An educational policy expert examines the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that marked the early years of the Yale University experiment in coeducation.
Until 1969, Yale was “a village of men.” But as Perkins, the first woman editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News, shows, Yale faced cultural currents from within and without that forced it to change. Coeducation had been the norm at Harvard, Yale’s closest Ivy peer, since 1943. By 1968, Yale students were demanding an end to the “stifling social environment” that forced them to seek female company in women bused in from all-women colleges like Vassar. In the end, the students got their wish, but the early years of the transition to a coeducational campus were tumultuous. Behind-the-scenes administrative power struggles emerged between Yale President Kingman Brewster and Elga Wasserman, the assistant dean who spearheaded coeducation efforts. Kingman favored a slow transition that would still leave female students far outnumbered by males. By contrast, Wasserman, a perpetually embattled female administrator in a system controlled by men, favored greater parity sooner rather than later. The “threadbare budget” Yale provided Wasserman also proved problematic, especially in her efforts to create a safer campus for female undergraduates, who dealt with sexual harassment from both their professors and male peers. Perkins’ interviews with some of the 575 young women undergraduates who came to Yale in 1969 reveal that many felt alienated and alone. Despite the challenges they faced—such as housing and health care facilities that did not take their needs into account—the first women students at Yale found strength in the bonds they created with each other and through the nascent feminist movement, and they went on to open doors to other women in all-male domains such as the Yale athletics and marching band programs. As it celebrates female achievement, the author’s focus on a single university also narrows the readership to scholars of higher education and a Yale-affiliated audience.
Well-researched but with limited appeal.