History

A Short History of the Radcliffe Union of Students
Members of RUS are often asked about the name of the our group, which includes the name of a college that no longer exists. The name of the Radcliffe Union of Students reflects the student group’s beginnings. RUS originated as the governing body of Radcliffe College, much like the Undergraduate Council of Harvard today. Between the 1977 agreement and the 1999 merger of Harvard and Radcliffe, RUS received $5 from every woman undergraduate’s termbill, which RUS then redistributed to women’s groups on campus. After the 1999 merger, the college had stated there was no need for any student groups to remove Radcliffe from their names. We decided to keep the name RUS, even though all of our members are students at Harvard, and Harvard alone. We keep the name to remember the women who came before us: who had to clean the rooms of other Harvard students, who were not allowed into Harvard’s Faculty Club, who could not even enter Lamont Library until the late 1960′s. Most of all we keep the name to remind us that Harvard has not always had any kind of commitment to educating women, and that with that lack of tradition we must be constantly watchful. There is still a long way to go.

A Little Nitpicking on Dates (regarding the Women’s Guide to Harvard article below), by RUS members Lisa Vogt ’01 and Shanti Kris ’12
According to information in the RGA/RUS records in the Schlesinger Library, RUS was one of several new forms of student government proposed by the Radcliffe Governing Association in the late fall of 1967. RUS was eventually voted as the preferred new organizational scheme for the student government in the spring of 1968, but it was mostly involved with organizing itself at first. While stating the RUS start date as 1969 is not far off, 1968 is probably a better official date. In addition, while the 1999 Harvard-Radcliffe agreement constituted an actual merger of Radcliffe College with Harvard University, it’s hard to classify the earlier agreements which were all partial mergers of a sort. A 1971 agreement is typically referred to as the “non-merger merger,” rather than the 1977 agreement mentioned above. But really, all of the pre-1999 agreements are in some way non-merger mergers.

A Longer, Expanded History of the Radcliffe Union of Students
(note: as submitted to the Women’s Guide to Harvard, June 2001, by RUS member Jessica Rosenberg ’04. Since this article was originally published, RUS has succeeded in its efforts to establish the Harvard College Women’s Center. View RUS’s original proposal here.  For an up-to-date history of the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, please click here.)

“At a time when there is no longer any such thing as a Radcliffe student, the Radcliffe Union of students seems a meaningless anachronism. Why should a group that, by the terms of the 1999 merger between Harvard and Radcliffe, cannot have any official contact with Radcliffe choose to name itself after that institution? There are several reasons why this name is still meaningful, for various reasons that, in an ideal world, would, like the title itself, be anachronistic. These reasons, however, are woven into the history of RUS and into the troubled history of women at Harvard.

Radcliffe’s transition from an independent undergraduate college for women to a non-degree granting institute for advanced study with no students at all happened in two major steps. After being founded as the Harvard Annex in 1879, the institution soon-to-be-known-as Radcliffe accommodated female students but never actually had its own faculty. In Radcliffe Yard, female students were taught in gender segregated classrooms by the same professors who taught Harvard students in Harvard Yard. The path to full coeducation began during World War II as classrooms were integrated, and moved further forward at the beginning of the 1970′s when men and women slowly began to live together. The first of Radcliffe’s two major steps away from undergraduate education took place in 1977, with the “non-merger merger” agreement, by which Radcliffe ceded much of its educational responsibilities to Harvard. Women were still admitted to “Harvard-Radcliffe” and received a different diploma from men when they graduated. The second phase of the process took place in 1999 with an official merger fully transforming Radcliffe into the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and removing “Radcliffe” from admissions certificates and diplomas.

The Radcliffe Union of Students was founded in 1969 partially in response to the difficulties women faced as the men’s and women’s colleges grew closer and closer. It intended to provide a student government more independent of sometimes overbearing administrative influences than the parallel Radcliffe Government Association. As the preamble to RUS’ constitution reads: “We, the students of Radcliffe College, to maintain its identity as a distinct institution, and to represent, support, and encourage the interests of undergraduate women at Harvard University, have organized ourselves into a Union of Students.” Since it was conceived with those words, RUS has made numerous changes still intimately felt by all Harvard undergraduates. The group was a major force, for example, in effecting the abolition of parietal rules, the restrictions that limited the hours of coeducational mingling in dorms and enforced curfews that would now seem absurd to undergrads. RUS also helped incite the campaign and continue the struggle for a committee on Women’s Studies – - a program that Harvard was the last Ivy to establish. As early as the ’70′s, RUS was also struggling to increase the University’s still-abysmal number of tenured women. Harvard’s sexual harassment policy and current security measures (like better lighting and escort services) are also due in part to RUS activism. A Women’s Center, located in Phillips Brooks House, was established for sometime during the ’70′s, also thanks to the group.

These historical campaigns do not only suggest, however, that RUS was an important force in the past, when Radcliffe students were a disempowered minority, but also give us an idea of how necessary a group like it is in the present. Harvard – - the only Ivy without some kind of space for women – - still lacks a Women’s Center. As of 1999, women held only 14% of tenured positions in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Committee on Women’s Studies still lacks departmental status and the power to give tenured positions. These are only examples, but clearly the struggle for equal coeducation has not yet been won. The mission of the current Radcliffe Union of Students, to be a visible feminist presence on Harvard’s campus, follows in the tradition of this effort. We hope that the name of Radcliffe will continue to evoke a tenacious tradition of Radcliffe women – - both to keep the history and current condition of women at Harvard vocal, visible, and alive, and to buttress, with their strength and experiences, our own participation in this long struggle.”