At a time of expanding educational opportunities for women, the institution that would become Radcliffe College began under the leadership of Elizabeth Cary Agassiz. In 1879, the first formal year of this experiment, 27 women from the Boston area passed the Harvard entrance exam. Harvard professors and instructors offered 24 courses, and in four years, the first four certificates were awarded. At first nameless, the program was familiarly known as the Harvard Annex, later the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women. Finally, in 1894, in conjunction with receiving a charter from the State of Massachusetts to confer degrees countersigned by both the Harvard and Radcliffe presidents, the school was named for the first female benefactor to Harvard, Ann Radcliffe, who made her bequest in 1643.
The core of Radcliffe grew rapidly around the Radcliffe Yard. In 1885, the growing Harvard Annex relocated to Fay House, a large, brick, Federal style mansion, which has continued as the administrative center of the college. Expanded in 1892, a third story, skylighted library, porches, and more classrooms and laboratories were added. In 1898, McKim, Mead & White built the Colonial Revival Radcliffe Gymnasium with the newest Swedish gym equipment and a swimming tank. In 1904, the long awaited undergraduate student center was built and named the Agassiz House, after the colleges long-time leader Elizabeth Cary Agassiz. There, the Agassiz Theatre continues to showcase Radcliffe performers. In 1908, the College Library was built through a matching grant from Andrew Carnegie. It is now the site of the Schlesinger Library on the history of Women in America, one of the preeminent repositories for books, photographs, and manuscripts associated with American women. Today female students continue to be enrolled in Harvard through the Radcliffe system and enjoy the services and programs provided by the long history of womens education at Radcliffe.
Radcliffe College Yard Today
Photographs by Brian Smith, courtesy of Radcliffe College.
Photographs courtesy of the Radcliffe College Archives.
The Radcliffe College Yard is located on the Radcliffe College campus along Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, MA. The grounds are open to the public.
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