First female Elis left friendships behind

On the day admissions letters were delivered to Yale College’s first female applicants, Mary Posses ’72 MUS ’82 arrived back to the Wellesley College campus just after the mail had been delivered. Students already huddled outside the campus mailboxes swarmed around Posses to congratulate her — she had gotten a fat envelope.

“I absolutely was in shock,” Posses recalled in an interview this past weekend.

Mary Posses ’72 was a member of the first coed class at Yale.
Courtesy EugeneCook
Mary Posses ’72 was a member of the first coed class at Yale.

Though she enjoyed studying Italian at Wellesley and had formed strong female friendships there, Posses had decided to apply to Yale after visiting on a whim the previous fall.

It was 1968, and at the suggestion of a Wellesley acquaintance who was dating a Yalie, Posses and several friends went down to New Haven for “Coeducation Week” — “Yale’s great experiment in heterosexual learning,” as the News dubbed it at the time. About 700 women, coming from 22 northeastern schools, arrived that November week to get a taste of life at Yale. Reporters and photographers from The New York Times, Newsweek, Life, Time, local newspapers and other college dailies descended on campus to cover the event, as visiting women sat in on classes, ate in the dining halls and stayed in on-campus dorms, the News reported.

Posses, who stayed in a room on Old Campus for the week, had never been to Yale or even New Haven. And despite the rainy fall weather, she felt at ease on Yale’s campus and among its male students, she said.

“I felt as though I was sort of coming home,” Posses recalls. “There was something about it that just felt very comfortable and inspiring at the same time.”

During the months between the application deadline and the date acceptance letters were mailed, The New York Times ran an article about the so-called “superwomen” who were applying to be in Yale’s first coed classes.

Posses said it was intimidating to read about such accomplished women — “people who spoke Sanskrit and parachuted into Navajo reservations,” she joked. “I am never going to get into this school,” she remembers thinking at the time.

But Posses soon returned to campus for an interview with an admissions officer, a woman whose sense of humor and love for Yale put Posses at ease, she recalled.

While Posses said she has “no regrets” about choosing to transfer to Yale, she said she realizes now what she gave up by leaving a single-sex school.

“It only dawned on me later what I had missed out on in terms of forming really deep female friendships,” Posses said. Because there were more men than women at Yale in the early years of coeducation, most of her close friends were male, she explained.

But for Posses, a flautist who is now an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, Yale offered more musical opportunities than Wellesley. From the Yale Symphony Orchestra to the Yale Concert Band to the Yale Bach Society, Posses — an American studies major who has three degrees from the School of Music — got a musical education on par with one at a conservatory, she said.

Remarked Posses: “I really didn’t think about gender beyond the fact that getting into a larger, coed school made certain experiences more possible.”

Comments

  • Roger Schonfeld

    It is an interesting idea to profile some of Yale’s early female grads, but this profile was surprisingly weak. It focuses exclusively on the applications process and doesn’t do justice to Posses’s experiences at Yale and the extent to which those made a difference to her later life. The few throwaway quotes at the end are not adequately analytical. I wish there had been more here. I’m hoping you can do better with the rest of the series.