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Student life at Radcliffe.

Sarah Yerxa.
When we pause, for a moment, as now, to consider life at Radcliffe, we cannot but ask ourselves how it differs from life at other colleges whose purpose is the same, to give young women opportunity to fit themselves for larger and richer spheres of usefulness than they otherwise could fill adequately.

To me, Radcliffe life seems to have had as its essential quality, freedom. This freedom is given in both work and play. The wealth of material presented in the Radcliffe catalogue is spread before her and the student may choose what she will. In recreation all that Cambridge and Boston offer is at her disposal, inasmuch as, after her choice of a home approved by college authorities, the absence of the dormitory system leaves the student free to plan her days as she pleases. Whether young women may be given such freedom, whether such freedom develops within them the qualities that are desirable, those who have watched the progress of Radcliffe students through four years of college life are best able to judge.

Since, at the present time, we have no dormitories at Radcliffe, the distinctively college life of the Radcliffe students centres around old Fay House, rich for many with associations of days long gone, and rich for an ever increasing band of students with memories of most serious and most joyous hours. [206]

To men and women of Cambridge our old Fay House is well known. Many a time, bound, perhaps, on social pleasure, accepting the invitation of an “Annex maid” to an Idler tea, they have entered the wide doorway, walked through the broad hall to the drawing-room, where hangs the portrait of Mrs. Agassiz, our president, and where, I am glad to say, during the past winter, Radcliffe students have been able to find, many hours during the day, Miss Agnes Irwin, our dean.

From the drawing-room these guests have doubtless gone through our little conversation room with its magazines and papers, its well worn copies of Life; and from here, where groups of girls may usually be found discussing any topic under the sun, from the latest fashion to the automaton theory, our friends probably passed on to the auditorium. Yet who at an Idler tea can imagine the pleasures which have been in that auditorium. Before the guest appears a crowd of youths and maidens. Tables are spread, music sounds. But all this reveals not at all the scene of many a Friday afternoon when the Idler Club meets and the little stage of the auditorium, with its walls of soft green and pillars of cream white, becomes the stage for a play. And only with vivid imagination, brought into most active service, can our guests picture to themselves the auditorium when Professor Norton, Professor Goodwin, Mrs. Laura Ormiston Chant, Major Brewer of the Salvation Army, or Miss Helena Dudley, of Denison House, the Boston college settlement, have stood before the Radcliffe students and spoken on some subject which interested all.

Though Fay House at an Idler tea has proved a pleasant place to many, did I wish to made Fay House dear to a friend. I should lead her blindfold [207] over the wide stairways to the library above, late on some sunny afternoon. I should draw one of the great chairs close to a certain window that looks out towards the common. The hour chosen should be that when the sun's rays have just left the treetops, when the light and the haze gradually die away, while the chimes from Christ Church should come to us in tones closely bound in thought to words dear to many human hearts,--

Softly now the light of day
Fades upon our sight away;
Free from care, from sorrow free,
Lord, we would commune with thee.

Were my friend, however, a student who cared for activity, rather than the hour I have planned for the lover of restful quiet, I might wish to show her, at once, the contrasts of Radcliffe life, contrasts such as those of a certain February day of ‘93. On that day we had listened attentively to one of a course of lectures which treated the various remedies suggested for the present social difficulties. Our special topic for the day was anarchism and Bakunin. A few minutes later we sat in the drawing-room,--for it was a Wednesday afternoon --tea and cakes before us, discussing a topic suggested by our instructor who had quite refused to consider a learned subject introduced by one of ourselves. And the topic we were discussing was, --whether or no crinolines would be worn the coming season!

At Radcliffe, though many are sceptical in regard to our social life, even now, we are-able to do everything together save eating and sleeping. Save eating, I have said! But I must not forget the glories of luncheon conversations carried on in the overcrowded little lunch room. And some day many of us hope to have small dormitories. [208] Always Fay House is filled with groups of busy talkers. Before and after lectures students are gathered through the halls awaiting the coning lecturers. Companies of good companions sit under the trees, while tennis and the gymnasium are not deserted. At half past 4, when lectures are over, special bands, united in some common interest, come together. The French Club, the German Club, the English Club, the History Club, the Glee Club, the Music Club, the Classical Club, the Graduate Club, have their meetings.

Had my readers been with me on some Tuesday afternoon last winter they might have found the English Club, whose members care especially for the study of English and have been able to do successful work, gathered in the drawing-room for a pleasant hour. They might have heard one of the members reading a paper on Du Maurier. One spring day they might have found Dean Briggs reading to an eager company from the works of John Donne. Best of all, had they had the good fortune, on a day now gone, to be the guests of the English Club, they might have seen Oliver Wendell Holmes reading “Dorothy Q.”

On Wednesdays our president or our dean, and oft-times some of the associates of Radcliffe, are “at home,” and groups of students are made most welcome with friendly greeting and home-like fire.

On every other Friday comes the Idler, a club which all students are most cordially invited to join. The Idler,--as its well-known name announces, is purely social in its purpose, yet to the Idler, I am sure, Radcliffe owes a certain characteristic of unity which the large rival societies of some of the colleges make impossible.

Once a month the Emmanuel Society holds its [209] meetings. This club eagerly seeks all students and endeavors to present speakers on subjects, varied to be sure, including an address from Professor Royce on “Paracelsus,” and an address on college settlements, but aiming always at the more serious side of life.

The last club to be especially mentioned, but not the least in the hearts of its faithful members, is the Philosophy Club. The Philosophy Club, varying from the custom of other clubs, meets at the homes of its members and friends, and spends much time in discussing all things knowable and unknowable. Usually discussion is begun by one member addressing the club. We have had, however, the good fortune of addresses from Professor Royce, Dr. Santayana and Mr. Parker. Open meetings, too, the Philosophy Club has held at Fay House. One season Professor Ladd spoke to us and Miss Thompson has given the club and its friends a paper on Fichte. That the Philosophy Club may have a long and prosperous life, that the members may soon solve the problem of the universe, is the wish of all who know its real helpfulness as well as its charm.

Besides all these discussions, the out-doors of Cambridge lies, an open book before the students, longing perhaps for fresh air and the presence of a congenial companion. At half past 4 comes a time for wanderings as well as for clubs. In Cambridge, even, there are beautiful places for wanderings: and on a sunny afternoon the student passes out into a realm of broader land and sky, just as, when the four years are over, she goes forth into a larger world and finds-

A life to live,--And such a life! A world
To learn, one's lifetime in, and such a world!

[210] [211] [212]

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