previous next

Life at Radcliffe.

Martha Trimble Bennett.
Life at Radcliffe does not lend itself easily to description. There are few picturesque details which can be seized upon,--no “float day” as at Wellesley, no ivy and tree planting, none of the gay dormitory life which is so distinctive a feature at most women's colleges. A large number of the students live at home, and those who come from a distance find boarding-places in private families where only a limited number of girls can be received. It seems probable, however, that a few years will see the establishment of small dormitories accommodating from twelve to twenty students, for as the college grows, the need of such dormitories is felt. At present, however, the girls are scattered over Cambridge in twos and threes, and life at Radcliffe is so largely a matter of the individual that it is difficult to hit upon any description which shall be at all representative. The girls who live in or near Cambridge, going home at night, and having their own circle of friends outside the college, can have but little idea of what life at Radcliffe means to the student who comes from a distance and who knows no one except the friends whom she may chance to make among her fellow-students.

Again, to girls from New England the atmosphere of thought and study which invests Radcliffe is too familiar to be worth comment, whereas to the Southern or Western girls it is one of the [200] most novel features of the life, and one of the most attractive even though it may be a bit discouraging at first.

“Everything is intellectual here,” said a Western girl last year in anything but a cheerful tone; “even inanimate objects seem to possess intelligence. Yesterday the maid came in to fill my lamp, and as she filled it, the can whistled. All at once the whistle ceased, and the maid, without looking to see if the lamp were full, screwed down the top and prepared to go.”

“Now I may not be philosophic but I am curious, so I said, ‘Mary, what made the can whistle?’ ”

“What do you suppose she answered? ‘Sure, miss, it's the intilligint oil can, it tells when the lamp's full.’ ”

It is this “intelligent-oil-can” atmosphere which the stranger at Radcliffe finds in her college life. and it is at once depressing and stimulating. She is expected to be alive, not only to her own work, but to the work of others, to have a respectable fund of general information, and to know something of what is going on in the world around her.

To be alive even to her own work is not at all times an easy task, for each student is expected to carry the regulation four full courses, and many of the students do more than this amount. Woe to the girl, though, who tries to take work beyond her strength, or who makes up her four full courses by taking seven or eight half courses. If she has not had careful preparation and is not very level-headed, her work will soon drive her into becoming what is popularly denominated a “Radcliffe grind.”

It is a curious fact, by the way, that no girl is proud of being called a “grind.” No matter how long and steadily she works, apply this term to her [201] and she will indignantly deny her claim to it and point out someone else to whom the name is more applicable. Out of three hundred students I knew but three or four acknowledged grinds, and even these did not think that all the characteristic features of the typical grind were represented in themselves. These few students who unblushingly accepted the name given them were not half bad at heart, and were human enough to dance, play tennis, attend concerts, operas and theatres, and to be present at almost every Radcliffe festivity during the year.

As may be guessed from this, a life at Radcliffe does not mean all work and no play for even the hardest workers. It is a significant fact that the first club in the College was the “Idler” which has for its object amusement pure and simple. Few persons except Radcliffe students realize the large part which this club plays in the social life of the college. Its “tea” in the opening week of the college year forms a pleasant welcome to the new students and a jolly reunion for the old. Then, upon alternate Fridays throughout the year it brings the students together for an hour's cordial informality, and there are few girls too busy to look in at the “Idler” meeting for a laugh and chat. Usually some entertainment is provided by the committee, --a concert, tableaux, or a play which occasionally may be said to be literally of the students, by the students, and for the students, for several original plays have been given by members of the club for the exclusive benefit of the students, no outsiders being admitted. Twice during the year, however, the club is at home to all its friends to the number of a thousand or more, and Fay House upon these occasions presents an appearance of gayety only equalled at the Senior Reception upon Class Day. [202]

Membership in the “Idler” is unlimited, and any student may join. This is true also of the “Emmanuel Club,” which has for its object the discussion of social and philanthropic problems. It is worth while to say that election to the presidency of either of these clubs is an honor of which any girl may be proud. The only other club which is open to all comers is the Tennis Club, and increased interest in this is likely to be felt this year as another excellent court has just been secured.

In all the other college clubs the membership is limited and election depends upon the applicant's proficiency in the special department which the club represents. The nature of these clubs is perhaps sufficiently indicated by the names,--as the English, French, German, Classical, Philosophical, Historical, Music, Glee and Banjo. All of these exist primarily for work, but a goodly social element is not lacking, and each club keeps open house at least once a year, when it has for its honored guest some man or woman well known in the world of scholars who speaks to the club on some interesting topic.

Beside all of these clubs, the social element is represented by the Graduate Club, one of the most hospitable of Radcliffe organizations, and also by the “teas” which Mrs. Agassiz gives to the students on Wednesday afternoons during the year. In addition the four classes and the special students have their separate organizations, in which pleasure and business seem to have about equal importance.

One of the most delightful features of life at Radcliffe is the opportunity afforded the students for meeting or hearing so many prominent men and women, and that this privilege is theirs is largely due to the courtesy of Harvard. Certainly it is [203] a privilege to be appreciated when it means hearing such widely different men as General Booth of the Salvation Army, Mr. Humphrey Ward, M. Du Chaillu the African explorer, and Prof. Charles Eliot Norton.

Beside these occasional lectures, Radcliffe students have always the privilege of personal intercourse with the best and wisest of the Harvard professors. Surely the Radcliffe girl need not envy girls from other colleges. Other colleges may have broader grounds and wider halls, none has broader culture and wider opportunities for development. If ebullitions of “college spirit” seem somewhat lacking among the girls, there is, nevertheless, a deep and loving respect for the alma mater, and a constantly growing feeling that they will be better and wiser women for their four years life at Radcliffe. [204]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Radcliffe (Kentucky, United States) (9)
Wellesley (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
New England (United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Radcliffe (5)
Humphrey Ward (1)
Charles Eliot Norton (1)
M. Du Chaillu (1)
Booth (1)
Martha Trimble Bennett (1)
Louis Agassiz (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
5th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: