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National Perspective | Education

End of an Era: Harvard and Radcliffe Now Officially One

April 21, 1999|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIME STAFF WRITER

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Ending a 120-year tradition, Radcliffe College was officially subsumed Tuesday into the larger fold of Harvard University.

Reports of Radcliffe's impending demise had circulated for more than a decade, so the move came as little surprise in academic or alumnae circles. Officials at Radcliffe immediately put a positive spin on the merger, insisting that the institution was not dead, but rather, reborn as the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

"This exciting plan is a natural progression in Radcliffe's history," declared Nancy-Beth Gordon Sheerr, chairman of the Radcliffe College Board of Trustees.

Founded in 1879 under the undistinguished name of the Harvard Annex, the school was reincorporated three years later as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women. In 1894, it became Radcliffe College, named for Ann Radcliffe, who established Harvard's first scholarship in 1643.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 5, 1999 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Radcliffe College--An April 21 Times story about Radcliffe College incorrectly stated that only three of the "Seven Sisters" colleges remain all-female. In fact, five of the schools (Smith, Wellesley, Mt. Holyoke, Bryn Mawr and Barnard) are still all-female.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 14, 1999 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Radcliffe College--An April 21 Times article about Radcliffe College stated that under the terms of its merger with Harvard, the Radcliffe endowment would grow to more than $200 million. In fact, contributions from Harvard will bring the endowment to $350 million.

For the better part of this century, Radcliffe reigned as the crown jewel of higher education for women. Upon graduation, said Los Angeles lawyer Lucy Tuchman Eisenberg, Radcliffe '61, "our goal was to be engaged. It really was."

The winds of change whispered softly across the all-brick campus adjacent to Harvard University in 1963, when Radcliffe seniors began to receive Harvard degrees signed by both presidents.

But even in that recent, if antediluvian era, Radcliffe remained an elite island in time. Pasadena banker Nehama Jacobs enrolled in 1970, only to find herself assigned to bell's duty in her dorm. This meant staffing the front desk, screening visits by men. "Miss So-and-So?" Jacobs would call up to the student's room. "Mr. So-and-So is in the lobby to see you."

As Jacobs observed, "Even then, there was a little disconnect between the quaintness of Radcliffe and the enormous cultural changes that were going on around it."

In 1975, the two schools established a joint admissions office, and quotas on the number of women admitted to Harvard were removed. It was at this same time that such men's colleges as Yale, Dartmouth and Princeton began to admit women, making the Ivy League a fully coeducational experience.

Women's colleges returned the favor, and of the original Seven Sister schools--of which Radcliffe was one--only Smith, Wellesley and Mt. Holyoke Colleges have remained all-female. They number among about 80 all women's colleges nationally, including Mills College in Oakland.

Emphasis on Study of Women, Gender

Under the merger agreement with Harvard, Radcliffe President Linda S. Wilson will be replaced by former Smith College President Mary Maples Dunn as interim dean of the new institute. Although interdisciplinary in nature, the institute will emphasize the study of women, gender and society and will offer nondegree educational programs.

The Radcliffe endowment also will grow by $150 million, to more than $200 million. The endowment of Harvard University currently stands at about $13 billion.

As an alumna from the days when she and her classmates were known as Cliffies, Eisenberg said she welcomed the change.

"In terms of what we have all been pushing toward, which is to give women the same opportunities as men, is there any longer any reason that we need a special, self-enclosed piece of farmland to do that?" she asked.

Noting that Radcliffe "lost its independence 20 years ago," Jacobs said, "the burial is finally coming 20 years after the funeral service."

Still, she greeted the merger with mixed feelings.

"In a way we've won, because we now officially have full and equal access to a Harvard education," she said. "But in a way we lost something, too. We lost a separate, and cherished and valued identity and strong voice."

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