As a working a woman I had felt some reservations about taking four days of scarce vacation time to attend my husband's 25th reunion. However, the nostalgia of revisiting the university my father attended, the opportunity to see my son at a nearby boarding school and the scheduling of a Women's Equity Action League state membership meeting during my visit combined with curiosity and a desire to please, resulted in my participatiing in "The Great Comeback of 1954." It proved on the professional plane to be one of the most fortunate decisions I have made because I gained the opportunity to observe, critique and learn the inner workings of the "old boys club" and the most flitist one at that. As a feminist, I was troubled by the often striking difference between the ways men and women support their alma mater.
The procedure began several months ago with our mail being peppered with advance notices of the elaborate program. The event was obviously geared to the entire family as the fee was the same for a bachelor as for a couple with numerous children. There were six different programs for the various age groups! It was clear that children and wife were expected at the reunion. In early May we were asked to attend a cocktail buffet supper in an elegant appointed house overlooking a wooded section of Rock Creek Park. I was surprised to find the two cochairs of the reunion committee, both Bostonians, carefully remembering classmates' and wives' names, major class interests and occupations as they moved adroitly through the congenial group. There was lots of banter mixed in with some very serious talk about coming back to Harvard. As promised, no one made a pitch for money but you could taste it in the excellent Scotch, feel it hanging on the edge of most conversations. We left early but I sensed that everyone that cajoled into coming to that party made a commitment to come to the reunion. Obviously similar gatherings had been held in other major cities around the country.
When we arrived at Harvard at about noon on Sunday, June 3, the Cambridge policeman directed us to a special parking area set aside for the Class of '54. From that moment on, we were moving in the smoothly organized milieu of a major benefit gathering.
The fact that it was going to be one continuous good party was never in doubt. The first evening was scheduled with President Derek Bok in the huge new indoor tennis facility. I was pleased to note the president of Radcliffe in the receiving line but I never saw her again until graduation. Even though this is Radcliffe's centennial year, the focus was on the men, their achievements, and their pride in themselves and their university. Most of the speeches dwelt on the past and the good old days.
The music of the Harvard Band led us to events closed festivities and marked the locations of the many alumni activities. The chief marshall of the class of '54, George S. Abrams, who had been the band conductor, was rewarded for his large contribution to alma mater with the opportunity to direct the Boston Pops at the "Harvard Night at the Pops." One felt surrounded by "Ten Thousand Men of Harvard; - and a financial victory was being won every day.
As the class took off for their evening at the "Pops," word spread that the goal of $1,600,000 had been attained. We boarded 32 Boston school buses, the police blocked every entry road our path to Symphony Hall, and the fire department hoisted their ladders in an arch over the cavalcade. For some reason an invidious comparison to the Boston school busing controversy floated through my mind. This heady evening brought out the clever idea of reaching $1,954,000 and the word was whispered that a phone call was in to Sadri Khan.
There were other occasions for high-powered condeniality: seminars with some of the class' four U.S. senators and representatives-Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) and John Culver (D-Iowa) and Reps. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Calif.) and David R. Bowen (D-Miss); with major media figures in the class, like the publisher of the Boston Globe, William O. Taylor; with the president of Harvard and other senior university officials. Families were invited to use the new and enormous $9-million indoor swimming pool, and on Wednesday, to swim and play tennis out doors at the lovely Essex Country Club in Manchester.
Thursday and the grand finale finally arrived. The coldish cloudy days opened up to summer sun and few ragmuffin clouds frosted a crystal sky. We pinned on our red Class of '54 badges that let us go anywhere and joined the 20,000 attending the commencement activities. Even that was not routine. The largest print in the afternoon program proclaimed the occasion to be the "Association Harvard Alumni Annual Meeting." Having heard the rumor that Title IX and its equality in sports spending mandate had cut back alumnae giving I decided to take some notes which precipitated this article.
In introducing the spokesman for Radcliffe's centennial announcement, the speaker said that if Radcliffe had not existed Harvard would have invented her. The widespread hissing smothered out the slightly nervous-sounding laughter. Radcliffe's celebration of 100 years produced from her total alumnae body $670,781.08. What a peculiar figure! Did four women put in their 2 cents worth? It reminded me of ladies at lunch dividing up a check and deciding that one should pay more because she had espresso instead of coffee. There was polite applause as everyone waited for the big money.
The Harvard report of gifts included a million and half from those celebrating their 50th reunion and there were numerous other smaller but still sizeable sums. In my ignorance I waited for the huge gift from the 25th forgetting momentarily that this prestigious group was announced entirely separately. Finally the chief marshall of the class was introduced. First of all, the "Great Comeback" was just that. More than 50 percent of the class showed up, morethan any class ever before. It was an auspicious beginning. I, too, was eager with anticipation and on the edge of my chair as the words came out in staccato fashion from a loudspeaker in a nearby tree . . . "as of today $2,054,000-an all time record anywhere, any place, any time!" As the cheers, whistles and applause rang out I* thought to myself, "There's more to come."
I've been told that Harvard University spends approximately $300,000 feting its alumni during graduation week. The sum may be inaccurate but the fact that you have to spend money to make money has been well learned. It enabled the financial pressure to be everpresent but always subtle. The most important message was the push to excellence, doing better than anyone else. A Harvard man understands that.
Do women understand this? Obviously some do. You find them tipping car attendants, slipping a five to the maitre d'for a good table, pushing for higher salaries and taking a vacation they really want. But as the Radcliffe financial report clearly show, women do not come close to supporting their schools the way men do.Granted that they are only paid 57 cents on the dollar when holding the same job as a man and many do not have money of their own, but still leaves unresolved the size of the discrepancy.
The most insidious and troubling part of this scenario is that fund-raising shows only a small part of women's lack of faith in themselves. With 51.3 percent of the population, why is there only woman in the U.S. Senate and even she is there in part because of her father? Women make up 4 percent of the House of Representatives, a figure that has not grown in the last decade of consciousness-raising. Men control 92.5 percent of the state legislatures and we wonder why we can't get ERA passed. That women seem to lack support for each other was exemplified at Harvard by the Radcliffe women saying that they had graduated from Harvard and the class widows continuing to give to their husband's university. How pervasive is this malaise? Do young girls learn it as they learn to read and find their sex cleaning the house-an obviously unpretigious non-thinking task? Some women look for another woman to be their attorney, banker or representative but usually Freud and the father figure win out. Participation in team sports should teach girls a sense of camaraderie and teamwork so that as adults they will understand and take part in the business games men have always played.In the 21st century will the old girls network produce the same way that the old boys network did in Cambridge? On that, I think I will have to take the 25th.