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Complicated Relationship

May-June 2004

Freshman women officially joined their male counterparts in Harvard Yard's dormitories in 1972. But 25 years later, when Harvard College dedicated a new gate into the Old Yard to celebrate that event, many assumed the anniversary hoopla commemorated the start of coeducation at Harvard itself. "Ironically," writes Phillips professor of early American history Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, "the very effort to add women to Harvard's public history erased a full century of their presence" at "its ostensible sister college," Radcliffe. For many Radcliffe alumnae, "the new gate fortified old fences."

Now, explains Ulrich, "a group of faculty, alumni/ae, students, and friends of Harvard and Radcliffe have joined together to begin 'rewriting' Harvard's history." Their new anthology, Yards and Gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe History (Palgrave Macmillan, $26.95), also represents a collaboration between Harvard's Warren Center for the Study of American History and Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library for Women's History.

The essays, letters, diary entries, and historic illustrations reflect the fact that "there have always been women at Harvard"—and arguments for and against female education as well. They illuminate Radcliffe's "rich and compelling" history, related to but separate from Harvard's. And they demonstrate that "gender is present even when women are not" and that "attitudes toward women intersected with attitudes toward others who seemed marginal to Harvard's mission." The collection closes with a speech to the College class of 2005 by Drew Gilpin Faust, dean of the Radcliffe Institute. "In her view—and ours," notes Ulrich, who edited the anthology, "a more inclusive Harvard demands a more inclusive history. This volume is one step in that direction." (An earlier version of "Rewriting Harvard's History," Ulrich's introductory essay, appeared as the cover story of this magazine's November-December 1999 issue.)