Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University

By Morton Keller; Phyllis Keller | Go to book overview

2
THE COLLEGE

A t the heart of Harvard lay the College. Half of the University's students were there, as was most of the history that fueled the Harvard mystique. Undergraduate tuition and the contributions of well-heeled College alumni provided much of the income on which the University depended. But the elitist, inbred College culture posed a substantial obstacle to Conant's goal of a more meritocratic Harvard.


Getting In

Admission was the first step in the student life cycle, and admissions policy went far to set the tone of the College. Eliot did not pay much attention to the matter. But his successor Lowell wanted students who would be a social elite. Catholic students were quite acceptable to him: in comportment and values they passed his entry test for the leadership class. So, too—more doubtfully—did wealthy, assimilated German Jews, though assuredly not their Russian-Jewish brethren. 1

Anne MacDonald, executive secretary of the admissions office since the beginning of the century, was one of those women then (and now) essential to the smooth functioning of Harvard. In a 1934 memorandum to Conant, she explained the workings of her bailiwick. She and her opposite numbers at Yale (a Miss Elliot), Princeton (a Miss Williams), and the College Entrance Examination Board (a Miss McLaughlin) met yearly “to compare notes on all matters concerning admission, and the different ways in which they are treated at the three universities.” Some of her work required special handling: “The interviews with rejected Hebrews or their relatives are particularly precarious, and one needs to be constantly on the alert…. For the past ten years, or since

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