Harvard University, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher education in the United States, has a long and complex history when it comes to the admission of women. The path to achieving gender inclusivity at Harvard was characterized by notable milestones and challenges, ultimately resulting in the admission of women in various disciplines. In this guide, I will explore in detail the key moments and challenges that led to Harvard admitting women as full-fledged students.
Harvard Early Years
Harvard’s origin can be traced back to 1636, when it was founded as “New College” in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Higher education was solely reserved for men at that time, and Harvard was no exception. Moreover, Harvard remained an all-male institution for nearly two centuries, with no official avenues for women to pursue an education there.
Women have a long history at Harvard, even though they didn’t get academic chances until the late 19th century. Since Harvard’s founding in 1636, women have been a part of the University community as family members of faculty, administrators, and students.
Radcliff College: An Affiliated Institution
In the late 19th century, the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women was established by Elizabeth Cary Agassiz and later renamed Radcliff College. By 1890, the program had over 200 women enrolled. Furthermore, in 1894, Radcliff College received an official charter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with Agassiz serving as its first president.
Even though numerous women’s colleges were established throughout New England during this era, Harvard still did not offer women admission as students and refrained from acknowledging them in any official academic capabilities.
World War II
During World War II, in 1943, Harvard opened its doors to women, although for a specific purpose. In 1948, Harvard granted tenure to Helen Maud Cam, making her the first faculty member to achieve this status. Furthermore, in 1956, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, a professor of astronomy, became the first woman in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to be promoted to full professor.
President Nathan Pusey’s Announcement
The turning point in Harvard’s approach to co-education came in 1963 when Harvard President Nathan Pusey announced that women would be admitted to Harvard College, the undergraduate program. In 1970, they had the first Harvard and Radcliffe graduation together in the Harvard Yard. Then, in the next year, all the houses at Harvard and Radcliffe started allowing both men and women to live in them.
In 1975, Harvard and Radcliffe started admitting students together, but they didn’t fully join together until 1999 when they formed the Radcliff Institute for Advanced Study. With the passage of time, women gained greater access to education and leadership opportunities within the Harvard community, marking significant progress toward gender inclusivity.
In conclusion, the journey of admitting women to Harvard University was a gradual process spanning centuries. Starting as a university for men only, Harvard changed over time and became a leader in co-education. The decision to admit women to Harvard College in 1963 marked a significant commitment to gender equality in education.