WOMANLESS HISTORY As a recipient of a generation's worth of alumni mailings, I've known in an intuitive way that Harvard as an institution has a...
As a recipient of a generation's worth of alumni mailings, I've known in an intuitive way that Harvard as an institution has a blind spot about women ("Harvard's Womanless History," November-December 1999, page 50). As parent of a current Harvard freshwoman, I've been concerned that a college which is so much the right place for my daughter might subject her to the invisibility treatment author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich summarizes, and the particularly devilish damage it can do. I thank Ulrich for providing solid anchors for my impressions and concerns. Her remarks about protecting maleness, about the habit of recognizing women only as "firsts," and especially about the difficulty of fitting women into "an already established and overflowing narrative" (terrific phrase) help me in understanding how Harvard tolerates and even encourages the invisibility of women. It is a puzzle how a place which prides itself on excellence in incisive, probing thought could exhibit such an extended history of inattention.
Robert H. Knapp Jr. '66
To me the most remarkable aspect of Ulrich's account is the absence of any evidence of legal action to enforce equal educational rights for women at Harvard based on the Constitution.
In 1967 the Central Virginia Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, of which I was cofounder, was established in Charlottesville. Its first major item of business, in 1969, was to file a lawsuit against the University of Virginia to make it fully coeducational. Women were already allowed in the graduate schools, but they had been barred from the College of Arts and Sciences since Jefferson founded the university.
A judicial decision in 1970 produced a result that was quick and even more satisfying than had been anticipated. Today, women outnumber men in the college, and although it would be naive to say male dominance is a thing of the past, it is clear that legal action is a powerful and straightforward remedy for what ails those preserves in our society that are gratuitously gender-exclusive.
Lawrence Cranberg, A.M. '40
Ulrich rightly states that the history of women at Harvard is dimly understood by the present-day University community. I'm not sure, however, that she is right to say that my book Harvard Observed "gives short shrift to Radcliffe." To support that claim, she asserts that the book says nothing about Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, Radcliffe's first president, and has "no citations at all for Radcliffe's early presidents except for LeBaron Russell Briggs --who is identified in several places as a faculty member and dean, but never as president of Radcliffe College." Mrs. Agassiz and Dean Briggs were in fact the only "early presidents," and I made no mention of the former because her late-nineteenth-century presidency fell just outside the purview of my book (subtitled An Illustrated History of the University in the Twentieth Century). If Professor Ulrich will now turn to page 19, she will find there, "As dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 1902 to 1925, Briggs chaired most of its major committees. For much of that time he was also president of Radcliffe College...." All told, I'm satisfied with the degree of detail with which Harvard Observed describes the evolution of Radcliffe's nexus with Harvard, tracing the forces that produced the inception of joint classes in 1943 and of coresidence almost three decades later.
Among the appealing photographs gracing Ulrich's essay is one of the 1930 women's swim team, with a somewhat misleading caption [by the editors]. "Like Gertrude Stein, A.B. 1898," it reads, "all these women took the same courses as Harvard men." The truth, alas, is that few upper-level courses were offered to Radcliffe students until joint instruction took hold in the 1940s.
As wayward as the institutional misogyny of the Eliot, Lowell, and Conant eras may appear today, Harvard College was the first major all-male institution to derive a workable educational formula to accommodate women. And though Radcliffe students have historically faced many forms of discrimination and unfairness, there's much anecdotal research to show that women were often slighted at fully coeducational institutions like Cornell, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania, and at other institutions with coordinate colleges, like Columbia and Brown. Until 1969, of course, intelligent and ambitious young women who might have aspired to follow their fathers or brothers to such fine institutions as Yale and Princeton (Dartmouth held out until 1972) were peremptorily advised to look elsewhere.
Finally, the unhappy fact is that President Charles W. Eliot --whose seemingly unenlightened views on women's education are cited in Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz's "The Great Debate," accompanying the Ulrich essay--really had a point when he declared in 1899 that "the so-called learned professions are very imperfectly open to women...and society, as a whole, has not made up its mind in what intellectual fields women may be safely and profitably employed on a large scale." Society, as a whole, would need more than half a century to make up its mind on that one, and Harvard's most prominent graduate and professional schools did nothing to aid the thought process. When its business school opened, in 1908, women weren't allowed to apply because American industry was perceived to have no use for females at the executive level. Shamefully, the faculty of the Medical School refused to teach women until 1945. The School of Business Administration finally deigned to accept women M.B.A. candidates in 1949; the Law School faculty held out until 1950.
Now that's waywardness.
John T. Bethell '54
Ulrich deftly confronts deeply comfortable ways of seeing and remembering history. The very term "humanities," invoked so easily in our education, obscured its focus largely on studies of the 'manities--as in the Barker Center for the 'Manities.
Would others rate this essay as I do: one of the highest-impact pieces ever in Harvard Magazine?
Christopher L. Lowenberg '61
The "photomontage" on the cover, showing a composite of four Radcliffe classes, is arresting but not comprehensible. You should have identified it as a doctored photograph on the cover, and not just somewhere inside in fine print.
