A Manly Old Guide to the Ivy League

Julia Schmalz for The Chronicle

In 1969, three recent graduates of Harvard U. shared their observations with the hoi polloi. It’s a history lesson, and a hoot.
September 05, 2014

If your college guide says nothing about finding dates or getting laid, your college guide is woefully incomplete.

I reached that conclusion while thumbing through an entertaining old book my editor plucked on a whim from The Chronicle’s library this summer. With its drab, tattered cover, The Ivy League Guidebook, published in 1969, looks as inviting as a frat-basement couch.

But the pages within hold treasures, like this sentence: "With over twenty-five thousand young ladies attending one college or another in the Boston area, there is many a fertile field for the sowing of wild oats." And this one: "When an Ivy Leaguer or a girl who has dated in the Ivy League thinks of a Dartmouth man, he or she does not call to mind a thin, pale, introspective boy with thick glasses sitting rapt in an obscure corner of the biology laboratory reading about the sex life of a mushroom."

Yes, mushrooms get it on (sort of), and yesterday’s college students got it on plenty—only under much different circumstances than today’s undergraduates do.

Written by three Harvard students, the book arrived during a transitional period for higher education. Many prominent colleges had recently become coeducational, and many others soon would. In the Ivy League, at the time the guide was written, only Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania were, as the authors say, "completely coeducational." By 1972, depending on your definition, all but one or two of the Ivies had fully embraced coeducation. This meant unprecedented mixing: More and more young men and women were sharing quads, classrooms, and even living quarters.

The Ivy League Guidebook captures the land before this cultural transformation was complete. Yesterday, the book reminds us, love wasn’t such an easy game to play. For many students, hooking up required a weekend road trip to another college, or a visit from a traveling sweetheart. All this took a toll on teenagers with white-hot hormones. At Yale, the guide says, "the five-days-a-week scarcity of girls becomes oppressive at times."

Worse, dorm-room smooching and related business was limited to "parietal hours," when men and women were allowed in each other’s rooms. And most gay and lesbian students lived on unwelcoming campuses, which offered them no clubs or support services.

Ostensibly, the guidebook was meant for high-school students who weren’t sure which Ivy League college—oh, the choices!—was right for them. It contains a profile of each institution, with information about courses, professors, and sports. The syrup is thick: "It’s a matter of considerable importance," we’re told, "which college a man fortunate enough to be accepted to more than one will choose."

Julia Schmalz for The Chronicle

Diversity, After a Fashion: “The preppie, the jock, the wonk, the hippie—each has his own style, his own habitat, and his own women,” the authors assure aspiring Ivy Leaguers.

In short, the guide would have been relevant to quite a small number of a collegebound Americans. But even then, the Ivy League and its ever-oozing mystique fascinated more—many more—people than it educated. Our "achievement conscious" society, the authors suggest, had placed these eight Northeastern colleges in "a special position."

In turn, they wrote, the Ivy League student feels pressure: "He is now the darling of the country, the golden man with a better than normal chance of getting ahead."

Well, OK. But the golden man, like any dude in the bloom of youth, was also a randy man.

"When you were an undergrad, dating would often come at the top of the list of concerns," says Arnold Bortz, one of the guide’s authors. "As distinguished from Russian history or organic chemistry, the women meant more than anything else."

Please forgive them, ladies. The three men wrote what they wrote for other young men, living in a much different time. Mr. Bortz, Andrew Tobias, and Caspar Weinberger Jr. (son of a former U.S. secretary of defense) dreamed up the book over whiskey sours at Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club. Still undergraduates, they received a modest advance from Macmillan Publishers. They visited each Ivy League campus, did some research, and rounded up contributions from other students. (Mr. Weinberger reportedly took the black-and-white photographs.)

Julia Schmalz for The Chronicle

The Days Before Coeducation: “Dartmouth men can certainly have healthy social lives,” the book advises, “but they have to work at it.”

The many cheeky appraisals of various women’s colleges ("hunting grounds," the book calls them) read like notes penned by a young Donald Draper, the serial womanizer in Mad Men. For the fellows at Brown University, the guide explains, there are "the attractive, generally bright Wheaton girls." At the Rhode Island School of Design, young women are "fascinating and quite challenging."

In Ithaca, N.Y., the guide says, "sources of femininity for anxious Cornellians are limited but of a relatively high quality"; those included the women of Wells and Elmira Colleges, described as "bright, respectable, rather ‘straight’ young ladies; good dates … good wives." Anyone considering Columbia University might wonder what Manhattan gals are like. Answer: "Generally pretty, literate, and snowable."

