Updated: Jan. 3, 2015

Arthur Howe Jr. ’47, the first Yale admissions dean to publicly advocate for a co-ed student body, died on Dec. 16. The cause of death was bone marrow disease, according to his son Tom Howe.

Arthur Howe served as dean from 1956 to 1964, and was described as “an aggressive liberal reformer whose mandate was to open up Yale’s student body and nationalize it,” in “The Big Test: The Secret History of American Meritocracy” by Nicholas Lemann. According to Howe’s family and friends, he was a modest and diplomatic man with an oftentimes self-deprecatory sense of humor. Tom Howe said his father was constantly thinking, analyzing and writing.

“Reference any eulogy, be mindful that nothing people might say about me could reflect adequately the kindness that countless individuals in various relationships have shown me throughout a long and privileged life,” Arthur Howe wrote on a scrap of paper before his death. “I’ve been allowed to soar on the wings of privileges derived from wonderful people, places, programs and purposes.”

Howe’s granddaughter Beth Lowenstein said Howe was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and played rugby during his time as a student at the University. Although Howe is classified as a member of the class of 1943, he did not actually receive his degree until 1947, due to intervening wartime service, according to his son. Howe, who described himself as a pacifist, left his studies in 1941 to enlist in the American Field Service, an organization of volunteer ambulance drivers in combat zones, and commanded 120 ambulances and 200 men, Lowenstein said. He returned to the University to complete his degree in education after World War II.

Howe joined the Yale administration in 1951, four years after finishing his degree.He accepted a position managing a new admissions and scholarship program supported by the Ford Foundation’s Fund for Advancement of Education, and his titles and duties shifted over the next half decade until he was named dean of admissions, his son said.

Serving under then-Yale President A. Whitney Griswold, Howe pushed for new admissions policies in response to the influx of applications throughout the early 1960s, according to The Washington Post. Sociologist James Karabel noted in his 2005 book “The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton” that throughout Griswold’s tenure, Yale often rejected high-achieving Jews and minorities in favor of “well-rounded” applicants who had graduated from elite boarding schools.

But as admissions dean, Howe worked to downplay reliance on figures such as SAT scores and grades, and increase the use of other sources of information about an applicant’s character and potential, Tom Howe said. According to Karabel’s “The Chosen,” Howe said in a 1961 interviewt hat he worried about the University “taking a lot of brainy kids who are too egocentric ever to contribute much to society,” and he was reported by The Post to have played a role in altering policy to increase the likelihood of children of Yale alumni receiving offers of admission.

“If high academic ability were the only criterion, we would have to eliminate quite a few future presidents of the country,” Howe said to The New Yorker in 1960.

Howe was also an open advocate of admitting women to Yale College. Though the University had begun admitting female graduate students in 1869, Yale’s undergraduate program was still entirely male when Howe served as dean of admissions. Tom Howe and Lowenstein said Arthur Howe was influenced by strong women such as his maternal grandmother, his mother, his wife and his daughter.

According to Peggy Howe, his wife, Arthur Howe originally pitched the idea of admitting female undergraduate students during a confidential faculty meeting in 1956, and received a standing ovation from his fellow staff members. This information was leaked to the press and criticized by the public, but Howe continued to push for coeducation and speak out against what he described in 1964 as Yale’s practice of “endlessly excluding one-half of the population.”

The success of his efforts was seen in 1969, five years after Howe left the University, when the first group of female undergraduate students arrived at Yale.

Howe was also responsible for the initiation of Yale’s Summer High School Program, an experimental project for high school students who were educationally deprived but showed exceptional potential, according to his son.

Howe left his deanship in 1964 to serve as president of the AFS. The organization, which transformed into a student-exchange program once its ambulance services finished at the end of WWII, expanded to 13,000 exchanges of high school students per year, during Howe’s presidency. Additionally, Tom Howe said his father initiated the practice of multi-national exchanges between foreign countries, as all exchanges prior to that point had involved the U.S.

“He also worked to place women, volunteers and foreigners into positions of greater programmatic responsibility throughout this structurally complex organization, with its nationally managed offices in 60 countries across the globe,” he said.

He added that the extensive travel and long flights demanded by the presidency took a toll on Arthur Howe’s health, leading to his retirement in 1972. However, Howe continued volunteering for AFS from his retirement until his death, and became a Life Trustee.

Tsugiko Scullion, who served on the AFS Board of Trustees with Howe, said he was a man of strong principles and compassion who will be dearly missed by the organization. Howe’s commitment to expanding horizons for those with a desire to learn and his policy of building bridges instead of walls are the types of legacies he left behind, she said.

“It’s a sad time for us right now, but it’s also a time for AFS as an organization to celebrate the enormous contributions [Howe] made to us,” Scullion said.

Howe, a Connecticut native, was born in July of 1921. In addition to AFS, he served on the boards of numerous other educational, religious, civic and conservation organizations, such as the Hotchkiss School, Hampton Institute and the Institute of World Affairs, according to his son.

Howe is survived by his wife, brother and four children — plus 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren who knew him as “Poppy,” according to Lowenstein.