Students all over America are clamoring to get into one of the eight Ivy League colleges. This is the first book to show the layman just how these venerable schools shape up today. The combined enrollment of the eight schools on only 29,700 male students, a small proportion of the total college enrollment. Brown is training its freshman and sophomores to think for themselves it its Identification Criticism of Ideas curriculum. Columbia’s magnificent Contemporary Civilization course has been widely imitated. But Columbia alone among the Ivy group wants to double its college enrollment in the next few years and raise its academic standards so high that only half of its present undergraduates could even gain admission there. Cornell is managing to stress a liberal-arts approach to education, even though it is the largest and most complicated school in the League. At Dartmouth seniors must take the Great Issues course. This means reading The New York Times and other periodicals regularly; listening to outside lecturers like Dean Acheson, Harold Urey, and Clement Attlee; and trying to apply to present-day problems the knowledge they have gained during four years of college. Harvard is still tops academically, and still favors complete intellectual freedom for students and faculty alike. At Pennsylvania, President Gaylord P. Harnwell, a foremost atomic scientist, not only administers a sprawling university but teaches a freshman class himself to keep his hand in. Princeton offers three unique programs: in American Civilization, in Creative Arts, and in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. At Yale, President Griswold has been trying to stimulate the exceptional student with the new Directed Studies Program.
The above quote is from the book jacket blurb of The Ivy League Today was written in 1961 by Frederic A. Birmingham and published by the Thomas Y. Crowell Company. The subtitle is: A light-hearted reappraisal of all 8 colleges. Birmingham (Dartmouth ’33) spent nearly three years visiting the Ivy campuses, talking with students and comparing one school to another. It’s rather quaint to think that cutting edge thinking in 1961 included reading The Times periodically to expand the mind. The most striking contrast I found after reading the book was how much the world has change in the last 50 or so years, particularly in how women are viewed and treated generally. Below is a sampling of gems from the book, which really provides a nice retro look into the psyche of the Ivy League not so long ago.
Frederic A. Birmingham
Harvard is admittedly the nation’s number one educational institution as well as its oldest. Harvard College leads all others in number of graduates in Who’s Who. The Harvard undergraduate turns to intellectual pursuits with a zest he reserves for primary business. He tends to look on his college career with more than ordinary seriousness, and in this he is stimulated by everything that touches him at Harvard. Statistically the student finds the college just a overpowering. The market value of Harvard investments is $625,102,000; its endowment funds are an estimated $370,773,000. President Lowell once remarked that “every educated man should know a little of everything and something well.”
The Princeton student himself, in this happy setting, lives on a campus of extraordinary sweep and beauty. There are a full 2,225 acres of it, and every inch is superbly landscaped and groomed like some fine English estate–an effect not spoiled by the predominantly “Collegiate Gothic” buildings, which are studded with hidden quadrangles, turrets, arches, balconies and gateways. She may love or love him not, but one thing is sure, and it is that the Princetonian’s girl is going to enjoy no nightly trysts in her lad’s quarters. She is allowed to visit him on weekdays until 7 pm and on Friday and Saturday nights until the bacchanalian hour of nine. The much misunderstood social life at Princeton still centers around its eating clubs.
Dartmouth, founded as an Indian school and until quite recently considered quite remote in New Hampshire, has an outdoor tradition suggesting some of the newer colleges in the Southwest or the Northwest. Dartmouth is the American dream of a college come true. Traditionally goodness and purity dwell in the rural areas, and wickedness in the city. Nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains, Dartmouth still preserves its Indian heritage. The Dartmouth student does not live in monastic seclusion, as he one did. But his is still a simple life relatively free of the female presence or influence, and he must go far, even though he may go fast for sophisticated pleasures. There is much to be said for a college that, while happily attuned to the sophisticated Ivies, still gives its students a chance to get up early in the morning and drive along back roads where a glimpse of small game, deer or even bear is not uncommon. City boys find a lot of learning in the feel of an ax handle or in the sharp tang of a sawmill.
On Brown’s College Hill the descendants of the great skippers and the lordly merchants live as their aristocratic forebears did, in three- and four-story mansions, with a courtly air you cannot match except in the deep South. Cobbled drives curve in under their porte-cocheres, gardens and terraces are hidden by beautiful ivied walls, and the columned and porticoed fronts look down on the visitor with the benign and courteous gravity of wealth long entrenched. Brown is ancient but not antique. In eighteenth-century buildings students learn to program IBM machines or how to smash the atom.
“Self-sufficient” is probably the best word for Cornell. The students do not seem to care particularly whether they are regarded as the Ivy League or out of it. But they look down on their fellows at Colgate, Syracuse and Hamilton as unworthy neighbors sometimes grouped with Cornell only because of an irritating proximity.” When Cornell’s first little coed walked up the gorge path to her classes on the hill, the public was profoundly shocked. And it was shocked again in the nineties, when Cornell sent its women’s eight-oared crew out to churn up the waters of Lake Cayuga, in a day when proper young ladies were supposed to concentrate on needle-point and piano lessons.
Columbia draws one-third of its student body from New York City itself, and a second third from the metropolitan area surrounding the city. The “Ivy” idea is not carried through fanatically at Columbia. There are no dreamy lakes or lagoons on the campus. Just a few fountains, hundreds of steps, brick walks, and a couple of plots of crabgrass. No luxurious fraternity houses, with the brothers tossing a football around on spacious lawns. No golf course. No regal faculty row where the better-heeled professors live. The school is a paradox. Great athletes–and not first-class athletic equipment. A glittering record of intellectual achievement–by students many of whom come by subway. But the spirit of Columbia is well-nigh explosive. One of the pleasures of Columbia is contact with the girls of “associated” Barnard College, although the boys are loath to admit it. The average undergrad naturally desires a female companion composed of equal parts of Mata Hari, Cleopatra, Madame Curie, Florence Nightingale, Marilyn Monroe, and The Girl Next Door; and the Barnard girls are generally considered lacking in some of these qualities.
It is no wonder that the undergraduate here clutches his tie a little more tightly and dresses a little more self-consciously “Ivy” that his counterpart at Princeton. He shares, besides, the latent inferiority complex of all the Ivy schools with respect to the Big Three [Harvard, Yale, Princeton]. He is much more caste-conscious than a Columbia student–who may eschew Ivy clothes entirely for a more cosmopolitan drape. the Penn boy is almost uniformly found in the symbolic button-down shirt with foulard tie , Shetland jacket and unpressed pants.
Formerly it was always a good guess that a Yale man was also a prep school man. In 1935, 77.9 per cent of the undergraduates were from prep schools. The Yale student thinks of himself not as a boy but as a man, and a good part of the time he dresses like one. The Yalie buys these accouterments from Brooks Brothers and a few other conservative stores in New York. The most characteristic thing about student life at Yale is the emphasis on doing. The active man is the valuable man. This is an educational community frankly enamored of the dynamic.
Sex and the Ivy League
The elitism in the book is nothing short of astonishing looking back through today’s standards. Consider the chapter about women, which leads off with this beauty, “The Ivy male, as we have seen, is a creature of tradition and habit. He chooses his women as he does his ties. He selects only those his classmates will approve. And, by custom, the girls are almost invariably college students. In his dating habits the Ivy male displays plenty of ardor but very little social adventure. But even through occasionally he may be tempted by the undulations of a “town” girl crossing his own campus, he probably will not date her.”
We have a copy of The Ivy League Today on our website and loads of other vintage collectibles from the Ivy League schools: