As you may or may not know, Board Members are instructed to write their blog posts on 2 out of the 5 letters of HRG&SP. Today, I wanted to write about Harvard and Radcliffe. Specifically, I want to write about the Horner Room and the Agassiz Theater.
The Agassiz theater is named for Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, the widow of Louis Agassiz. Louis left a very mixed legacy (he was a creationist and a white supremacist). Elizabeth, however, was known for establishing the Women’s Education Association of Boston, in 1872. She also fought to allow women to attend Harvard, although this wouldn’t come to be until 1920, when women were permitted to enroll at the Graduate School of Education. To enter the Ag, one must pass under Elizabeth’s name, in gold over the doors.
The Horner room is where we rehearse and hold Victorian Ball (save the date: April 4, 2020!). The room was named for Matina Souretis Horner. Matina was the sixth president of Radcliffe College, as well as an assistant professor in Harvard’s Psychology Department. Horner was famous for her theory that women had a “fear of success” – a fear that our ambition would be seen as unladylike and vulgar. (No way that could be relevant today.) Horner fought to maintain Radcliffe’s independence as its admissions slowly merged with Harvard’s.
As much as I am glad to soon be in possession of a Harvard degree, I understand why Horner and many others wanted to keep the Radcliffe legacy alive. Merging the two schools really meant eliminating Radcliffe. And the college in recent years has repeated this history in the hopes of creating gender equality. It has been disheartening to watch as men are allowed into previously female-dominated spaces while women and nonbinary people are still excluded from many groups – regardless of these groups’ obligations to the college.
My first memory of the Horner Room was attending a mixer during my Opening Days as a freshman. I remember being awed by the gracious space. That was the first place where I felt comfortable at Harvard. And over the course of the past four years, it has become my home base. I’ve written before about the way building smells and buzzes with energy.
I have been so privileged to be involved with HRG&SP for the entirety of my college career, and we are extremely fortunate to live in the Agassiz. While we are scattered from the SOCH to Lowell Lecture Hall to the Smith Center for rehearsals, we perform and build in the Agassiz.
The Ag is one of the few spaces on campus where all but one of the portraits hanging on the wall are of women. It means a lot to me to have Matina Horner, Elizabeth Agassiz, and many others watching over me. I have been blessed to have role models in these women the women of Radcliffe who passed through the Ag.
I spend a lot of time thinking about women at Harvard and in the arts. It matters that we have women to look up to. So I hope all of you, dear readers, remember the legacy of HRG&SP’s home.
2 thoughts on “A reflection on the Horner Room”
I loved the Horner room, which at the time we simply regarded as “back stage” or the “green room”. You are onto something to notice that, as women joined Harvard, Radcliffe College died. Was that a “good thing”? Are women’s colleges something to value and preserve – and are men’s colleges the same? Does coeducation always take more from women than from men, in terms of spaces where a single gender has room to breathe on its own?
I don’t know. I do know that in the 70s, the group was defiantly called the Harvard Gilbert & Sullivan Players, at a time when most student groups, including the Dramatic Club at the Loeb, aggressively took the HR – Harvard-Radcliffe – prefix. I was very surprised when I found, in more recent years, that the group has reappropriated Radcliffe in its name as the HRG&SP. Given that Radcliffe has essentially been dissolved, I can’t tell if that’s going backwards or forwards!
Thank you for this wonderful history which makes this historic and gracious space even more special.