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Radcliffe College

Radcliffe College was a women's liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the coordinate college for Harvard University. It was also one of the Seven Sisters colleges. Radcliffe College conferred joint Harvard-Radcliffe diplomas beginning in 1963 and a formal merger agreement with Harvard was signed in 1977, with full integration with Harvard completed in 1999. Today, Radcliffe's campus functions as a research institute within Harvard, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and former Radcliffe student housing has been incorporated as residential houses of Harvard College.


The "Harvard Annex," a private program for the instruction of women by Harvard faculty, was founded in 1879 after prolonged efforts by women to gain access to Harvard. Arthur Gilman, banker, philanthropist and writer, and son of Winthrop Gilman, was the founder of Radcliffe College.

Ada Comstock, a leader in women in higher education from University of Minnesota & Smith College was the first president. Backed by the Woman's Education Association of Boston and led by a committee of women managers, the Annex was incorporated in 1882 as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, with Elizabeth Cary Agassiz as president. Agassiz and the WEA hoped that by raising an endowment they would convince Harvard to take on the work of educating women. The university however, resisted. In 1904, a popular historian wrote of its genesis: " set up housekeeping in two unpretending rooms in the Appian Way, Cambridge.... Probably in all the history of colleges in America there could not be found a story so full of colour and interest as that of the beginning of this woman's college. The bathroom of the little house was pressed into service as a laboratory for physics, students and instructors alike making the best of all inconveniences. Because the institution was housed with a private family, generous mothering was given to the girls when they needed it.

It was chartered as Radcliffe College by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1894 (the Boston Globe reported "President of Harvard To Sign Parchments of the Fair Graduates"). It is named for Lady Ann Mowlson, born Radcliffe, who established the first scholarship at Harvard in 1643. The first president was Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, widow of Harvard professor Louis Agassiz. Radcliffe built its own campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from that of Harvard.

By 1896, the Globe could headline a story: "Sweet Girls. They Graduate in Shoals at Radcliffe. Commencement Exercises at Sanders Theatre. Galleries Filled with Fair Friends and Students. Handsome Mrs. Agassiz Made Fine Address. Pres Eliot Commends the Work of the New Institution." The Globe said "Eliot stated that the percentage of graduates with distinction is much higher at Radcliffe than at Harvard" and that "although it is to yet to be seen whether the women have the originality and pioneering spirit which will fit them to be leaders, perhaps they will when they have had as many generations of thorough education as men.

During World War II, Harvard and Radcliffe signed an agreement which allowed women to attend classes at Harvard for the first time, officially beginning joint instruction in 1943. From 1963, Radcliffe students received Harvard diplomas signed by the presidents of Radcliffe and Harvard, and joint commencement exercises began in 1970. The same year, several Harvard and Radcliffe dormitories began swapping students experimentally, and in 1972 full co-residence was instituted. The schools' departments of athletics merged shortly thereafter.

In 1977, Harvard and Radcliffe signed an agreement which put undergraduate women entirely in Harvard College, maintaining for them only a nominal enrollment in Radcliffe College. In practice most of the energies of Radcliffe (which remained an autonomous institution) were devoted to its other initiatives, such as the Bunting fellowship program, rather than to female undergraduates. During this time, the Harvard undergraduate community and class was officially known as "Harvard and Radcliffe" or "Harvard-Radcliffe", and female students continued to be awarded degrees signed by both presidents, even though Radcliffe usually had little to no impact on the average undergraduate's experience at the university.

On October 1, 1999, this arrangement came to an end, as Radcliffe College was finally fully absorbed into Harvard University; female undergraduates were henceforward members only of Harvard College while Radcliffe College evolved into the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Today the Radcliffe Institute awards dozens of annual fellowships to prominent academics. Its Schlesinger Library is one of America's largest repositories of manuscripts and archives relating to the history of women.

Several undergraduate student organizations in Harvard College still refer to Radcliffe in their names, (for example the Radcliffe Union of Students, Harvard's feminist organization, Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra, Radcliffe Choral Society, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players). Two athletic teams still compete under the Radcliffe name: varsity crew, which still rows with Radcliffe's black-and-white oarblades and uniforms instead of Harvard's crimson-and-white (in 1973 the team had been the only varsity team which voted not to adopt the Harvard name); and club rugby union. In addition, the Harvard University Band still plays a Radcliffe fight song.

Notable alumnae and list of presidents

A number of Radcliffe alumnae have gone on to become notable in their respective fields such as authors Gertrude Stein, Margaret Atwood, the late Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, deafblind author and activist Helen Keller, and actress Stockard Channing.

Popular culture

  • All About Eve: The film's script references Radcliffe twice: Once, when Margo (Bette Davis) says to Karen (Celeste Holm), "Please don't play governess, Karen. I haven't your unyielding good taste. I wish I could have gone to Radcliffe too, but father wouldn't hear of it. He needed help behind the notions counter. I'm being rude now, aren't I? Or should I say, ain't I?"; and again, as Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe) tells Karen, "That bitter cynicism of yours is something you've acquired since you left Radcliffe!," Karen replying, "The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys!"
  • The 1970 movie, "Love Story", based on the Erich Segal novel, features Jenny Cavilleri (Ali McGraw) as a Radcliffe music student who falls in love with Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal), a wealthy Harvard student.
  • "The Woody Allen movie Manhattan includes a pedantic character who attended Radcliffe.
  • "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can": an episode of The Simpsons where Lisa Simpson is tempted by the Siren-like representatives of the Seven Sisters (and George Plimpton), who offer a free ride to the Sister school of her choice (and a George Plimpton hot plate) if she will throw a Spelling Bee.
  • "Monty Can't Buy Me Love": another episode of The Simpsons where, after Homer says that the Loch Ness Monster has eluded everyone, including Peter Graves, Mr. Burns retorts that "Peter Graves couldn't find ugly at a Radcliffe mixer". This quote would be appropriate for Mr. Burns, who graduated from Yale; that said, many of the creators and writers of The Simpsons have been alumni of the Harvard Lampoon.
  • Radcliffy: An adjective coined by the dating website OkCupid to describe characteristics stereotypically associated with women who go to Harvard University.
  • "Valley of the Dolls": Anne Welles, the main character, was a Radcliffe graduate.

See also



Books about Radcliffe

External links

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