I visited the Harvard Club of New York City for the first time this week. Had a lovely long conversation with Spence Porter of the New York chapter of Harvardwood, the arts-related Harvard alumni group that sponsored the Iva Withers event I wrote about a week or os ago. A few lingering hours at the Club at 27 West 44th Street surrounded by paintings of Club presidents (including one by John Singer Sargent) and a copy of a painting of Theodore Roosevelt, and many other dead white men. Leather chairs, rich warm wood panels, a several-story high “great room”, corners in which well-dressed men and women sit, mostly silently, quietly reading papers and books.
After our chats about exciting upcoming events and events past (because that’s what I do, ask questions, get context) — Spence gave me a short tour of the facilities. Up the wonderful main staircase (one image on that climb featured below revealing more mounted dead animal heads on display), library facilities, a tea room where one can use laptops and dress a bit less formally. Because I am a woman of Harvard and lived through one era of its gender integration, inspired by the sight of yet another group of quietly chatting men in business suits, followed by a pair of athletic younger women with squash rackets in bags who have clearly just used the athletic facilities upstairs, I ask about the history of gender admissions to the club. (Ah, the history of Radcliffe merging/morphing into the source material from which it originally sprang — recall that in its initial years Radcliffe’s all woman-ness was called “the Harvard Annex” and the curriculum initially consisted of Harvard professors trudging to a different location and delivering their course content a second time to young women segregated in different classrooms on a different campus up the street from Harvard Yard.) “How long has it been that women have been allowed into the Club as members?”. My host guessed that it was sometime in the 1980s. Before that time, he explained, women who were guests of male members in the Club entered by the main door, sidled over to the cloak room, came up a back stairway, emerged on an upper floor and scurried across the hallway (so as not to violate the delicate sensibilities of the aged gentlemen lurking about I suppose) to join their hosts in an upstairs dining room.
Ah, symbols of so much. All I can do at the moment is sigh. And smile at the memory of a particular young woman from Western Michigan who approached the campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts with exhilaration and anxiety. In equal measure. For each of the four years I was in residence.
- for more on Harvardwood: http://www.harvardwood.org/
- for more on the Harvard Club of New York City http://www.hcny.com/