Paul Samuelson, one of the influential economists of the 20th century, was ending his Harvard PhD thesis in 1940 when he was supplied a job within the Harvard economics division. It was solely an instructorship, however Samuelson, who was already gaining a world fame, accepted.
A month into the semester, MIT supplied Samuelson a tenure-track place. As Harvard made no effort to maintain him, he left. Thirty years later he gained the Nobel Prize in economics, the third awarded to an MIT school member.
Why didn’t Harvard struggle for Samuelson? Presumably as a result of he was Jewish. In 1940, Harvard was greater than a decade into its program of deliberately suppressing the variety of Jewish college students and college on its campus.
“You would be disqualified for a job when you have been both sensible or Jewish or Keynesian,” Institute Professor emeritus Robert M. Solow as soon as stated of Harvard’s economics division. “So what probability did this sensible, Jewish Keynesian have?” (Solow, who can be Jewish, joined the MIT economics division in 1949 and was awarded his personal Nobel in 1987.)
MIT’s economics division and the Institute on the whole “have been remarkably open to the hiring of Jewish school at a time when such hiring was simply starting to be potential at Ivy League universities,” wrote Duke College economics professor E. Roy Weintraub in a 2013 paper.
That spirit of openness may be traced to MIT’s founder, William Barton Rogers, who was deeply troubled by the spiritual intolerance he noticed as a college member on the College of Virginia after a Jew and a Catholic joined the college in 1841, MIT historian Philip N. Alexander famous in his ebook A Widening Sphere. Nonetheless, the Institute didn’t have its first recorded Jewish pupil till Gerard Swope, Class of 1895, enrolled through the tenure of MIT’s third president, Francis Amasa Walker. Although Walker himself held detrimental views of Jews, Blacks, and non-Nordic Europeans on the whole, Alexander defined, he “was much less involved about people or native educational coverage than concerning the grander scheme of issues—inhabitants shifts, beginning charges, immigration patterns—that he had noticed and analyzed.”
Few Jewish college students attended MIT within the first 20 years of the 20th century, possible as a result of Jews have been extra interested in finance and drugs than science and engineering, in line with “Skilled Tendencies Amongst Jewish College students in Schools, Universities, and Skilled Faculties,” a 1920 examine (which didn’t embrace MIT). The examine discovered that whereas 31% (20,850) of non-Jewish college students have been pursuing engineering levels within the 1918-’19 faculty 12 months, solely 16% (1,325) of Jews have been. The examine, performed by the Bureau of Jewish Social Analysis, discovered that Tufts School had the best share of Jews (18.9%) within the Boston space, adopted by Harvard (10%) and Boston College (9.9%).
It was at these different colleges, particularly Harvard, that the Jewish group flourished and rose to nationwide prominence—at the least at first.
On October 25, 1906, 16 Jews at Harvard gathered to create the Harvard Menorah Society—a company “dedicated to the examine of Jewish historical past, literature, faith, philosophy, jurisprudence, artwork, manners, in a phrase, Jewish tradition, and to the educational dialogue of Jewish issues,” in line with the 1914 ebook The Menorah Motion.
MIT’s personal Menorah Society began in 1914 with about 10 members, in line with an article in The Tech. A gathering in October 1917, led by president Hyman P. Selya ’19, drew over 50 males. That fall, chapters at Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston College, Emerson School, Radcliffe, and Simmons fashioned the Intervarsity Menorah Council, creating the primary Jewish intercollegiate motion. It sponsored lectures and concert events; the proceeds from two occasions held in 1920 went to Japanese Europe, the place a wave of pogroms would finally kill greater than 100,000 impoverished Jews.
Jews had been shifting from Europe to New York Metropolis and different East Coast facilities in massive numbers because the 1880s; by the mid-1920s they made up greater than 25% of New York Metropolis’s inhabitants. Lots of their youngsters took high spots of their highschool lessons and utilized to prestigious schools, which writer and historian Mark Oppenheimer attributes in his 2022 podcast sequence “Gatecrashers” to the sturdy work ethic typically present in immigrant households. Rising Jewish enrollment quickly engendered a response.
Columbia was among the many first to explicitly restrict Jewish enrollment, going as far as to ascertain a separate campus in Brooklyn for Jews and Italians, referred to as Seth Low Junior School. Columbia additionally instituted admissions interviews, geographic variety targets, and necessities that college students be “effectively rounded,” all in an effort maintain Jews out of its Morningside Heights campus, explains Oppenheimer.
In 1922, anybody with a highschool diploma who handed an entrance examination might attend Harvard. However when Jewish enrollment reached 20% that 12 months, President A. Lawrence Lowell tried to restrict the determine to 15%, lest the standard recruitment pool of upper-class Anglo-Saxon Protestants begin to flip away. His non-public letters advocating a quota—which he claimed would lower antisemitism and thus profit Jews—have been printed within the New York Occasions. However a college committee suggested towards it, and Harvard’s Board of Overseers voted down an express restrict. The share of Jews at Harvard reached a excessive of 27% in 1925, when Lowell adopted the Columbia mannequin of requiring interviews, suggestion letters, and assessments of “character.” This had the meant outcome: Jews made up simply 10% of Harvard’s inhabitants when Lowell left workplace in 1933. Yale and different outstanding universities on the East Coast adopted related approaches.
The aim, as Oppenheimer makes clear in his podcast, was to make sure that the lessons of the 1930s appeared, sounded, and had final names like these of the 1900s and 1910s, with a purpose to attraction to alumni who have been within the course of of selecting colleges for his or her youngsters and more and more making massive donations.
Faculties corresponding to Harvard additionally noticed themselves as a key mechanism for “passing on the dominant tradition of American elites to the scholars they educated,” wrote Weintraub. And that tradition targeted on a slender canon of literature, philosophy, and the humanities that was decidedly western and Christian. “At MIT, the place the science and engineering school outlined the establishment … the difficulty of Jewish school and their lack of ‘tradition’ couldn’t come up,” he wrote.
For Jewish college students, too, MIT was extra open than its opponents. Membership within the MIT Menorah Society jumped from 42 in 1928 to 72 in 1929. Rumor had it, The Tech reported, that the very energetic chapter deliberate to gather information to launch a relationship bureau when the Institute hosted the Intercollegiate Menorah Dance in Walker Memorial in November of 1935.
However Jews weren’t welcomed on campus unconditionally. In keeping with Alexander, President Karl Taylor Compton thought it cheap to set hiring limits for school of “Jewish origin.” Though Alexander cited no proof of such limits, he famous that Compton labored to get a college appointment for Albert Einstein’s assistant (and the “R” of the EPR Paradox) Nathan Rosen ’29, SM ’30, ScD ’32, “someplace aside from MIT.” In April 1935, a bunch calling itself the Tech Militarist and Anti-Semitic Society distributed leaflets with swastikas forward of a convention on the rising civil liberties disaster in Germany and Italy; two of the convention’s pupil organizers have been assaulted. And when future Nobel laureate Richard Feynman ’39 wished to affix a fraternity on his arrival at MIT later that 12 months—having been rejected by Columbia, which had already admitted its Jewish quota—his choices have been restricted to only a handful of the 20 on campus. “In these days, when you have been Jewish or introduced up in a Jewish household, you didn’t have an opportunity in another fraternity,” he recalled in his memoir Absolutely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! Feynman wound up in Phi Beta Delta.
In 1945, MIT’s Menorah Society affiliated with the fast-growing nationwide Hillel Basis, which now works to finish antisemitism and enrich the lives of Jewish college students worldwide. Immediately, Jewish college students on the Institute discover group via MIT Hillel and different student-run organizations.