Coeducation at Harvard University

Graduation at Harvard

Harvard University began the process to become fully coeducational quite early when it partnered with its female counterpart, Radcliffe, in the early 1950s.  At the beginning of the 1950s, Harvard and Radcliffe began offering mixed gender classes and organized many co-ed extracurricular activities (Brown 2011).  Once that change was complete, Harvard-Radcliffe students had many more opportunities to interact with the opposite sex and experience a more diversified education.  However, the merger was not nearly complete.  Harvard and Radcliffe had yet to mix the living and dining arrangements between the two sexes.  Even though the two universities had made a good amount of progress early on, they moved very cautiously and slowly upon advancing any further.  Finally, in the spring of 1970, Harvard and Radcliffe decided to move forward with an experiment that involved mixed gender dorms, which eventually became permanent.  This decision came from a great amount of push imposed by the students themselves.  The students expressed their desire for coeducational dorms through mediums such as the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson.  The change seemed to be natural in the context of that period, as the faculty themselves felt “it’s time” (Brown 2011).  As some alumni recall the experience, they remember that “all of this was in the wider context of the anti-war movement and then the women’s movement.”  Regarding the general culture of that time, there was “a change of values and morality, of politics, of possibilities, and of our most fundamental beliefs about ourselves.  Overnight!”

However, we must ask why exactly it took Harvard and Radcliffe so long to finally go through with the complete merger.  Another student article published in The Harvard Crimson highlights many of the reasons the two institutions held off.  These problems include legal uncertainty about changes in liability, possible unknown psychological impacts on students, changes in enrollment possibilities, too sharp an increase in competitiveness, shocking and possibly negative culture changes, and the major one – money.  Both Radcliffe and Harvard expected the merger to increase costs significantly due to changing needs of the student body with the new and drastically different conditions.  At the same time, both institutions were under some financial pressure and upon announcement of the possible merger, alumni donations fell.