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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

G.I. Bill brings some class diversity to Harvard University

After leaving the military, Esser went to Harvard Law School on the G.I. Bill, a bill that threw open Harvard's doors to Americans who might not otherwise have been able to enroll.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

GEORGE ESSER:
So all during the war I was thinking what I was going to do, and I ran into a man who said, "Why not go to law school?" It was funny. He was the one who encouraged me to think of Harvard instead of Virginia, and he ended up going to Virginia and went to Harvard.
FRANCES WEAVER:
So directly from the military, in what, 1946?
GEORGE ESSER:
I went up to, and this, you know, my son and daughter, a couple of days ago I was telling them this and they found it hard to believe, I went to Boston from Edgewood in February of 1946. Went over to Harvard, and I had an appointment with an old professor who was in admissions. I went up to his office in the bowels of the library, and he met me. There was also a man there who was Dean of the School of Law at the University of Iowa. So we sat around and they talked to me. They asked me what I'd done in the war. And sometimes they would go off on their own. I was there over two hours and finally he said, "well, I believe we'll let you in."
FRANCES WEAVER:
You could come in?
GEORGE ESSER:
So I was admitted to Harvard. I was also admitted to the University of Virginia. And when I left home in June of 1946, I told my parents that I would let them know where I ended up. It was not until I called from worchester, Massachusetts, that they knew I was going to Harvard.
FRANCES WEAVER:
And you had the G.I. Bill?
GEORGE ESSER:
And I had the G.I. Bill which pretty much covered all of the expenses.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Makes a difference.
GEORGE ESSER:
Makes a difference.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Oh, it was a wonderful thing. That light is flashing. We'll talk next time about your decision when you graduated from Harvard to come to the Institute of Government?
GEORGE ESSER:
Okay. [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
FRANCES WEAVER:
This is tape 3-A of an interview with George Esser, former member of the staff of the Institute of Government and executive director of the North Carolina Fund. The interview is taking place in my home on Elliot Road in Chapel Hill. It is June 27, 1990. I am Frances Weaver. George, when we broke up the other day, we were talking about your decision to go to Harvard and I want just to touch on a couple of things. Can you give me a capsule summary of Harvard at that time, of the Harvard Law School? What it was like and what it was like for you?
GEORGE ESSER:
What it was like, there were over two thousand students. In the post-war period, why they had continuous semesters.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Oh, straight through.
GEORGE ESSER:
They didn't go back to the old two semester a year program until 1949. So I went seven straight semesters from June of '46 until September of '48. And there were three graduating classes in 1948; in February, June and September. It was a good experience. There were lots of people in law school at that time who were from all over the country who would not have normally gone to Harvard Law School. The elitist tradition of Harvard was clearly broken. Not that there weren't many eastern prep school people there, but they did not predominate.
FRANCES WEAVER:
I see.
GEORGE ESSER:
Nor did they win all the honors, you know, the president of the Law Review or whatever. So it was an interesting place to be. I loved Cambridge and Boston.