Today’s Harvard Club of France has evolved considerably since its origins.
The Club, created before WW I, was small, exclusively for men, and met only once a year for decades. Edouard Emmet ’53 recounted the spirit of the club which his father presided between the wars. The club’s annual event was a dinner the night of the Harvard-Yale football game, at which a Western Union telegram communicated the news of the victory. The losing side bought champagne for all and the party extended way into the night. These dinners were attended by illustrious alumni and guests such as Ernest Hemingway and playwright Jean Giraudoux, who had been a student in 1905. Cole Porter had even entertained at the piano. The Club then grew in membership with the presence of American soldiers who stayed on in France or returned after WW II. The annual single event tradition continued on up through the 50s.
It was Francine Aigrain who initiated a Radcliffe circle in Paris in the 1960′s acquainted as she was with Edwina Morgulis Racine AB’32 (Mme. Pierre Racine) and other Radcliffe graduates. Meetings were held in her home, and the six participants after a time realized they were not numerous enough to support real club activities. Francine lobbied with club president Albert Ross and the women joined the men. Francine contributed enormously to the club’s growth and development and became its first woman president (1976-1982). She doubled its membership (hand-typing 900 envelopes) and enhanced the club program with a monthly speaker or cultural event.
The Harvard Business School has had its own Club since the 30s. In the 90s, there was a rapprochement with the HBS Club, and 70 of its members also joined the HCF. The two club presidents collaborated on a number of events. Many MBA alumni have become active in the HCF, and in the 00s an MBA graduate in hi-tech and active in the HBS Club became president. The alumni of Harvard Law School have had their own association, primarily only a network, and have always been deeply involved with the program of events and increasingly vibrant Harvard Club of France. Several have served as president of the club. In the 2010s the Harvard Kennedy School formed its own chapter, closely integrated within the HCF. Its chapter head, Benoît ROSSI (HKS’06) has now become our current club president.
The Club published directories of members from the 30s through the 80s. In the 90s, the Club sought to strengthen its reach and published a directory every other year of all its alumni living in France with members’ names highlighted. A circle of law firm friends and five alumni-run businesses supported the production of this publication. Members were motivated to join the club as they were given a copy of the directory and received a subscription to Harvard Magazine. In those years, membership soared from the traditional 25-30% to 40%.
In the 90s, an ongoing task force of 35 members, representing all Harvard schools, industry sectors and generations, was successful in reaching out to all alumni in France by telephone to update the directory and draw in new members. Cohorts of college grads met in alumni homes. The regions of Côte d’Azur and Lyon developed active networks.
The HCF committee, representing all Harvard schools, generations, sectors and interests, increased in size to 20 with an Executive Committee of 4. A monthly event for young graduates was launched, as well as a popular annual joint-club Cocktail cruise on the Seine in September to start the club season, especially for fresh arrivals with their minds on apartments, jobs and dates. The club welcomed new alumni in France with introductions in the first newsletter and mentors to greet them. A music program with opera and concerts was very popular, guided by a club impresario, with over 70 members participating regularly. Nearly monthly Arts events over the years have always sparked alumni interest. Breakfast and lunch business development and networking events have become popular. In the 90s Harvard women joined the Professional Women’s Network luncheons and in the last decade they created Harvard Women France, a strong network with periodic events.
In the last few decades, an evening in the spring at the US Ambassador’s Residence has become a tradition, originally a benefit concert and an opportunity to announce the Harvard French Scholarship Fund beneficiaries. It became a Harvard-Yale event when the US Ambassador was a Yalie, and remains so. Alumni prove generally more collegial than their competitive universities.
On the occasion of President Neil Rudenstine’s vist in June 1997, the first official visit of a Harvard University President to France, a dinner was held au Petit Luxembourg au Sénat. An event organized for President Drew Faust in November 2010 took place at the Hôtel de Lassay. Several hundred guests were present at each event. At the latter, tables were elegantly named for distinguished Harvard/France individuals.
Mention must be made of epic parties in recent years: Carole Gardner’s great 2010 Holiday Party, and the New Wave Party in 2012. Our alumni love to have a good time!
The Harvard Club of France remains very close to the university. Alumni are interested in news from Cambridge with university initiatives especially relevant to alumni in France. Harvard faculty have spoken at the club over the years, among which Stanley Hoffmann, Cornel West, David Landes, Ethan Kapstein, Joseph Nye, Larry Summers, David Edwards, Herminia Ibarra, Thomas Kelly, Juliette Kayyem, Philippe Aghion, Graham Allison, Andrea Leers, and Alyssa Goodman.
The club created an Internship Program for Harvard students coming to France and scores of students have benefitted. In the last decade a Harvard Students from France network has been created on campus (« HCF On Campus« ) and has a Facebook page.
In the last two decades the statutes of club have been rewritten in 1986, in 2008, and in 2015 to ensure their relevance for a strong and harmonious club for years to come.
Changing technologies have shaped our Club functioning. Email has revolutionized club communication, enabling over 2100 alumni to be easily reached. The club website created in the 90s has now evolved and stands out among clubs with its function of event sign-ups, secure payments and a list of participants already registered. Executive committee proceedings are now facilitated by dropbox folders for storing club documents, annual GA PPTs, and archives.
HCF has been focused on leadership, club governance and engagement to build a strong Harvard community. It remains close to the university and the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) attending every February Alumni Leadership Conference and active in the program of 17 European Harvard Club Leaders Annual Meetings held in different European cities since 1993. This tradition was created by a HCF past president and built by another.
Two of our presidents have served as Regional Directors Europe. The HAA Award has been given to three alumni in France for their service to the university and its alumni. The head of our School Interviewing Committee has received the Hiram Hunn award for service over the years.
The Harvard Club of France expresses its gratitude to Sally Williams-Allen (HSE’65) for authoring this history of our Club.
Paris, October 2015