Trinity And Yale Celebrate 40 Years Of Teaching Female Undergraduates
By REGINE LABOSSIERE
March 25, 2010
The 1960s were, famously, an era of social upheaval. The civil rights movement raged, Vietnam War protests split the country, and rock 'n' roll blossomed, with Woodstock, in 1969, a crowning moment.
But amid all the tumult, a quieter revolution was taking place. Women were starting to break down the old-boy network, being admitted into colleges where they previously weren't allowed.
• Pictures: Some Notable Female Alumni Of Yale And Trinity
Now, Yale University and Trinity College are celebrating 40 years of teaching women undergraduates, starting with the 1969-1970 school year.
Before this — before "The Feminine Mystique," Gloria Steinem and Ms. magazine — the common thinking was that girls graduated from high school, attended women-only colleges and got married, possibly becoming nurses or teachers along the way. The barriers were well defined, but the women undergraduates were knocking them down.
"It was a fight all the way. It was swimming upstream all the way," Dr. Nancy Weinstein recalled.
The West Hartford native was a freshman at Smith College when she heard that Yale was accepting women as students. The university had been talking about admitting female undergraduates since at least the 1920s, but it wasn't until the '60s that university officials made the move. One contributing factor might have been statistics showing that female students tended to be more motivated and earned higher grades than their male counterparts.
Weinstein, who would become one of the pioneering women, applied to Yale on a whim. She graduated from Conard High School in West Hartford in 1968 with about 620 other seniors. Girls were encouraged to go to one of the Seven Sister schools. Coming from a large high school with boys and girls and going to a small women's college felt surreal and unnatural to her, she said.
"One weekend I was particularly down on Smith. A friend had an extra [Yale] application," she said. "I got accepted and thought, 'Well, why not?'"
During her sophomore year, Black Panther Bobby Seale was on trial for murder — and eventually acquitted — in a New Haven court. His trial led to a major demonstration in New Haven on May 1, 1970. In response to the American invasion of Cambodia — April 30 — and the shooting by the Ohio National Guard of four students during anti-war protests at Kent State University — May 4 — about 4 million students on 450 college, university and high school campuses held student strikes that month.
Weinstein said she remembers her Yale years as much for the social and political turmoil as for her discomfort on campus. Weinstein, who volunteers with other alumni to interview Yale undergraduate applicants, said she remains conflicted about her experience.
"For a long time, I did think of it as a negative experience. I always felt that it was a great opportunity, great challenge and opened lots of doors," Weinstein said. "But I do have memories of feeling uncomfortable."
Women were vastly outnumbered by men, professors singled out women in class to get the female point of view, some buildings lacked women's bathrooms and there were no gym facilities for women. Former students described the atmosphere as being out of balance; people's attitudes and conversations were inherently male-oriented, they said.
It was clear to students at Yale and Trinity that the facilities and some faculty were not prepared for women. Take, for example, the women's bathrooms in the dormitories.
Women "would plant plants in the urinals. What were you going to do with them? It was easier to water them that way," Trinity graduate Kate Miller said.
She remembers her psychology class: "The professor, who clearly had not come to terms that there were women in the classroom, would not call on women in class. If you wanted to ask him a question, you had to wait until after the class to talk to him. I had come from an all-girl [high] school, so this really was a trip for me."
Miller was a Trinity freshman in 1970-71, lives in West Hartford and is the executive director of The Fund for Greater Hartford. She remembers walking through The Cave, the college's coffee shop, and "having every set of male eyes on you. It had nothing to do with how you looked or how appealing you were. It was just that you were there."
Judy Dworin was the first woman to graduate with a bachelor's degree from Trinity. She is largely responsible for starting the college's dance program and is co-chairwoman of the department of theater and dance. Dworin transferred to Trinity in 1969 from Smith as a senior. Having donated the money she would have spent on a cap and gown to anti-war efforts, she made her mark on graduation in two ways. Because the listings were alphabetical on the graduation program, her name was called before the three other women seniors. And she wore a short skirt.
"There was a standing ovation when I got my diploma. I don't think I even realized it until I was finished that it was this moment in the history of the college," Dworin said. "I really had this sense that women were going to bring something important to balancing Trinity and to any college."
Ronald Spencer, associate academic dean emeritus at Trinity, was a student at the college when it was still only for men and joined the faculty as an American history professor shortly before women were admitted.
There had been a long tradition of keeping men and women separate at private colleges because officials thought students would be too easily distracted, Spencer explained. But fewer high-quality male students wanted to go to male-only schools, and colleges were forced to conform to the strong social and cultural changes if they wanted to succeed, he said.
"As a result of the emergence of the so-called counter-culture in the mid- and late '60s, lots of men and women students were saying, 'Why, during the four most important years of our lives, should we be treated like monks or nuns?' There was a kind of feeling that this was somehow unnatural and that it was inimical to the kind of personal and intellectual growth that people go through when they go to college," Spencer said.
About seven or eight years ago, Weinstein reconnected with two dozen women who graduated with her. The 25 women have formed a tight friendship and created a scholarship to help women students attend Yale.
"We all were there at that odd time. We felt like we were blazing a new trail. I think we did know at the time, but we didn't know the import until history made it so," she said.
Weinstein went on to the Medical College of Pennsylvania and then practiced general surgery in Pennsylvania — another area with few women during her time — before moving to anesthesiology. She is the senior staff anesthesiologist at Hartford Hospital and also practices at the UConn Health Center.
"I look at women after us and they've done so much more. But in my own way, what I did was just as important," Weinstein said. "They wouldn't be doing what they're doing if we hadn't come before them."
In honor of the 40th anniversary, Trinity College and Yale University have been hosting a series of events throughout the school year. For more information on Trinity's celebration, visit www.trincoll.edu/TrinityAZ/coeducation. For more information on Yale's, including events happening March 26-28, visit www.yale.edu/yalecollege/coeducation.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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