A ‘gender revolution,’ inspired at Yale

When Jane Hunter ’71 GRD ’81 arrived in her Calhoun College dorm in the fall of 1969 — the first year women matriculated to Yale College — she found a note from the room’s previous occupants, who had graduated the previous spring.

Hunter reproduced part of the note that October in a News op-ed titled “Coed Identity: Singing New Boola Blues.” The male writers said they were “primarily concerned that the fraternal bonds so long integral to Yale, not be eroded by coeducation” and that they hoped women would not “end the special love for Yale, the pride in one’s class, the hatred of Princeton, the drinking of ‘green cups’ at Mory’s and the belting out of fight songs at football games.”

“It was obviously written with some pain, some worry that [women] were going to ruin it all,” Hunter said in an interview this past weekend.

Hunter described her academic and social experience at Yale as “overwhelmingly positive.” But she said she wrote the op-ed because women in Yale’s first c0ed classes — “Yalettes,” as she said they were sometimes called — had to grapple with how they would relate to Yale as a traditionally male-dominated institution.

“It’s ‘Mother Yale,’” Hunter said. “And ‘The sons of Eli march down the field.’ ”

She said she first began to think about the “gender revolution” while still at Cornell (where she was a student before transferring to Yale as a junior).

As an underclassman, Hunter wrote an article for The Cornell Sun about a talk given by a well-known feminist. Once at Yale, she took a course on civil rights, in which the professor also raised the issue of gender relations.

“We have not seen anything compared to what’s going to happen when women begin to understand the extent to which their rights have been compromised,” Hunter remembers the professor telling his students.

Though Hunter said she did not feel conspicuous as a woman in her classes, there were very few female professors teaching at Yale at the time. It was not until two years after she graduated, when she returned to campus to get her Ph.D., that the administration began to make an effort to hire more women professors, Hunter said. After Hunter’s first two years of graduate school, in 1975, feminist scholar Nancy Cott was hired to teach women’s history at Yale, for example.

The “women’s revolution” had begun, she recalls. “But there was a long way to go before it was very thoroughly integrated.”

Hunter spent two years teaching English in Hong Kong after graduation. Though she originally intended to write her dissertation on Americans abroad in China, she said she narrowed the topic down to women missionaries in the country, drawing in part from her own experiences.

Today, Hunter, an assistant dean at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., studies American women’s history.

Speaking about the women’s movement, she concluded: “I was certainly influenced by that whole movement in academia to consider what difference it made to the study of history.”

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