James S. Doyle, Nf '65
It was delightful to see myself some 63 years ago on your womanless-Harvard cover [far right, second from bottom, in a dark shirt] in a group of Whitman Hall residents of the class of '37--manless. My children and two of my grandchildren-- all Harvard grads--enjoyed it, too.
Reva N. Paisner '37
In his "Practice and Perfection" (November-December 1999, page 35), Daniel Delgado raises anew the perennial debate over the proper vehicle for realizing Baroque harpsichord works. I could not help but recall an amusing and altogether zeitgeistlich episode from my Harvard years. In 1968, serving as resident tutor in music at Quincy House, I invited an old Juilliard classmate, Susan Halligan, to play the Goldberg Variations on the piano in the Quincy House Arts Festival. Those who attended her concert must have been flabbergasted to be presented at the door a protesting flyer, a copy of which I piously preserve to this day among my Harvard memorabilia. "I firmly believe," writes the undergraduate author, "that an artistic crime will be committed here tonight. Bach is being libelled, and I cannot commit the crime of watching this pass unnoticed." After fulminating at some length he concludes, deftly, "The Goldberg Variations remains: CLAVIERUEBUNG bestehend in einer ARIA mit verschiedenen Veraenderungen vors Clavicimbel mit 2 Manualen."
Ferdinand Gajewski, Ph.D. '80
"Window on darkness" (November-December 1999, page 19) provides a fine introduction to astronomy and to the Chandra X-ray Observatory, but the statement that the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A "lies far beyond the range of the human eye" is misleading. Cas A is not detectable by the human eye because it is faint and because it radiates primarily in x-rays rather than in visible light, and not because it is distant. Indeed, on fall nights I often glance at the sky and look for the Andromeda Galaxy, which is 250 times as far away as Cassiopeia A. At a distance of 2.5 million light years, the Andromeda Galaxy is commonly considered to be the farthest object visible to the naked eye.
Christopher W. Kita '72
Professor William Julius Wilson says ("Focus on Research," November-December 1999, page 48) that welfare reform might start to hurt people if the economy turns bad. For example, he says, "If we're in an economic downturn, we could even see a situation in which the homeless population would include not just individuals, but whole families."
Guess what? That time is already here. In San Francisco this September, local housing activists held a press conference to introduce Elizabeth Washington and George Thompson, parents who said their children had been taken away from them for "chronic homelessness" after the city and city-funded nonprofit agencies had repeatedly failed to help them find permanent housing. By "permanent housing," they meant a hotel room. Not an apartment. A room. All they were asking for was a chance to keep the room they had occupied for three weeks in the bug- and drug-infested King Hotel, with a communal bathroom down the hall.
This is in San Francisco, where the economy is allegedly booming. Out here the rising tide didn't lift all the boats--it just lifted all the rents. We're left with 14,000 people homeless in a town that has fewer than 2,000 shelter beds for all purposes, including families, youth, and domestic-violence refugees [see "Cities and Suburbs," page 52].
Does Wilson really think "welfare reform" hasn't begun to bite? He points out quite rightly that President Clinton could have done better. It might be more accurate to point out that Clinton helped to undo the New Deal, and with it 60 years of progress toward a civilized society.
Martha Bridegam '89
HILARIOUS, SHOCKING CARTOON
Charles addams's cartoon in "Right to the Point" (November-December 1999, page 41) of the cannibal mother with her tiny, potbellied son, addressing her concerns to the witch doctor--"I'm worried about him, Doctor. He won't eat anybody" --is probably the most wildly hilarious cartoon I've ever seen.
Stuart D. Edwards, C '41
New York City
I was shocked and dismayed to see the inclusion of Addams's blatantly racist cartoon. The article shows various cartoons from the New Yorker over the century and states that many of them are not politically correct. As an African-American alumnus, I found the cartoon about African cannibals to be particularly offensive. What made me angry enough to write this letter was the author's description of the cartoon as having timeless, universal appeal. I would hope that no Harvard alumni would find this kind of cartoon appealing and wish to see it included in a magazine that represents the University.
Jonathan DuBois Dubin, M.D. '83
Editor's note: The offending text stated: "...our stereotypes are different from those of 1943 when Charles Addams drew his African cannibal--although her anxiety about her child, the finicky eater, which gave the cartoon its appeal, is timeless and universal."
CONSERVATIVES ON HARVARD
I commend the editors for their courage in publishing Janet Tassel's refreshingly honest critique of Harvard's apparently repressive political orthodoxy ("The 30 Years' War," September-October 1999, page 56). It is unusual to hear arguments from any source in support of such old-fashioned ideas as personal responsibility, and read words such as "patriotism," "virtue," and "merit" that are neither italicized nor disparaged. We need more faculty like Professor Harvey Mansfield [right] and more articles like this one.
Donald E. Farrar '54, Ph.D. '61
Tassel aptly commences by noting the chagrin with which University luminaries viewed student upheavals of the late 1960s. Playing Edmund Burke to SDS's Tom Paine, Tassel's "traditionalists" characterize the collegiate militancy of that era as "a devastating catastrophe," "a tragic disaster," et cetera. As an unrepentant participant in said catastrophic disaster, I offer the following thoughts on these matters.
