I plan next weekend to visit Cambridge for the first time in several years. I have been back to neighboring Boston a few times since my graduation from Harvard in June 1981, and have even tramped through Cambridge’s Harvard Yard with various friends and acquaintances over the years, remembering dining halls and library stacks and coffee shops and seminar rooms (there I listened to Lillian Hellman or there I heard a lecture on Milton that changed my sense of the possibilities of poetry for life or in that projection room I saw Philadelphia Story five times in three days and cemented a lifetime love for Katharine Hepburn). This trip with my husband I will be able to show him the theatre (the Loeb Drama Center) where I spend many hours on student productions before the institution was transformed into the American Repertory Theatre, and other points of pleasure. At a remove of almost 30 years, the shards and mists of memory are varied and differently arrayed than in the past.
At the cross roads of two traditions, two institutions, one an offshoot of the other, twins birthed in separate centuries (Harvard founded in 1642, Radcliffe founded as the “Harvard Annex” in 1879 with instruction of women by Harvard faculty and chartered as Radcliffe in 1894) I attended Harvard-Radcliffe during the years of a merged admissions office and a certain confusion over which school controlled the men and women scholars in attendance. In the late 1970s-early 1980s there remained a President of Harvard (male) and a President of Radcliffe (female) and both signed the diplomas of the women graduates, who were in the end graduates after 1977 of Harvard College. It took some 20 plus years more for the corporate and alumni groups to establish a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study (so the name still lives) and clarify that women and men were now attending one college and graduating from that one college, holding the same diploma. And within the past two years for the first time the President of Harvard University is a woman. Ah, what we’ve witnessed.
I have had faculty in graduate school look at me (in the early 1990s) and tell me to “be proud of my school” when I said I graduated from Harvard, when they presumed for me to think that I was shading my own truth, not acknowledging my own diploma. Their own ignorance of the morphing identify of Radcliffe and of Harvard led them to presume that I was not proud of my foremothers, and that I claimed an affiliation that I hadn’t earned. How dare they. Ah, Harvard. Ah Radcliffe. Ah the memories of thrill and fear, of exhilaration and insufficiency, of intellectual splendor and intellectual collapse.
During my final two years as an undergraduate I sang second alto in the Radcliffe Choral Society (see http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/rcs/index.html), an amazing single sex chorus among the single and mixed sex choruses on campus. One of my cherished memories was singing a capella with these sweet voices the Radcliffe alma mater. This tune, these lyrics, is a piece of the past, of a world of the Seven Sisters. The romance of the Ivy League, and an education I have never ever regretted, for all its pain and pleasures.
So as a daughter of Radcliffe and a graduate of Harvard, I sometimes raise my solo voice in song, in this song. For the young woman I was and the now aging woman I am, full of hope and promise and a liberal arts brain that skitters hither and thither and sometimes still finds great inspiration. I hardly know the Harvard alma mater (“Fair Harvard”) but these other sweet words and the accompanying charming tune continue to enchant and entertain. Pride and solemnity in equal measure — of a bit of sisterly history that was recent history when I occupied student quarters in Harvard Yard, and is further receding into the distant past every day.
Radcliffe, Now We Rise to Greet TheeRadcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,Alma Mater, hail to thee!All our hearts are one in singingOf our love and loyalty.We have learn’d to know each otherIn thy light, which clearly beams,Thou hast been a kindly Mother,Great fulfiller of our dreams.Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,Alma Mater, hail to thee!Alma Mater, give thy daughtersEach a spark from Truth’s pure flame;Let them when they leave thy altarsKindle others in thy name.For our strength and joy in living,Love and praise to thee belong;Thou whose very life is giving,From thy daughters take a song.Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,Alma Mater, hail to thee!Words by Floretta Elmore, Class of 1909Music by Emily Coolidge, Class of 1908
For the lyrics of both Radcliffe and Harvard alma maters, see: http://radcliffe61.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=27