Sure, this is tongues-out, horndog stereotyping like that found in Where the Girls Are, the infamous "social guide to college women of the U.S.A.," published in 1967. But amid the renderings of all these "young lovelies," the Ivy guidebook also reveals something deeper: the unease with which many young men once eyed the expansion of coeducation.

In Cambridge, resentment raged. Although the women of Radcliffe College ("Cliffies") had shared classrooms with Harvard men since the 1940s, some grumpy gentlemen never got over it. That the "extremely bright, liberated females" participated actively in class discussions, the guide says, often frustrated male students, who found the women "just ‘too damned aggressive and conscientious.’ "

How Well Do You Know Ivy League Lore?

Take this quiz with questions based on quotes from the Ivy League Guidebook, an “insider’s” look at life at the eight institutions in the late 1960s.

Shortly before the book was published, women had been permitted to use Harvard’s Lamont Library for the first time. ("Only the locker rooms remain unviolated," the guide notes.) In 1970 some Harvard and Radcliffe dorms became coeducational, The Harvard Crimson reported, "despite an angry alumni response."

Fittingly, a woman contributed to the Ivy League Guidebook. Anne (Wendy) de Saint Phalle, who graduated from Harvard in 1970, wrote a section called "The Ivy League Male (As Seen by the Ivy League Female)."

She divides the opposite sex into categories, defining the preppie, the wonk, the hippie, and the jock. The latter took three forms (the "genteel jock," the "animal," and the "grim" jock, with no social life or interests besides sports; beware those muddy cleats).

Like her male co-authors, Ms. de Saint Phalle beholds a realm of eager, frustrated males, locked in fierce competition for companionship, so often scarce. This was especially true at out-of-the-way Dartmouth, which she describes as "celibate during the week, hectically orgiastic on the weekends." There, she found, date-swapping among fraternity brothers was a common practice, "whose frequency increases proportionately with the lack of inhibitions in a fraternity’s parties."

Mr. Tobias, though, had inhibitions. He knew he was gay, but nobody else did, not even his co-authors. "My whole life back then revolved around no one ever finding out," he writes in an email to The Chronicle. "I was aggressively ignorant about the whole thing (even as I was 10 years into ceaselessly thinking about little else)."

The guide that he helped write contains just three paragraphs about gay students in the Ivy League, where, the book says, "homosexuality does exist … in insignificantly small amounts."

This was a guess. He neither asked anyone about the topic nor expressed an interest in it. "Even though I was desperate," he recalls, "to find someone like me."

In those days, Mr. Tobias was just as stranded as the straight men on single-sex campuses who longed for what they could not have, or have easily or often. "I was a normal guy, who just happened to be wildly attracted to half my classmates."

In 1973, Mr. Tobias, who became a journalist, wrote an autobiography called The Best Little Boy in the World, about coming to terms with his sexuality. He published the book under a pen name ("John Reid," aka the Lone Ranger, who wore a mask) because he had yet to tell his parents he was gay. Years later he attached his real name to the book and wrote a sequel, The Best Little Boy in the World Grows Up. The author of many other books, including popular investment guides, he is now treasurer of the Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Tobias has been a success, and the same goes for the guide’s other authors. Mr. Bortz, a former mayor of Cincinnati, helps run a major real-estate-development firm in Ohio. Mr. Weinberger, a writer, author, and lecturer, has made award-winning documentary films and has run a publishing company.

But how much do these three Harvard graduates owe their good fortune to Harvard?

The guidebook poses similar questions. Does any Ivy League graduate succeed, it asks, primarily because of the "advantages" he had before college? Because of the education he receives there? Or because of the benefits his degree bestows?

A generation later, our achievement-obsessed nation still debates the answers, fretting about what elite colleges stand for and what their graduates do and don’t value. In his new book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, William Deresiewicz, a former professor at Yale, writes that the Ivy League "manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction." Namely, to law firms or Wall Street.

There are many ways to make good in life, as Mr. Tobias notes. He ranks an Ivy grad’s background ("native talent, high-school education, parents, motivation") as the most important factor in his or her success.

An Ivy League degree, says Mr. Bortz, "gives you credit that maybe you don’t deserve." This "aura," he thinks, can help or hurt. During his political career in Ohio, he made a point of not mentioning Harvard, he says, "because people would think I was a snot and stuck up."

Yet these golden men once swooned for their alma mater. Harvard, the biased observers wrote, "provides a challenge and experiences unmatched at any American university."

This was the sound of lust, not for a lover, but for an idea: From a handful of coveted colleges, one could pick the best. A half-century later, this deep desire endures.