Alums Remember Harvard's Co-Residential Merge

During her time in Adams House, Nancy Stieber ’71 would take the sheet off her bed and hang it up on her wall every few weeks to show films for her male and female friends.

“People would just pour in. Our living room would be filled,” Stieber said of gatherings she hosted after Harvard and Radcliffe merged some of their residential houses.

“It was inconceivable before that switch,” she said.

Stieber was one of several Harvard and Radcliffe alumni who shared memories of the 1970 co-ed residential merger at a gender history exhibit in Pforzheimer House on Wednesday night. The merger brought the men of Harvard and the women of Radcliffe to live in the same Houses for the first time in the institutions' history.

In February 1970, 159 Harvard men moved into Radcliffe’s North, East, and West dorms, transfers which allowed the first generation of Radcliffe women to move into Winthrop, Lowell, and Adams houses.

Wednesday night’s exhibit featured student handbooks, yearbooks, photographs, and other documents dating back to 1906.

Spearheaded by Harvard College Women’s Center intern Suzanna E. H. Bobadilla ’13 and Pforzheimer House Committee Chair Matthew S. Chuchul ’13, the one-night exhibit was a component of the pair’s larger project to investigate Pforzheimer House’s history—a pursuit inspired by Harvard’s 375th anniversary festivities.

After proposing the exhibit this past November, Bobadilla and Chuchul spent several weeks in January poring over archives in Schlesinger Library.

Bobadilla said that she decided to focus the exhibit on the co-residential merger because the historical moment resonated with her personally.

“It’s hard to imagine having a whole segment of the population not be around you all the time,” said Bobadilla.

Pforzheimer Co-House Master Erika L. Christakis ’86 praised the exhibit, saying it shed light on an important event in her House’s history that needed to be better documented.

“I thought Pfoho in particular really needed to have its history told,” Christakis said. “We don’t have the really obvious signifiers of history the way some of the River Houses have pictures of old people on their walls and dusty books.”

Though some panelists said the co-residential merger was a milestone for gender equality at Harvard College, others recalled the era as a time of tense gender relations.

“There are guys in my class who never dated a Radcliffe student,” panelist Meryl L. Stowbridge ’71 said. “I remember hearing about one Radcliffe girl who went down to a mixer at Lowell House and introduced herself to the guy she was dancing with, and he said, ‘You couldn’t be a 'Cliffie, a 'Cliffie wouldn’t stoop that low.’”

—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached a