Ivy League Anti-Semitism
To the Editor:
In his review of Bruce Kuklick’s The Rise of American Philosophy: Cambridge, Massachusetts 1860—1930 [Books in Review, February], Jack Beatty legitimately laments the anti-Jewish attitude of Harvard’s philosophers who, despite their wisdom, failed “to transcend the lowest moral limits of their time.” That limitation, alas, was not confined to Harvard; it was a poison in all of the Ivy League.
Among the papers of James R. Angell, Yale’s president (1921-37) are to be found several letters that shed additional light on this . . . issue. . . . On June 1, 1922, Dr. Angell wrote to Harry A. Garfield, president of Williams College, to inquire about the Jewish admissions policy at Williams. In reply, Garfield sent Angell a copy of a letter he had just written to Professor William E. Hocking. This letter . . . is shocking for what it reveals of the attitude on the part of a Jewish alumnus of Williams College who was willing to help implement a numerus clausus for his alma mater. Garfield wrote:
. . . Fearing the increase in numbers of Jews entering with, I think, the class of 1914, the students gave expression to their feeling upon the subject by demonstrations which merited and received comment from me at one of the morning chapel exercises. Shortly thereafter, a recent graduate, Mr. Greenbaum, a son of Judge Greenbaum of New York, came to see me, asking my attitude concerning the presence of Jews here. I told him that we were always ready to receive men of the right sort, whether Jews or Gentiles, but added that, as he well knew, a Jew very seldom was admitted to our fraternities and that the Orthodox Jew would probably find objection to our required attendance upon chapel exercises; moreover, that most of the Jews seeking admission to our colleges and universities desired courses leading directly to business and professional pursuits rather than the courses offered at an institution like Williams.
Mr. Greenbaum suggested that if I would send him before the opening of each college year a list of Jews seeking entrance to Williams, he would undertake to keep away the undesirable sort. To this I replied that it seemed to me that the circumstances made it neither desirable nor necessary to attempt to shift the responsibility for admission of any class of students to others than the constituted authorities; that, however, I was interested to know how it would be possible for him and his associates to administer such an arrangement if it were made. He replied that the Jews living in and about New York, the region from which most of our Jews have come, may in general be divided into two classes, those whom we, as well as they, would regard as desirable and those who are seeking to make their way socially into the class of Jews regarded by them as more desirable. This being so, he stated that if they informed any applicant that it would be undesirable for him to enter here, the applicant would withdraw. What, if anything, has been done by Mr. Greenbaum, I do not know, but the fact is that after that time there was a falling-off in the number of Jewish applicants for admission and that the question has not presented itself as a problem to us.
President Angell sent the following response to Garfield on June 5, 1922:
. . . I judge that our Harvard friends have been passing through a rather unpleasant experience as a result of their discussion of methods of discouraging Hebrew patronage.
I am greatly interested in the suggestion made by Mr. Greenbaum and still more in the apparent effects of his proposal. Some of our people here have been getting a little nervous, but we have as yet taken no action of any kind.
The Harvard philosophers who should have been wiser were not alone in their loss of “the way to wisdom.” They were aided and abetted by others of mean spirit in high academic places.
[Rabbi] Arthur A. Chiel
Congregation B’nai Jacob