From a few earnest botany classes to the streamlined co-ed Summer School of 1942 is in brief the history of Harvard's summer sessions. Stove-pipe hatted students may not have whistled, but they certainly were startled by the sight of women, in skirts and bustles, attending their lectures and section meetings in the summer of 1875.
The Summer School which reached its peak this July with a total of 4167 students, male and female, is a far cry from those botany classes, conducted by the new-famous Professor Asa Gray. With 964 women to entertain the 2,000 undergraduates, this summer session is a refreshing non-Harvardlike phenomenon.
1942 Came the Metamorphosis
Until this year, the school was composed, or reputed to be composed, mainly of "derelict prep school boys, old-maid school teachers and horn-rimmed grad students." But after December 7, most Harvard undergraduates decided to give up tennis flannels or camp counselling for studies, and the girls came along too.
Always administered differently than the regular College, the Summer School regime has left its distinctive imprint on the summer sessions, seeming to have superseded the College rather than becoming a part of it. Besides moving offices to Wadsworth House from University Hall, and requiring auditors' passes, the most noticeable effect has been the paternalistic encouragement of social activities.
Yard Gains Color, Contrast
The Yard blossomed into a musical comedy set with Navy uniforms and Lanz dirndles contrasting colorfully. Weld, Wigg, and Grays spewed forth women, and there were men on the steps, waiting. Co-ed classes may have bothered some professors and biology students, but had an inspirational effect on most.
Final settlement of the most-debated question of the year, why the girls came at all, was never reached. But there were some reasons besides traditional and uncomplimentary ones. While fine arts classes were filled with sweaters and skirts and Music 1 listening sessions were acknowledged to be the coziest morning rendezvous, many girls had seriously decided to take advantage of new acceleration permission at girls' colleges by attending Harvard-classes.
Extra courses for honors attracted others, and some chose Harvard to fill in for flunked finals. For a large number it was just the least painful way of spending a profitable summer, and the prospect of 750 Navy men at the back door was a strong attraction. The School of Education and the other grad schools each had their own specific following.
Grays Hall and the Yard may have booked a little decrepit after the manicured grounds of Indiana State, Smith, and Vassar. Individual bathrooms, two-room suites, and unrestricted hours made up for that, however. No matter how long you had to flick lights for a Yard Cop, it was better than facing an irate house mother at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Harvard came through with social aids before the first week was up. PBH teas made the introductions, and then Mem Hall dances helped along the handful of girls that got to them. Meanwhile the famous Summer School lectures began to reel off, with star history lecturer Hans Kohn leading the way.
The Outing Club went to Lexington and the German Club to local beer dens while married couples left their children with the eager girls of the Radcliffe Summer Play Group. Historical Boston was hit by an influx of landmark-gazers wish their seersucker-jacketed guides.
The longed-for Navy men had taken over the Union, throwing 964 girls into the Square for meals. Cambridge restaurants had to reckon with the Houses, however, and careful management by the girls could usually arrange healthy weekend meals. (Leverett's open most weekdays, too.)
Harvard Hall and Boylston steps took on the appearance of a midwestern university, and coke dates, typical mark of the co-ed college, helped to sustain the feminine newcomers between classes.
But with the close of the first session, the Army Air Force moved in, the pitiful remnant of female Yardlings, 73 strong, were squeezed into Wigg, and the remainder went home. And the crowds of males lining Wig Alley got thicker than ever