In 1969, when the first batch of female students arrived on Yale’s campus Master’s Teas used to look different.
On weekends, Rachel Hockett ’73 could be found sipping a tasty punch with a circle of young women — in her residential college master’s house.
Originally from Ithaca, New York, Hockett found a home away from home at Saybrook College in the company of Alison Henning, then-Master Basil Henning’s ’32 wife.
“[The Hennings] were such an integral part of us becoming assimilated as women,” Hockett said. She added of Alison: “She just loved us young women and she was someone you could talk to and tell things to.”
After all, left out from many of Yale’s traditional male institutions, including Mory’s and secret societies, Hockett and her group of female friends had few campus spots to claim as their own.
“There was still a lot of male chauvinism around, but those were not the people who I was drawn to or wanted to hang around,” Hockett remembers.
Hockett and the young women in Saybrook found a place to bond inside their master’s living room. Hockett called the gatherings “master’s teas,” although, she noted, they didn’t drink tea.
“They were more like cocktail parties and she made this killer, really intoxicating punch,” Hockett said.“We used to get schnockered on that stuff.”
The girls would leave their “grungy” suite in Vanderbilt, she said, for what seemed like a glamorous New York City apartment. Instead of the posters of The Beatles and actor David McCallum that hung in the girls’ dorms, the Hennings’ house was filled with relics from their worldwide travels. And while they were not far removed from a time when Yale men regularly dressed in suits and ties, Hockett and her friends would change out of their casual bell-bottoms into skirts and blouses to visit Henning. “She was just so suave and sophisticated,” Hockett recalls.
With drinks in hand, Hockett recalls, the women chatted about books, theater and boys as Henning provided advice on all aspects of undergraduate life.
Outside the master’s home, Hockett found an “instant way to create bonds” through theater. She spent most of her spare time performing with the Saybrook Players, a Saybrook theater group that would clear out the dining hall after meals to put on productions.
During her freshman year she played the “flute-playing inmate” in a production of “Marat/Sade,” a role she described as “tremendous.” The production was directed by Lynne Meadow DRA ’71, now the artistic director at the Manhattan Theater Club.
And while Hockett admits she does not remember all the details of her undergraduate years, the memories she did recall pertained to her relationships and, notably, her role models.
As mother-figure, friend and teacher, Henning was a “woman of the world,” Hockett said. “We all just looked up to her tremendously.”