An Informal History of the Society

In keeping with the origins of many fine institutions of great antiquity, our early history is obscure. It appears from our meager early archives that the birth of the Society took place in the 1950's initially as a local Oxford Society known as the "Boston Branch." A letter from Mason Hammond to a Mr. Bereday on January 20th., 1955, reads "I don't know when the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race occurs but it might be an occasion on which the Oxford Society could meet and invite Cambridge men to join it." Mr. Bereday replied with a concern that it not be, the first time around "a big do" (which he considered numbers exceeding fifty) and this suggests a history of organizing previous occasions at which Oxonians had got together prior to 1955, probably at various venues in Boston including the Harvard Club. The dinner was duly held at the Signet Club on April 13th., 1955, the speaker being T.S.R. Boase, President of Magdalen. In 1973 the Boston Branch was renamed the Oxford Society of New England.

Obviously Cantabridgians had early uses as dinner guests, but the full legitimization of the rival university in a joint society awaited the initiative of Professor Radu Florescu, the secretary of the Oxford Society since 1975. In 1976, he received rather late notice that the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Habakkuk, would be paying a short visit to the Boston area and that, perhaps, it would be appropriate for the Society to host him at a small dinner. Such a suggestion was rather in the nature of a command but the time was short. At the time, Professor Florescu's wife was teaching at the Noble and Greenough School, so the decision was made to hold the dinner at the school since parking would be no problem and the Castle would provide a suitable atmosphere. Professor Florescu feared that his list of former members of Oxford was not completely up to date so in order to boost attendance an eventful decision was taken and invitations were therefore sent out to graduates of both Oxford and Cambridge and the first dinner was held on Saturday, April 3, 1976.

Old friendships were renewed and new ones begun so that at the end of the evening there was unanimous agreement that the experiment should be repeated the following year and that a new association, the Oxford and Cambridge Society of New England, should be the official host. On that occasion, the first of an annual series of boat races between members of the two universities took place on the river below the Castle. Oxford was the worthy(?) winner but their victory was not often repeated in the following years. Indeed there was one occasion when the Cambridge crew had finished, taken their showers, and joined their spouses and friends for drinks before Oxford appeared out of the rapidly gathering gloom. Since the course in question is not more than five hundred yards in length, it was felt that this performance should have been reported to the Guinness Book of Records. To this day, no one has clearly established what had taken place on the other side of the inlet but the fact that one member of the crew had never been in a boat in his life might have had some effect on the result.

As the Society grew larger and more functions were held, it was felt that it needed a more formal structure, so a self appointed executive committee met in November 1983 and drew up the Constitution for the Society. Professor Florescu was unanimously elected as the first President and served until December 1984 when Roland Gubisch took over for a two year term. Under his able leadership and that of his successor, Jill Strang, the Society continued to flourish and expand its activities. The three annual dinners, Christmas, Spring and Boat Race are a universally popular fixture in our program and are usually held in the fine facilities at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham or Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury. In the last few years, we have hosted many additional events such as cocktail parties for new graduates, a social afternoon at the M.I.T. Museum, an evening get together at the Union Club and, more recently, cocktails at Simmons College with a visit to the Van Gogh Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. We celebrated the arrival of the New Millenium in grand style with a May Ball at Nobles.

The number of speakers who have enlightened and entertained the Society over the years is impressive. Unfortunately the records of the Society are not as impressive. The following represents a partial list (in alphabetical order) but does include all those who have spoken in the last decade: Eric Anderson, Peter Ashton, Warren Ault, Richard Baker, Dame Gillian Beer, Sir John Boyd, Richard Bradley, David Burns, Daniel Coquillette, J. Kenneth Galbraith, Gillian Gill, Peter Gomes, Hannah Gray, Sir John Habakkuk, Sir David Hannay, Seamus Heaney, Peter Hilton, Christopher Hogwood, Anthony Howard, Sir Jeremy Isaacs, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, Gordon Johnson, Elizabeth Keenan, Samuel Keyser, Uwe Kitzinger, Sir Hans Kornberg, Mary Lefkowitz, Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan McDowell, Roderick McFarquhar, Philip McLean, Ved Mehta, Mary Moore, Baroness Perry of Southwark, Robert Reich, Andreas Riedlemayer, Christopher Ricks, Malcolm Rogers, Abram Sachar, John Sears, Hedrick Smith, Rosemary Stevens, Oliver Strimpel, Geoff Tabin, Lester Thurow, Margaret Vaillancourt, Sir John Weston, Rt. Hon Shirley Williams, Sir David Williams.

The energy of the more athletic members of the Society was not satisfied with the annual "fours" at Nobles and in 1987 a challenge was issued to - and duly accepted by - the Washington Oxford and Cambridge Society to meet in eights on the Charles in Boston. This has not yet become an annual event but the Boston crew has chalked up three victories, two on the Charles and one down on the Potomac. It should be noted that from its inception, the Boston crew has been a co-ed one.

Other English athletic traditions have been kept alive. The Society's cricket team has played eleven matches with the British Officers' Club of Boston, gaining victory in all but one of these encounters. There was even a cricket festival in July 1987 when teams from the British Officers' Club of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth Club of Boston, along with the other two, could be seen dispatching the ball to the boundary to the admiration - and sometimes bewilderment - of the Americans in the crowd of spectators. More recently the cricket team has spread its wings with matches scheduled in Vermont and Rhode Island.

Today, the membership is close to 400 and new members are always welcome. Our members include graduates of Oxford and Cambridge and those associated in other ways with the Universities. The varied functions that the Society organizes provide different interests for all and members are always welcome to bring guests (space permitting).