A new Yale experience replaced Old Yale in the 1960s.
“In the fall of 1963, freshmen wore white Levi’s and drank beer,” said Jeffrey Orleans ’67 LAW ’71. “In the spring of 1967, the students wore blue Levi’s and smoked grass.”
The composition of the undergraduate population changed during the period. The Class of 1967 marked the first time more than 50 percent of the student body came from public high schools, and more than half of the freshmen were on financial aid.
But Yale remained an all-male undergraduate school for most of the 1960s, with few minority or international students.
1,000 male leaders a year
When Yale President Kingman Brewster started his tenure as university president in 1963, he declared that Yale trained “1,000 male leaders a year.”
During the decade, the total faculty grew to more than 2,500 members, and the undergraduate population passed 1,000. Virtually every student lived on campus.
Partially to handle the growing population, the University constructed Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges at York Square, which opened in September 1962.
Yalies had to carry five courses a semester, with no Credit/D/Fail option available. Grading was based on a 0-100 point scale, and most students favored majoring in the humanities.
“Campus leaders tended to be from the social sciences,” Beverly Head ’63 LAW ’66 said.
Only 11.5 percent of the Class of 1960 majored in the sciences, while more than 20 percent do now.
To strengthen the image of Yale’s sciences, the University began designing Kline Biology Tower in 1963, the first new facility for the biological sciences at Yale since 1914. Other construction projects included a nuclear accelerator on Pierson-Sage Square and a computer center on Sachem Street.
The 1960s were devoted to training students not only academically, but also physically.
All freshmen had to pass a posture test by being photographed nude at Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
“They put little sticky things on your body so they could determine if you had adequate posture,” Levy said. “It was always rumored that the pictures were sold at Vassar.”
Most students did not pass the first time and were required to do exercises, including sit-ups and leg lifts, until they could sit perfectly straight.
Students also were required to pass a 50-yard swimming test before they could graduate.
Perhaps the decade’s most significant change was the elimination of the freshman year.
At the start of the decade, all freshmen lived on Old Campus. Separate courses existed for freshmen, and all first-year students ate in Commons, where they had to adhere to the Yale dining dress code of a sports jacket, collared shirt and tie. Students were not assigned to residential colleges until the end of their freshman year.
President A. Whitney Griswold established a committee in 1960 to study the freshman year. The committee recommended in its Freshman Year Report that the University eliminate the separate year. The report also recommended that Yale admit women to the undergraduate school.
During the 1960s, only men attended Yale as undergraduates, and very few women enrolled in Yale graduate programs.
To attract women to campus, the University planned several major weekends each year, particularly the Yale-Harvard football weekend in the fall, the Formal Junior Prom in February and College Weekend in the spring.
“A lot of planning went into those weekends,” Orleans said. “People had to find dates and reserve hotels well in advance.”
Additionally, residential colleges and fraternities held mixers periodically to give Yalies a chance to meet women.
Students at women’s colleges, such as Vassar and Smith, took buses to New Haven for the residential college mixers.
Fraternity mixers were slightly different. Famous recording artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis often performed live at parties dominated by alcoholic beverages. No one lived in the fraternity houses, which served as social clubs, and access to the parties was restricted.
Delta Kappa Epsilon was famous for having the second largest bar in New Haven at the time.
At other times, Yale students took weekend road trips in search of females.
“Road trips involved loading into a car with a case of beer and heading off for one of the women’s colleges,” Levy said.
Upon meeting an attendant at the door, the men would state that they wished to visit some of the females.
“The attendant would call upstairs and ask if anybody was interested in meeting us,” George Chopivsky ’69 said. “Often, the women would first check out the guys before committing to the evening.”
Even in the late 1960s, stringent rules restricted access for female visitors to the dorms.
On a Friday or Saturday, women could only be in an undergraduate room between noon and midnight. On Sunday, females were allowed in between noon and 6 p.m.
“On a weekday, women could only be in the common room or dining hall, even if they were relatives,” Orleans said.
To demonstrate that Yale could handle women undergraduates, the Yale Co-ed Steering Committee, a student group, organized Coeducational Week from Nov. 4-10 in 1968. Over 750 women from 22 New England colleges participated.
“The women came, joined us for the week and then left, and life went back to normal,” Orleans said. “We proved that it could be done without attacking each other in the halls.”
It must have worked — the first female undergraduates arrived in the fall of 1969.
Although nearly every Yale student supported the admittance of women, reaction to civil-rights campus events was mixed.
An influential university chaplain’s office invited Martin Luther King Jr. to speak in late 1962, and King spoke before a packed Battell Chapel crowd.
“Listening to him was enthralling, and I believe that he may have swayed some people over to his side that day,” Head said.
Not all campus speakers were as well-received. Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a vocal supporter of segregation, had been invited to speak on campus by the Yale Political Union. But on Sept. 15, 1963, four days before Wallace was scheduled to speak, the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four young African-American girls turned many students against Wallace.
Several commissions on free speech formed to evaluate the issue, but in the end, Wallace did not speak.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which happened to land on the Friday preceding the Yale-Harvard game in 1963, shocked many students. Kennedy had spoken to a very receptive Yale audience at the 1962 Commencement.
“Many peopled entered Yale planning for a career in public policy,” said Drew Days LAW ’66, now a Law School professor. “They were shocked and felt that their dreams had been shattered.”
Campus support for the civil rights movement grew after Kennedy’s death.
Southern students were often criticized for the treatment of blacks in the South.
“I would often get a certain amount of hostility toward the way the South was perceived as treating blacks,” Head said.
One of several campus groups devoted to helping Southern blacks, the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, helped law students find jobs with civil rights lawyers in the South during the summer.
“We were received with open arms by lawyers who needed all the help they could get with dealing with assaults and other things,” Days said. “They were also impressed that students from a major northern law school were concerned with civil rights.”
The late 1960s witnessed campus demonstrations against the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War.
“There tended to be a lot of concern about going to Vietnam, and that tended to push the atmosphere artificially to the liberal side,” Chopivsky said.
Campus speakers also reflected the wartime climate. Internationally famous for his dominant boxing career, Muhammad Ali spoke in New Haven about refusing to enter draft for Vietnam in 1969.
But despite all the political issues often debated on campus, Yale never experienced the turmoil that other universities struggled to contain at the time.
“There was a sense that we were a community and intended to keep our community, despite the differences in opinion,” Orleans said.
An athletic powerhouse
Athletics, particularly the dominant Division I football teams of 1967 and 1968, were instrumental in bonding Yale students together.
Saturday afternoons in the fall saw a packed Yale Bowl, and some basketball games often filled Payne Whitney Gymnasium. All varsity athletic programs had separate teams for freshmen athletes, too.
The men’s swimming team entered the decade with the county’s longest unbeaten streak in any sport. Between 1940 and 1961, the squad won 201 straight meets.
Navy broke the streak in a dual meet, defeating the Bulldogs 48-47 in early 1961.
“It was a particularly tough loss because it was so close a score,” said Head, a member of the team.
Perhaps even more disappointing was the 29-29 loss to Harvard in the 1968 playing of The Game.
Both teams entered the contest with 8-0 records, and Yale appeared to have the win secured with a late 29-13 lead. But Harvard scored 16 points over the final minute to tie the game.
But sports soon declined in importance as Yale worked to diversify its campus.
“Yale moved from a conservative white male ivy tower to a diverse and engaged American institution,” Orleans said.
The new Yale was much more popular, too.
“And it was a lot more fun to be there by the end than the beginning,” Orleans said.
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