The Radcliffe College Archive Motion Picture Collection consists of 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm films spanning from the late 1920s to the 1980s. A wide range of films compose the collection, including recruitment and fundraising films, student film projects, and film documents of class reunions and commencement ceremonies. Over the past several months, Elizabeth Garcia, an intern from the Tufts University/School of the Museum of Fine Arts, has completed a thorough inventory of the collection, enabling us to augment the finding aid with additional descriptive information. Elizabeth worked with Liz Coffey and Laurel Gildersleeve, film conservators from the Harvard Film Archive, to do preservation assessments and rehouse the entire collection.
Another aspect of reviewing the collection is to link the films to other materials in the Radcliffe College Archives to show how alumnae groups, students, and the administration experienced the films. For instance, student newspaper articles feature interviews with their directors and encourage students to view the films, and Radcliffe Quarterly entries from regional alumnae associations describe hosting screenings for their groups and inviting prospective students. These films are historic artifacts that reveal Radcliffe’s transformations in the 20th century.
One film in particular captures a pivotal moment of change for Radcliffe, Matina Horner: Radcliffe’s Sixth President (1973, directed and produced by Joyce Chopra, co-produced and edited by Claudia Weill ‘69), is a portrait of Matina Horner, president of Radcliffe College from 1972 to 1989. It portrays President Horner’s personal and public lives, as a mother of young children balancing work and family, and as the new leader of Radcliffe College a year after the advent of the “non-merger merger” arrangement with Harvard University. The documentary is remarkable for its depictions of President Horner’s multiple roles and substantive exploration of Radcliffe’s role in women’s education at that time. Further, the film functions as both an intimate portrait of a person and a piece of Radcliffe’s official history. Within the Radcliffe College Archives, this compelling film stands out as a reflection on Radcliffe’s past, present, and future.
Nevertheless, the true subject of the film has been up for debate since its making. In a Radcliffe: News from the College article in the summer of 1973, the President of the Radcliffe Alumnae Association, Beth Best ‘47, describes the personal scenes of Matina Horner as “incidental” to the larger purpose of the film: “to project Mrs. Horner’s ideas about women’s education, to show what it’s like to be a woman administrator in a major university.” Whereas the 1975 catalogue Women’s Films: A Critical Guide, published by Indiana University, emphasizes the film’s biographical elements in showing “both Ms. Horner’s determined professionalism and her personal warmth.”
The catalogue entry claims that this footage helps to “transcend the conventional film profile” as do other sequences, “including a montage of still photographs, old home movies, and an animated sequence.” However, these views do not necessarily conflict. The film operates in several modes. It is a sensitive portrayal of a professional woman and also a recruitment film funded by the Alumnae Association. Perhaps most significantly, it expresses an awareness of itself in relation to the archive and other items in it by incorporating clips of other Radcliffe College Archives films, and song recordings, from the 1930s and 1950s.
In the archive, the film has actually gone by two different titles, Matina Horner: Radcliffe’s Sixth President and Matina Horner: Portrait of a Person. The differences between the titles can re-frame the overall message of the film. Though, by keeping them both in mind, we can see how the film creates an interplay between such contrasts and makes a double portrait both partial and whole of Matina Horner and Radcliffe in flux.