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Franklin D. Roosevelt, William F. Weld, and Deval Patrick have belonged to The Fly Club, pictured in 1935.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, William F. Weld, and Deval Patrick have belonged to The Fly Club, pictured in 1935.

Patrick says he quit The Fly Club in 1983

Nine exclusive clubs at Harvard limit membership to men. A gubernatorial candidate's link to one renews debate on elitism.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy earlier this year resigned his membership in Harvard's all-male Owl Club, after Kennedy drew criticism for taking then- Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. to task for belonging to a controversial Princeton alumni organization.

All-male exclusive clubs are a sensitive issue politically, and countless politicians and judicial candidates have quit from them when under scrutiny or up for an important job.

Yesterday, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Deval Patrick, who has been stressing his hardscrabble South Side Chicago roots and his campaign of inclusion, told the Globe that he resigned his membership in the all-male Harvard Fly Club in 1983 -- five years after he graduated from Harvard College.

The club, however, listed Patrick on its roster as recently as 2002. A member and past alumni officer of the club said yesterday that the listing may have been the result of a paperwork mix-up.

Patrick, who graduated from Harvard in 1978 and later received a law degree from the university, said he resigned from the club in 1983 because his then-girlfriend and now wife, Diane, told him it was inappropriate for him to belong.

The Fly Club -- an exclusive bastion that has counted Lodges, Rockefellers, and Roosevelts as members -- has been the target of complaints from women's organizations that call it a discriminatory throwback.

``When I came to Harvard for college, joining The Fly Club was the equivalent of pledging a fraternity. I was 19," Patrick said in a statement his campaign released to the Globe. ``I resigned my membership when Diane raised issues. I haven't even been in the building in more than two decades."

His wife released a similar statement, describing how she urged him to resign.

The 2002 roster lists Patrick's Milton home address where he has lived since 1989, his home telephone number, and his e-mail address at Texaco, the oil giant for which he worked until 2001. The club uses the roster list to send mailings to its members, according to several past officers of the club. The addresses and contacts are updated primarily by its members, the roster states.

The campaign did not provide a response yesterday when asked whether Patrick has received Fly Club literature over the years.

It is unlikely that the campaign for governor will turn on a matter of what clubs Patrick belonged to. Still, Patrick's decision to join one of the elite all-male clubs appears somewhat incongruous, as he touts his civil rights record as a key selling point in the Democratic primary race.

Wendy Murphy, a professor at the New England School of Law and a strong advocate for using litigation to advance women's equality, said Patrick's joining the Fly Club opens a fair inquiry into ``his commitment to equality of citizens of all persons."

Murphy said that when Patrick joined the club in the mid-1970s, the issue of discrimination against women was at the forefront of social issues at the time. Harvard's elite all-male clubs, Murphy said, are a ``throwback to an era when almost everything was based on social class and exclusion. When he joined, that should have been particularly clear."

The Patrick campaign dismissed the criticism as ``ridiculous." ``To call into question a lifetime of work fighting for civil rights, including an appointment by President Clinton to head our nation's civil rights division and service at the NAACP legal defense fund, over one decision Deval Patrick made as an undergraduate at Harvard is totally ridiculous," said Libby DeVecchi, a spokeswoman for Patrick's campaign,

It could not be determined yesterday why Patrick's name continues to appear on the membership roster, along with his updated addresses. A spokesman for The Fly Club could not be reached yesterday. But one former alumni officer of the club, who served in the early 1970s, said the organization's bookkeeping is sloppy. ``Both undergraduate and graduate officers change every couple of years," said Casimir de Rham , a retired Boston lawyer who graduated in 1946. ``He may have resigned, and someone new came in and his letter of resignation was misplaced."

The 170-year-old Fly Club has been at the center of the debate at Harvard over the nine all-male clubs that provide to their members luxurious clubhouses -- replete with dining facilities, billiard tables, and libraries -- around Harvard Square. Harvard severed official ties to the clubs in 1984 after failing to persuade them to admit women.

The Fly Club's alumni membership rolls include Franklin D. Roosevelt, former governor William F. Weld, the Aga Khan, and Winthrops, Lodges, and Adamses. But it is also the first of the clubs to admit African-Americans. Still, that has not insulated the club from charges of discrimination. In 1987, a female Harvard student filed an antidiscrimination suit with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, claiming she had been denied the advantage that her male colleague enjoyed through membership in the clubs. She particularly cited The Fly Club in her complaint, which was dismissed by the MCAD. The agency said it did not have legal jurisdiction.

``As we all know, final clubs are throwbacks to an era of racism, sexism, and class elitism at Harvard," wrote Sarah M. Seltzer, a 2005 Harvard graduate, in the Harvard Crimson last year. ``But this is made even worse by these clubs' appropriation of what is hot at Harvard. Guys in final clubs," she wrote, are considered `it' ``by a large portion of this student body, at our own expense."

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