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During the first few reunions of the Class of 1973, some alumnae posed for two class photos: one for Harvard College and another for Radcliffe College. But at every Radcliffe photo opportunity, Margaret V. Sachs ’73 declined.
“I would never join the Radcliffe picture,” Sachs said. “It was unthinkable for me that I would join such a picture.”
The women of the Class of 1973 stand at a turning point in the University’s history.
“We were all admitted to Radcliffe, but graduated from Harvard,” Deborah N. Hendler ’73 said. “Right there, we encapsulate the tension and the question.”
Though it wasn’t until 1999 that Radcliffe officially merged with Harvard — with the former becoming the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study — the decades that preceded the official merger saw a series of hard-fought wins for female students at the University.
In 1946, Harvard’s classes became co-ed. Nearly two decades later, in 1963, Harvard began awarding Radcliffe students diplomas for the first time. In 1975, Harvard and Radcliffe merged their admissions, which then went “sex-blind” two years later.
In an unofficial merger move, the Class of 1973 saw co-ed living introduced during the spring of their first year. The decision resulted in an exchange — some male students moved up to inhabit Radcliffe housing, today known as the Quad — while some female students moved down to the river Houses.
During her first year, Cleora J. D’Arcy ’73 lived in Holmes Hall, a portion of Pforzheimer House. D’Arcy said the eight men who moved in became a “very integral part of Holmes Hall.”
“They knew everybody and they were a very positive influence,” she said. “For me, it was like having a bunch of brothers that moved in.”
As D’Arcy and others recalled, the men who moved to the Radcliffe Quadrangle were surprised by the dormitory rules, including bell hours. Students rotated shifts sitting in the front office of the residence hall, where they called residents upstairs to announce visitors.
D’Arcy, who served as bell captain, remembered dealing with one reluctant student.
“My now-husband, the first words he ever said to me were ‘Why do guys have to do bells?’” D’Arcy said, laughing. “And I said, ‘Because you’re living in this dorm now.’”
In addition to bell hours, residents of Radcliffe Quad had parietal rules. Men could not enter women’s rooms after a certain hour, and the women themselves had curfews of 11 p.m.
“There was a pretty paternalistic system in place with a lot of rules,” Laurel P. Northup ’73 said.
But in the fall of Northup’s freshman year, her residence hall decided to end these restrictions during a dorm meeting.
“At the very first one we elected a governing body and we voted collectively to abolish the parietal rules,” Northup said.
Even with these steps and the unofficial merger the following spring, life for female students on campus was not without its challenges. Women were not allowed to eat or use the libraries in the river Houses, though men were welcome in their dining halls and libraries.
“We either had to go back to Radcliffe to eat, or they began packing us lunches and we still had to find a place to eat them,” Helen “Holly” Weeks ’73 said.
Like they did for meals, women squeezed in bike rides to the Radcliffe Quad between classes to use the restroom, as there were no women’s restrooms in the Yard.
“There was so much not factored in,” Weeks said. “I would not have said that then. This is hindsight saying, ‘Yeah, they never really took us as human beings into account.’”
Looking back on her college experience, Sachs also recognized the challenges of living in Radcliffe and said she had “no nostalgia” for Radcliffe, calling it a “hindrance” that only served to “siphon us off from the mainstream of the College experience.”
“Radcliffe held us back,” she said. “Radcliffe accomplished nothing. It was there only because institutions exist to perpetuate themselves.”
“I take a very dim view of women’s auxiliary, and it seems to me that’s what Radcliffe was — and remains, to the extent that any vestige of it remains,” she added.
Despite the slow merger of the two colleges, Marian B. Schwartz ’73 proudly owned her status as a Radcliffe student. When she met other women who graduated from the College in the ’90s, she recalled, they had “zero Radcliffe identity.”
“I thought it was sort of a loss,” Schwartz said.
D’Arcy echoed Schwartz’s feelings about Radcliffe’s reputation. “It’s more of a feather in your cap to say that you went to Radcliffe, because it was harder to get into,” she said, laughing.
Fifty years after graduation, Weeks emphasized the role women played in fighting for their place at Harvard.
“It hasn’t always been the way it is,” Weeks said. “The women’s contribution and getting to where we are is underestimated. It’s taken out of context — and that’s the context.”
—Staff writer Jade Lozada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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