The driving forces of American student unrest in the late sixties were opposition to the Vietnam War and agitation for civil rights for African Americans. What did the traditionalists give us--young people looking for values and guidance as well as knowledge--on this score? From my perspective as a then-graduate student, who switched from the study of European history to the history of American race relations (and became a civil rights lawyer), the answer is: not much.
At the time of the "dismantling of the Committee on Afro-American Studies" chaired by Professor Henry Rosovsky, who we are told styles the event "an academic Munich," there was a single tenured African-American professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (Martin Kilson). To his credit, Rosovsky had volunteered to bail out the University only the year before by agreeing to chair the Committee on Afro-American Studies, whose demise he lamented the following year. The creation of the committee was itself a response to student unrest and demands for such a curriculum.
The University's acquiescence in some student demands proved counterproductive. Yet probably the most significant of these--student monitoring of the new Afro-American studies department--pales in comparison to the consequences of the traditionalists' actions and inactions over prior decades on issues of race.
As a white person readily vetted by student advisers to join the initial instructional staff of the Afro-American studies department (as a tutor), I can testify that Tassel's "student monitors," like the students enrolled in the department, were for the most part as reasonable as they were "right on." Mostly, they wanted teachers who could help them learn an important subject that theretofore had been utterly ignored at Harvard.
The traditionalists who then ran the school had long ignored the academic interests of the students who, by the late 1960s, were agitating for the study of Afro-American affairs. When the traditionalists decided, rather in a panic, to act, they could field a pick-up team at best, including the likes of me, a recent transfer to the field motivated by the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Harvard would not hire emerging scholars of uncertain academic pedigree, while other scholars with established credentials declined to bail out an institution that had given them the cold shoulder for years. It was widely rumored that John Hope Franklin [Ph.D. '41, LL.D. '81], dean of African-American historians and then chairman of the history department at Chicago, had turned a deaf ear to Harvard's plea that he chair its new department. It took years for the academic leadership of the department to gain academic respectability. In this regard, Harvard reaped what its traditionalist leadership had sown over several decades.
The editors take special pleasure in conferring this year's Smith-Weld Prize on a prolific writer for Harvard Magazine, now a contributing editor, Janet Tassel. The prize, carrying a $1,000 award, honors the memories of A. Calvert Smith '14, formerly associate editor of the magazine, secretary to Harvard's governing boards, and executive assistant to President James Bryant Conant; and of newspaperman Philip S. Weld '36, former president of the magazine, who particularly advocated thought-provoking journalism concerning the University. We recognize Tassel for "The 30 Years' War," her September-October 1999 cover feature about Harvard conservatives. Readers continue to debate the article in letters to the editor (see page 6). We could as easily have recognized the excellence of any of Tassel's prior pieces, ranging from a profile of Porter University Professor Helen Vendler to a report on the archaeological exploration of Sardis. For a current sample of her work, on a scholar of music--one of her special interests--please turn to page 52.
Richard C. Marius, a friend to this magazine, died November 5 of pancreatic cancer. He was 66. An obituary appears on page 96P.
Marius was a scholar and teacher, a biographer of Thomas More and Martin Luther, and the author of a series of novels evoking his native Tennessee from the traumas of the Civil War to the 1950s. When he learned that he was ill, he said he hoped he could finish the fourth in the series. Publication is expected in 2000.
Marius, who had been an editorial adviser of Harvard Magazine, became a contributing editor and its regular books columnist with the issue of January-February 1986 and served in that capacity for almost a decade, through May-June 1995. In his first column, he reviewed six disparate books, including a novel he did not like. "I read it twice, trying to puzzle it out. But why bother? It is a book of half-completed sentences, of uninteresting people talking without listening, making abominable noise without hearing, a turbulence of disagreeable and tormented souls moving in a hellish half-light toward a childish ending, leaving no satisfaction behind...." Marius, on the other hand, left abundant satisfaction behind.
"He had a Renaissance reach," says a friend, "yet his erudition never got in the way of his fellowship." Another recalled, "An expansive personality, a gifted raconteur with a jaunty aspect, devoted to bow ties and bicycling, Marius cut a wide swath whether in faculty common rooms and Boston clubs, or in his beloved France."
He was the former director of Harvard's expository writing program, and more than 30,000 freshmen were acquainted with the rigors of college-level writing during his tenure there. The last piece he wrote for this magazine, printed in the July-August 1998 issue, was a "Vita" about Saint Fiacre, a medieval monk in France who became the patron saint of gardeners. "If he does not help with the digging and the heavy lifting, he can at least grant patience and persistence in labor that is never done," wrote Marius, who had these virtues himself and commended them to his students. "His blessings are welcomed by those who love springtime and planting, summer, and harvest, the smell of turned earth, and the joy of a flowering land." ~ C.R.
A news item about the closing of the Harvard Cyclotron Laboratory (November-December 1999, page 87) cited work done in that facility by Harvard physicists, "among them Edward M. Purcell, now Gade University Professor emeritus...." In fact, Professor Purcell died on March 7, 1997.
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