 1950 was extended over the next decade as Harvard grew to reflect an ethnically diverse America.

Those first years who wandered Harvard Yard in search of a cot were the largest and most diverse class Harvard had ever taken.

The pressure of so many students brought Harvard to its modern size and shape and the many backgrounds of those students brought Harvard the color of diversity.

The Class of 1950, with a disastrous beginning and an auspicious end, saw Harvard across the half-century and into its modern state.

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