Residential Rememberings and Revolutions

By Sbobadilla 

Pforzheimer House
Pforzheimer House

When I moved into my sophomore Pfoho dorm room I was grateful for that little hook on my door.  My parents could help me bring in boxes without having to worry about passing back the key, and stale summer air could freely circulate thanks to the slightly opened entrance. Later in the semester, my roommates and I relied on the hooks when we scurried off to the hall bathroom, brain break, or when we knew a friend was coming over. The  dorm hooks, present in three fourths of the rooms in the House, are one of Pfoho’s architectural oddities. Along with our three way mirrors, these door hooks are historical reminders of Radcliffe College–an all women’s college that has a tangled, complicated history with Harvard. As the legend goes, the hooks were required to be latched when women were entertaining romantically inclined guests and the mirrors were to make sure that the women were “presentable” before they departed for the male-dominated Yard and Square. These objects remind students of our building’s historical gendered legacy as an all women’s institution.

Known to most undergraduates as simply “The Quad,” the Radcliffe Quadrangle is home to three out of the twelve residential Houses–Currier, Cabot, and my House, Pforzheimer. Although “river-folk” may convince first-years that it is miles away from the Yard (don’t believe them –  it’s a gorgeous twelve minute walk!), the Quad is an oasis of peaceful streets, beautiful buildings, and friendly faces. I’m not exaggerating when I say that getting “Quadded” is one of the best things that could have happened to me while at Harvard.

But as with any home, there are always things that could be improved (luckily for us, we don’t have to worry about “pet” mice). As a History and Literature concentrator, I have always been a little disappointed by the lack of general knowledge about Pfoho’s history and, more specifically, the Quad’s historical relationship to women at Radcliffe/Harvard. I would say that most students are aware that a college formerly known as Radcliffe existed halfway between the Yard and the Quad, but beyond that their knowledge is limited. We can all name when Harvard was founded, but sadly, we can’t name the founding date of its sister college. How have we lost this information? Are the memories of one college really that much more important than another? Can we really only be left with latches and mirrors?

This year, Harvard is celebrating its 375 anniversary. Radcliffe College would have celebrated its 133rd.

So it’s not that this history doesn’t exist; it’s just that we haven’t taken enough time to uncover it. With friends, extracurricular commitments, and classes, it’s understandable that Harvard students haven’t explored this topic on their own. But as always, the Women’s Center and Pforzheimer House have your back! I’m thrilled to announce that all undergrads, faculty, staff, and alumni are invited to “The Residential Revolution: The History of Gender and Pfoho Student Life.” Our event will take place this Wednesday at 8:00 pm in Pforzheimer Junior Common Room, where we will discuss the history of Radcliffe, the history of the first co-residential experiment of the 1970’s, and the direction in which we’ve moved since then. We’re bringing in alumni, artifacts, and other documents that will help guests imagine a not so distant past when gender divided a campus community along very strict lines.

Before 1970, the student body (particularly Radcliffe) was regulated by College rules that declared when it was appropriate for people of different genders to interact. If students disobeyed those rules and overstayed their official welcome, they would face disciplinary action. It is difficult for me to conceptualize a College where administrators not only mediated platonic relationships, but also tried their best to prohibit any sexual activity. Moreover, it’s shocking that the College articulated the regulation of sexuality from such a hetero-normative perspective. Reading through the materials has opened my eyes to how much student life has changed in 40 years.

The study of history, however, does more than just highlight these differences – it also shows how we can connect threads back to our past. It is truly powerful to be reminded of the calls for a Women’s Center that cried forth from Harvard students in the 1970’s. While the current Women’s Center is the first center to be officially funded by the College, it is not the first one of its kind. There have been five women’s centers prior to today’s, which was founded in 2006, and all have shared the common goal of remediate gender imbalances on this campus. While sitting at the Schlesinger Archives this January break, I found a document that featured a design for a center that strongly mirrors the one that we have today, one that supports students through centralizing resources and that encourages conversation that will advocate for gender equity on this campus. While it is important to continue to push ourselves and our communities to progress even further, I adamantly believe that we must take the time to breathe and acknowledge from where we have come. Perhaps this is why I so enjoy my daily walks down to the Yard and back up to my Pfhome.

I look forward to seeing you on Wednesday night at 8:00 pm in Pforzheimer House, at the Residential Revolution.


3 thoughts on “Residential Rememberings and Revolutions

  1. bradleyhcwc

    I’m so excited for this event! I know that Suzanna and her team have been working really hard to make it happen, and I know it’s going to be fabulous. I think that it’s unfortunate how we take for granted the gender history that is part of the very architecture of this institution. Hopefully the event will get people thinking about the relationship between gender and student life as it exists today. Thanks Suzbob!

  2. After attending Suzanna’s event, I am truly impressed by the resilience Radcliffe women showed in the face of co-residential shake-ups and gender discrimination. Several alumna shared their stories about life in Radcliffe and Harvard Houses during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I really enjoyed hearing these memories! They were at the same time both funny and shocking; for example, I laughed about how “Cliffies” had to wear gloves and hats to go to Harvard Yard, but I also had to shake my head at the College’s other attempts to parent these adult women. Their lives were so controlled and circumscribed. We have come a long way, as women at Harvard, but other, more insidious forms of gender discrimination remain (women are less likely to be elected to positions in student government, for example, and may often be more hesitant to speak up in class). Thanks, Suzanna, for organizing a fabulous event that balanced well-done historical study with an eye to the present and future.

  3. What a fabulous event!
    Well run and well attended, the event provided a thorough history as well as relatable tales from alumna themselves. After reading the historical summary featured at the event, I became curious as to why the Harvard-Radcliffe relationship played out as it did while other schools, Columbia for example, remain divided from their sister schools even after gender integration. Female students can still apply to both Barnard and Columbia, yet there no longer exists an application form for Radcliffe College. The absorption versus maintained separation of sister schools is a topic I wouldn’t mind sitting down and discussing with the administration of both Harvard and Columbia.
    It’s a good sign when an event fuels continued thought. Thank you for that, Suzbob!

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